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Behind the best places
Which towns were in contention; where the data comes from.
August 1, 2005: 11:03 AM EDT

Money magazine and CNN/Money teamed with data researchers at OnBoard to research the Best Places to Live for 2005.

OnBoard maintains a database of nearly 40,000 places. To narrow our search, we began by considering only those with population above 14,000, above-median household income, population growth and real estate appreciation over the past 5 years.

Those restrictions led to a list of roughly 1,100 places.

From there, we eliminated places that aren't within 60 miles of a major airport and 30 miles of a major teaching hospital.

We also eliminate towns with low education scores or that fall below the 25th percentile in any two of the following: unemployment, income growth, crime, or arts resources.

That left 850 towns, which we reviewed, weighing economic, education and safety factors twice as much as arts, leisure and park space.

We then limited any metropolitan area to one or two places to arrive at the list of 100 finalists.

To pick the winners, we culled more data on education, environment, housing affordability, taxes, commute times and job market. MONEY writers also interviewed residents and community leaders.

Our focus on income, crime rates and education rendered meaningless any comparisons between big cities and the relatively affluent suburbs or small cities that make up this list. Big cities couldn't compete on those particular numbers and, of course, they offer plenty of quality-of-life benefits that suburbs don't have. We'll look at big cities as part of another project in the future.

Also, a note on the definition of "place:" In assembling this list, we examined data from the zip codes that correspond to a place name designated by the postal service.

We do this because we can get more and better -- that is, more accurate -- data about an area using zip codes than by using Census designations or by looking only at an incorporated area, which often is a small part of what most people would consider a "place."

That's why our list gives an area population and not just the population of a municipality. In a few cases, in fact, there is no incorporated municipality corresponding to the place name.

Note: Using our state by state listing, readers can search for detailed statistics on the 1,100 places we considered for this year's best places to live.

As an added feature, we also included reports for 250 large cities that weren't considered -- to look them up, search by city name in the upper right hand corner of the main page.

The data

On Board's Neighborhood Content is drawn from an extensive array of sources, including:

• US Census Bureau estimates and projections, including latest monthly estimates for population at the city level

• Bureau of Labor for employment data by industry and occupation

• Internal Revenue Service statistics on tax filers and year-to-year migration

• Experian's Performance Data System (PDS) for household level credit and demographics

• Experian MOSAIC for lifestyle segmentation

• Federal Bureau of Investigation and local sources for crime information

Recent Sales Transactions are compiled primarily from leading regional and national public records providers as well as individual municipalities around the country.

On Board works with several industry leaders and government agencies in the aggregation of School Information. All records are phone verified for accuracy at least once per year.

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