2020 Freest cities in tennessee

The City Freedom Index is the state's most comprehensive analysis of city policies. The Index ranks Tennessee's 30 most populous cities based on 25 metrics in four categories. You can click on each city to learn more about its ranking, as well as re-sort the rankings in each of the four categories by clicking on that category title at the top. You can download the full spreadsheets here with each city’s z-scores across all categories

See our methodology for more details.

Note: For this index, 1 means most free, and 30 means least free.

Rank City Population (2019) Free Enterprise Private Property Individual Liberty Cost of Government Best Worst
1 La Vergne

1 - La Vergne

The Nashville suburb of La Vergne takes the top overall spot in our index. La Vergne’s number 1 score is mostly due to its strong showing in Cost of Government and top ranking in Free Enterprise. Strong policies like operating the fewest city-owned enterprises that compete with the private sector, not picking winners and losers through corporate welfare, low property taxes, and a defined contribution pension plan makes La Vergne the freest city in Tennessee.

35,716 1 11 11 3 Free Enterprise Private Property
2 Brentwood

2 - Brentwood

With above-average scores in nearly all metrics, this Nashville suburb comes in at number two overall. While Brentwood had the highest score in multiple metrics, with a more than fully funded pension and low other post-employment benefits (OPEB) liability, its score as the city with the best pension situation is the most notable. Brentwood’s worst metric was with home businesses, mostly due to its restriction on the amount of square footage in a home that can be used by the business. It also suffered from it’s ban of most short-term rentals.

42,783 2 20 4 11 Free Enterprise Private Property
3 Hendersonville

3 - Hendersonville

With the lowest debt per capita in the state, Hendersonville earned high rankings in Cost of Government and all other categories except for Individual Liberty, where the cost and application time for an event permit brought down the city’s ranking. With few city-owned enterprises, few regulations on animal ownership, and a lower than average property tax, Hendersonville has earned its spot in the top three freest cities in Tennessee.

58,113 3 8 25 4 Free Enterprise Individual Liberty
4 Morristown

4 - Morristown

Holding the highest ranking in East Tennessee, Morristown excels at respecting Free Enterprise and Private Property. Low-cost building permits, limited regulations on animals, and one of the few cities with no restrictions on the number of alcohol businesses all helped push Morristown to the fourth freest city in Tennessee. The only metric holding Morristown back from an even higher ranking is the high level of debt per capita on the city’s books.

30,193 5 3 8 16 Private Property Cost of Government
5 Clarksville

5 - Clarksville

Clarksville is both the fifth most populous city and fifth freest city in the state in our City Freedom Index. Clarksville ranked number 1 on a host of metrics, including its overall building permit fees. Mainly due to its fee of $200, Clarksville’s worst score came from its regulations on home businesses. If you’re in Clarksville, be careful how you celebrate your high ranking. One weird law on Clarksville’s books is that 2-for-1 drink deals are prohibited.

158,146 18 18 2 12 Individual Liberty Free Enterprise
6 Cookeville

6 - Cookeville

As the sixth freest city, Cookeville scored well in all categories, finding its best score in the Individual Liberty category. Few regulations on home businesses and no restrictions on the number businesses that can sell alcohol helped increase Cookeville’s ranking, but the city did score lower for holding a high pension liability, restrictions on short-term rentals, and required yard sale permits.

34,706 15 13 5 13 Individual Liberty Free Enterprise
7 Gallatin

7 - Gallatin

Ranking well above average in three of the four categories, Gallatin scored a spot in the top 10 freest cities in Tennessee. With lower than average building permit fees and property taxes, Gallatin scored well in Private Property and Cost of Government. The city struggled in Free Enterprise because of tougher restrictions on alcohol businesses and food trucks, as well as not having an exemption for self defense under gun regulations.

42,918 25 5 6 7 Private Property Free Enterprise
8 Mount Juliet

8 - Mount Juliet

Coming in as the eighth freest city in Tennessee, the City between the Lakes has the second lowest property tax rate on our list and lowest overall Cost of Government. Mt. Juliet’s only weak spot was Private Property, where it ranked at the bottom because of heavy regulations on animals and impact fees. Even with room for improvement in private property rights, Mt. Juliet maintained high scores in all other categories, earning it a spot in the top 10.

37,029 7 30 9 1 Cost of Government Private Property
9 Farragut

9 - Farragut

The only city on our list that does not have a property tax, Farragut, continues to impress by holding no direct debt and is the best city in the state for business licensing. As one of the few cities to ban short-term rentals outright and regulate yard sales with a permit, Farragut lagged in the Private Property category, but its notable scores in the other three categories helped it snag the number 9 overall spot.

23,778 11 26 12 2 Cost of Government Private Property
10 Lebanon

10 - Lebanon

Lebanon cracked the top 10 freest cities thanks to above average rankings in all categories except for Individual Liberty, where it ranked right in the middle of the pack at number 15. The presence of an impact fee and high-cost building permits hindered Lebanon from a higher ranking, yet no regulations on short-term rentals and no limit on the number of alcohol businesses that can operate helped Lebanon grab the number 10 spot.

36,479 14 9 15 8 Cost of Government Individual Liberty
11 Smyrna

11 - Smyrna

Coming just shy of the top 10, Smyrna had some of the best municipal regulations for home businesses as well as the sixth lowest property tax rate in the state. Individual Liberty was the only category where Smyrna did not fare better than average, mainly due to its strict gun regulations and higher than average court costs.

51,586 12 4 27 9 Private Property Individual Liberty
12 Columbia

12 - Columbia

Columbia serves as a good example of “jack of all trades, master of none” coming in at number 12 in our rankings due to its average to above-average score in numerous metrics. As one of the few cities that requires a permit for yard sales, that ranked as Columbia’s worst metric.

40,335 8 17 20 10 Free Enterprise Individual Liberty
13 Jackson

13 - Jackson

Jackson is able to claim the title of the highest ranking city from West Tennessee, thanks in part to low building permit fees, no regulations on short-term rentals, and low debt per capita. But don’t get too cocky, Jackson, as your city has the third most restrictive home business regulations in Tennessee.

67,191 17 6 19 14 Private Property Individual Liberty
14 Murfreesboro

14 - Murfreesboro

As the geographic center of Tennessee, it is fitting that Murfreesboro comes near the middle of the Freest Cities rankings. Balanced with a great ranking in Individual Liberty and less than stellar rankings in Private Property, Murfreesboro was held back from a higher ranking because of its regulation on home businesses, requiring a special use permit that comes with a hefty fee. With no regulations regarding short-term rentals and a lower than average property tax, Murfreesboro is ranked just above average at number 14.

146,900 16 22 3 15 Individual Liberty Private Property
15 Spring Hill

15 - Spring Hill

One of the fastest growing cities in the state, Spring Hill lands at the 15th freest city in Tennessee. Ranking above average in two categories and below average in two categories, Spring Hill’s low Cost of Government is where the city scored best thanks to low debt per capita and below average property taxes. Unfortunately, a high impact fee, limits on home businesses, and additional restrictions on alcohol businesses did not allow Spring Hill’s score to rise, unlike its population.

43,769 13 25 24 5 Cost of Government Private Property
16 Cleveland

16 - Cleveland

Cleveland came in just below the middle of the pack, but had polarizing scores in nearly all categories. Cleveland should serve as a model for the rest of the state in allowing food trucks to thrive in the city. With respect to private property, Cleveland was the second freest city in the state, but its overall ranking was knocked down because of its higher than average property tax, as well as poor scores for individual liberty, which include a prohibition on home brewing.

45,504 9 2 30 19 Private Property Individual Liberty
17 Maryville

17 - Maryville

In both the Free Enterprise and Individual Liberty categories, Maryville found the 10th spot, thanks in part to few city-owned enterprises and limited firearm regulations. The city’s rankings dropped in Private Property and Cost of Government due to tough animal restrictions, a high cost for short-term rental permits, and higher than average property taxes. This balance of good but not great scores left Maryville in the number 17 overall spot.

29,742 10 24 10 21 Free Enterprise Private Property
18 Franklin

18 - Franklin

At the 18th freest city in Tennessee, Franklin may want to take some lessons from neighboring Brentwood. Franklin was held back by lower than average rankings in three categories, especially in Private Property due to expensive building permits and the highest impact fee in the state. Franklin did have some respectable scores thanks to its low property tax rate and limited restrictions in the Free Enterprise category.

83,097 4 28 22 18 Free Enterprise Private Property
19 Oak Ridge

19 - Oak Ridge

Home to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the world’s fastest supercomputer, Oak Ridge is also home to some of the least restrictive municipal laws in East Tennessee, including no city regulations on short-term rentals and low building permit costs, earning high marks in Private Property and Free Enterprise. Unfortunately, Oak Ridge has one of the highest municipal property taxes in the state, only outdone by Memphis. In addition, Oak Ridge struggles with high per capita debt, leaving the city at the number 19 overall spot.

29,156 6 12 13 24 Free Enterprise Cost of Government
20 East Ridge

20 - East Ridge

The city with the lowest population on our list, East Ridge has multiple metrics where it shares the top spot with other cities. Its low cost of government assisted East Ridge in breaking into the top 20. However, East Ridge is the only city on our list that does not allow liquor stores in city limits. Due to this and other restrictions on individual liberty, East Ridge landed as the 20th freest city in Tennessee.

21,182 22 16 26 6 Cost of Government Individual Liberty
21 Bristol

21 - Bristol

Bristol seems to have split personalities in regards to regulations. One one hand, Bristol reveals no regulations on short-term rentals and no taxpayer-funded lobbying, while the other side includes the toughest restrictions on alcohol businesses in the state. The commendable scores on Private Property were not enough to balance the low scores on Individual Liberty, Free Enterprise, and Cost of Government, leaving Bristol at number 21 on our list.

26,987 21 7 23 17 Private Property Individual Liberty
22 Kingsport

22 - Kingsport

As one of the Tri-Cities, Kingsport takes the number one spot in the state for respecting Private Property. However that seems to be where Kingsport ends its affection for less regulation, especially when it comes to Cost of Government. Kingsport’s addition of a municipal sales tax, high property taxes, and pension liability prevented it from breaking into the top 20.

54,127 19 1 14 26 Private Property Cost of Government
23 Chattanooga

23 - Chattanooga

Surrounded by hills and valleys, Chattanooga has some of the most beautiful views in the state. But in the City Freedom Index, Chattanooga has a less than scenic outlook. Chattanooga’s poor rankings in Free Enterprise and Cost of Government pushed the city well below the average in those categories. The city was able to tie Memphis at number 1 for the least restrictive vice regulations, which would include such things as permitless beer consumption on downtown’s Station Street. However, Chattanooga was able to singularly claim the worst ranking for both corporate welfare and business licensing.

182,799 24 10 7 23 Individual Liberty Free Enterprise
24 Johnson City

24 - Johnson City

Johnson City has below average rankings in three of the four categories, leading to its low overall ranking of 24. With no regulations on short-term rentals and some of the lowest building permit fees in the state, Johnson City has some commendable municipal laws. However, it also has the most restrictions on animals, including prohibiting backyard chickens. In addition, the city also struggled with higher-than-average regulations on free enterprise thanks to multiple city-owned enterprises.

66,906 29 19 18 20 Individual Liberty Free Enterprise
25 Memphis

25 - Memphis

Memphis leaders may be singing the blues once they see where their city ranked on the City Freedom Index. Bluff City is home to the highest property taxes on our list, and imposing a municipal sales tax didn’t help its ranking. It’s not all bad news, though, as the city was able to claim the top spot for Individual Liberty thanks to lower than average scores on all metrics in that category.

651,073 27 15 1 28 Individual Liberty Cost of Government
26 Germantown

26 - Germantown

Ranking near its Shelby County neighbors, Germantown scored below average in three of the four categories, struggling most with Cost of Government due to higher than average property taxes, debt per capita, pension liability, and taxpayer-funded lobbying. Germantown did rank well with respect to Private Property and tied for the top spot for the least regulations on home businesses.

39,225 20 14 16 30 Private Property Cost of Government
27 Bartlett

27 - Bartlett

Like many other cities in West Tennessee, Bartlett comes in near the bottom at number 27 overall. Unfortunately for this suburb of Memphis, the few policies it tended to excel at were not as unique, such as not requiring permits for yard sales or charging stormwater fees. Bartlett’s score suffered from many factors, including tying for the highest sales tax and being one of the few cities with an impact fee. Bartlett’s worst score comes from its restrictions on alcohol-related businesses.

59,440 26 23 21 27 Individual Liberty Cost of Government
28 Knoxville

28 - Knoxville

The number 28 spot is nothing to celebrate. It’s a good thing, because shooting off fireworks within the city limits would result in up to $1,000 fine or six months in jail. Knoxville had by far the highest fine and toughest restrictions on consumer fireworks in the state. Higher than average property taxes and pension liability further decreased Knoxville’s ranking. Knoxville can claim to have limited restrictions on home businesses and short-term rentals, but these few good regulations could not shine through below average scores in all four categories.

187,603 28 27 29 22 Cost of Government Individual Liberty
29 Collierville

29 - Collierville

With below-average rankings in three of the four categories, the Memphis suburb of Collierville comes in at a ranking of 29th, which ranks behind Memphis. Collierville’s best category was in Private Property due to policies like not requiring a permit for a yard sale. Like its other Shelby County neighbors, Collierville’s worst metric came from its higher city sales tax. It also scored the worst on short-term rentals, as one of the handful of cities that ban homeowners from using their homes as this popular side-hustle.

51,040 23 21 28 25 Private Property Individual Liberty
30 Nashville

30 - Nashville

Despite being arguably the state’s largest economic engine, Nashville, unfortunately, comes last in our index. Not surprisingly, Nashville does poorly in almost the exact categories as our top ranked city, La Vergne, ranked the best. Nashville, more than any other city, tends to compete with the private sector, has the worst pension and other post-employment benefits (OPEB) liability in the state, and collects more in taxes on a per capita basis than any other city. What positives can Nashville point to? It actually has the lowest court costs for ordinance violations in the state at $12.50.

670,820 30 29 17 29 Individual Liberty Free Enterprise