Money's list of America's best small cities


FAQ and sources

Correcting the Best Places List
Due to erroneous job, cost-of-living, and test score data for a small number of places, two cities were left off this year's 100 Best Places to Live list and two were mistakenly included. St. Peters, Mo. (76), and Peabody, Mass. (100), should have been on the list, replacing St. Charles, Mo., and Auburn, Ala. While the errors had no impact on the ranking of the top 10 places, other cities moved up or down slightly once all data were corrected. The rankings that appear throughout the package now are corrected. A summary of the changes are below. MONEY and chief data provider Onboard Informatics regret the errors.

How we picked the Best Places to Live
Using statistics from data services company Onboard Informatics, we crunched the numbers in order to zero in on America's best small cities for families. (Last year, we looked at small towns, with populations between 8,500 and 50,000.) Here's how:

744
Start with all U.S. towns with populations of 50,000 to 300,000.

401
Screen out places with a median family income of more than 200% or less than 85% of the state average; those with more than 95% of one race; and those with poor education and crime scores.

360
Exclude retirement communities and towns with major job losses. Rank the rest based on job growth, home affordability, safety, school quality, health care, arts and leisure, diversity, and several ease-of-living criteria.

100
Factor in more data on the economy (including the fiscal strength of state and local governments), plus jobs, housing, health care, and happiness. Give the most weight to economic data.

29
Visit towns and interview residents; assess traffic, parks, and gathering places; and consider intangibles like community spirit.

1
Select the winner based on the data and reporting.

Feedback on the Best Places to Live list? E-mail the editors

Online notes and sources
Unless otherwise indicated, all data are as of 2011. CNNMoney's Best Places database of 800-plus U.S. places includes cities with populations 50,000 and up.

Projections provided by Onboard Informatics are based on available U.S. Census and Bureau of Labor Statistics data. Onboard Informatics is a data services company that specializes in working with real estate, media and technology companies.

Financial
Purchasing power is the median family income using ACCRA Cost of Living Index for 2011, as provided by Onboard. The ACCRA Cost of Living Index measures relative price levels for consumer goods and services.

Auto insurance data represent average quotes consumers received from more than 12 leading auto insurance companies that participate in Insurance.com's website. Note: No values were available for AK, HI, MA.

Housing
Median home sale price is compiled from actual sales transactions collected by Onboard Informatics from county and municipal assessor's offices for 2011. Only includes sales within the place boundaries. Collection and analysis of geographic data (geo-spatial aggregation) by Onboard Informatics.

Education
Underlying test scores are from GreatSchools.net. Onboard then calculated the values, which represent the percent by which the school district's Math and Reading test scores fall above or below the state's average scores.

Percent of students in public and private school represent students attending schools in the boundary area only, and may not add up to 100% in cases where students attend certain county or state schools. Onboard Informatics projection/aggregation.

Quality of Life
Air quality index are county numbers. Source: EPA, Onboard Informatics projection/aggregation.

Personal crime incidents are per 1,000 from 2011 FBI incidence reports and Onboard Informatics aggregations.

Property crime incidents are per 1,000 from 2011 FBI incidence reports and Onboard Informatics aggregations.

Percent of workers with long commute times from U.S. Census and Onboard Informatics projections.

Percent of population that walks or bikes to work from U.S. Census and Onboard Informatics aggregations.

Leisure and culture
Number of arts and leisure activities (including museums, restaurants, bars, golf courses and ski resorts) within proximity of each city is calculated by Onboard Informatics.

Data sources:

InfoUSA - business names and locations, including recreational facilities and more (www.infoUSA.com). Geo-spatial aggregation and processing by Onboard Informatics.

American Association of Museums - names and addresses of their member institutions. (www.aam-us.org). Geo-spatial aggregation and processing by Onboard Informatics.

National Assembly of State Arts Agencies - data on art funding (www.nasaa-arts.org)

GoSki.com - names and locations of ski resorts (www.GoSki.com). Geo-spatial aggregation and processing by Onboard Informatics.

Weather
Weather data from NOAA National Weather Center observation reporting stations. Collection and analysis of geographic data (geo-spatial aggregation) by Onboard Informatics.

Meet the neighbors
Percent of population that is married or divorced from U.S. Census and Onboard Informatics projections.

Map data details
Homes for sale provided by Trulia Real Estate Search.

City stats from Money, Onboard Informatics.

Map location sources and data partners
American Association of Museums - names and addresses of their member institutions. (www.aam-us.org). Geo-spatial aggregation and processing by Onboard Informatics.

American Public Gardens Association - names and addresses of their member institutions. (www.aabga.org). Geo-spatial aggregation and processing by Onboard Informatics.

Associations of Zoos and Aquariums - names and addresses of their member institutions. (www.aza.org). Geo-spatial aggregation and processing by Onboard Informatics.

GoSki.com - names and locations of North American ski resorts. (www.GoSki.com). Geo-spatial aggregation and processing by Onboard Informatics.

Great Schools - Test scores (www.GreatSchools.org)

InfoUSA - top employers by county and listings and counts of businesses by type including recreational facilities, hospitals and more (www.infoUSA.com). Geo-spatial aggregation and processing by Onboard Informatics.

Insurance.com - average auto insurance quotes (www.Insurance.com).

Note: Only four-year colleges and graduate schools are displayed. Source: Onboard Informatics.

All content based on public, private and governmental sources - and while we make every effort to identify errors or omissions in these sources, neither Onboard Informatics nor CNNMoney.com guarantees the accuracy of this information.

MONEY Magazine's Best Places to Live 2012

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Using statistics from data services company Onboard Informatics, we crunched the numbers in order to zero in on America's best small cities for families. (Last year, we looked at small towns, with populations between 8,500 and 50,000.) More

Comments? E-mail the editors

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