Home to about 20,000 people, Johnston is a city in central Iowa’s Polk County. It’s situated just north of Des Moines off Interstates 35 and 80, making it a popular homestead for professionals who commute to the city for work.
Characterized by a strong housing market, high average education levels and sustainable growth, Johnston is one of the fastest-growing suburbs in the state. Continue reading to learn more about its neighborhoods and the affordability of homes for sale in Johnston.
Overview of the City & Neighborhoods
Though it was first settled as a railroad town starting in the 1840s, the city we now know as Johnston wasn’t officially incorporated until much later in 1969. Since then, the community has been growing rapidly. Its population ballooned 137 percent between the 2000 and 2010 censuses, and a special citywide census in 2016 revealed the number of residents had grown another 18 percent since 2010.
Johnston has been widely recognized as a great place to make a home. In 2015, Money Magazine ranked it 16th on its list of the best places to live in America. In 2014, Business Insider named Johnston to its list of the 50 best suburbs in the nation.
Though Iowa is landlocked, Johnston is an ideal place for folks who like spending time on or near the water. The city is bisected by Beaver Creek, which flows south through town and joins with the Des Moines River to the southeast. The waterways are good fishing spots for walleye, bass, and catfish.
In the heart of town, nature lovers will enjoy Terra Park, a 200-acre green space with a lake, concert lawn, picnic areas, walking trails, and playgrounds. It’s one of more than ten city parks in Johnston. Additionally, a portion of the city’s land area is part of Saylorville Reservoir, a popular place for boating, fishing, camping and wildlife spotting.
Though many commute to Des Moines for work, Johnston has a bustling economy of its own; it serves as the headquarters for several major organizations, including Iowa Public Television, the Des Moines office of the National Weather Service, Pioneer Hi-Bred and John Deere Financial.
Johnston has an active military community. It’s home to Camp Dodge, the home base of the Iowa National Guard. Camp Dodge has been a community fixture since 1907 when it was established as a National Guard training site.
Students in Johnston attend school in the Johnston Community School District. The district is made up of five elementary schools, two middle schools, and one high school.
In 2010, President Barack Obama honored one of Johnston’s teachers with the National Teacher Of The Year Award. At the time, the winner, Sarah Brown Wessling, was an English teacher at Johnston High School and traveled to Washington, D.C. to receive the award.
In 2012, the district introduced the Digital Learning Environment (DLE) initiative. The initiative uses devices like tablet computers to incorporate “tap-touch-swipe” learning into the regular classroom curriculum. Grades 4 through 12 have a 1:1 student-to-device ratio, while Kindergarten through grade 3 have a 2:1 ratio.
The Johnston school district has a four-year graduation rate of 96.5 percent, compared to the statewide 91 percent graduation rate. Its students outperform state averages on reading and math achievement tests as well as in proficiency levels. About 54 percent of residents hold a bachelor’s degree or higher.
Shopping & Eating
When it comes to dining options, Johnston is home to a wide assortment of ethnicities and price points. Foodies won’t want to miss Trostel’s Greenbriar, a white-tablecloth establishment known for its perfectly-cooked steaks and extensive wine list. For more casual eats, head to Pagliai’s Pizza, a classic family-run pizza joint specializing in stone-oven pies. For breakfast favorites like egg sandwiches and banana pancakes, stop by Brickhouse Cafe, which is open through midday.
On the shopping front, female fashionistas in Johnston love the unique selection and personal service at Purple Poppy Boutique. The retailer stocks fashion-forward women’s clothing, shoes, and accessories, and also hosts private shopping events for groups.
For an even bigger shopping selection, make a short trip about four miles south to Merle Hay Mall. The shopping center offers popular stores for the whole family, like Target, Kohl’s department store, Journey’s shoes and the newly added Ross Dress For Less. The center also has an on-site bowling alley and combination brewpub/movie theater.
Crime levels in Johnston are incredibly low when compared to the surrounding Des Moines suburbs and to national crime statistics. On a scale of 1 to 100, where 1 is the lowest level of crime in the nation and 100 is the highest, Johnston ranks at an 8.6 for violent crime and a 17.7 for property crime. The U.S. averages are 22.7 for violent crime and 35.4 for property crime.
Most Johnston residents commute via car and enjoy a manageable average commute time of 19 minutes. That’s about the same amount of time it takes to make it into downtown Des Moines by personal vehicle. Johnston is conveniently located off several major roadways, including Interstates 35 and 80 and Iowa Highway 141.
Commuters in Johnston can also easily take advantage of public transportation; the Local 5 route of the Des Moines Area Regional Transit bus line runs from Johnston through downtown Des Moines to the DART Central Station, with stops at Johnston City Hall and the public library.
Johnston residents enjoy strong property values, with a median home price of $248,100. About 73 percent of people in Johnston own their homes.
The cost of living here is higher than the national average, with housing and healthcare being the biggest contributors to the cost disparity. Transportation, grocery and utility costs in Johnston are all lower than the national average.
The median household income is a healthy $94,500, which is markedly higher than the national median income of $60,300 and the state median income of $56,500.