Money's list of America's best small cities


FAQ and sources
How we picked the Best Places to Live
Using statistics from data provider Onboard Informatics and consultant Bert Sperling of BestPlaces.net, 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 7,500 and 50,000.) Here's how:

716
Start with all U.S. cities that have populations of 50,000 to 300,000.

544
Exclude retirement communities, places where income is less than 85% or more than 201% of the state median, and those that are more than 95% white.

332
Screen out cities with high crime, big population declines, significant unemployment or job shrinkage, and long commutes.

261
Rank remaining places based on job growth, income increases, cost of living, housing affordability, school quality, arts and leisure options, safety, medical care, diversity and several ease-of-living criteria.

100
Factor in more data on the economy, jobs, housing prices, schools and taxes.

22
Visit and interview residents, assessing intangibles like sense of community.

1
Select Plymouth, Minn. based on the data and our findings.

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

Online notes and sources
Unless otherwise indicated, all data are as of 2007.

Projections are based on available U.S. Census and Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

Financial
Purchasing power is the median household income adjusted using Sperling Cost of Living Index. (Sperling Cost of Living Index derived from the Consumer Price Index from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (published and unpublished), with health costs from Medicare and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Consumer Expenditure Survey (BLS), Current Population Survey (BLS), Department of Energy, the Federal Travel Directory, National Association of Realtors, Home Price Mortgage Index from Freddie Mac, median home sales prices from county deed records and state associations of Realtors).

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 actual sales collected by Onboard Informatics from county and municipal assessor's offices for 2007. Only includes sales within the place boundaries. Collection and analysis of geographic data (geo-spatial aggregation) by Onboard Informatics.

Education
Test scores are from GreatSchools and represent the percent by which the school district's Math and English 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 2006 FBI incidence reports and Onboard Informatics aggregations.

Property crime incidents are per 1,000 from 2006 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 - counts of businesses by type including recreational facilities and more (www.infoUSA.com)

American Association of Museums - names and addresses of their member institutions. (www.aam-us.org)

Ticket Master - data on events (www.ticketmaster.com)

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)

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

Health
Health statistics (BMI, diabetes rates, hypertension rates) are for the county from Bert Sperling's bestplaces.net. Data sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and 2005/2006 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System survey from the CDC.

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

Average annual dollar amount spent on vacation (domestic & foreign) is per household from MRI and InSource marketing survey data and Onboard Informatics aggregations.

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

City stats from Money, Onboard Informatics.

Locations of Best Companies to Work For and Fortune 500 companies come from FORTUNE lists.

Map location sources and data partners
Using statistics from data provider Onboard Informatics and consultant Bert Sperling of BestPlaces.net, 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 7,500 and 50,000.) Here's how:

American Association of Museums - names and addresses of their member institutions. (www.aam-us.org)

American Public Gardens Association - names and addresses of their member institutions. (www.aabga.org)

American Symphony Orchestra League - names and locations of member symphonies and orchestras. (www.symphony.org)

American Zoo and Aquarium Association - names and addresses of their member institutions. (www.aza.org)

GoSki.com - names and locations of North American ski resorts. (www.GoSki.com)

Great Schools - NCLB test scores (www.GreatSchools.net)

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

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

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

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.

Find your best place to live -- How it works
Pick the criteria you care most about. The screener will return all places that fit your criteria, in order of Best Places rank, followed by state, then city. To remove a category from consideration, click the illuminated blue button to turn it off.

Home prices
Median home sale price is actual sales collected from county and municipal assessor's offices for 2007.

Good schools
Check "important" to limit your search to places whose schools are rated in the top 20% vs. the Best Places database of 1,800-plus U.S. cities. Places are rated on test scores (Source: Great Schools), educational climate (source: Onboard Informatics, based on the U.S. Census Bureau's Socioeconomic Status and other socioeconomic factors) and percent of public vs. private schools (source: OB projection).

Job growth
Source: Census data, with Onboard Informatics projections for 2007 and data normalization for 2000.

Weather
For each factor (rainfall, snowfall, etc.), cities are rated vs. the Best Places database of 1,800-plus U.S. cities.

Crime
Check the box to limit your search to places where the violent crime rate (based on 2006 FBI incidence reports) is below the Best Places DB average. Geographic aggregation and estimates (where needed) by Onboard Informatics

Activities
Limits your search to places where the number of attractions are above the Best Places DB average.

Sources:
Restaurants, bars, movie theaters, golf, health clubs, wineries, religious worship (InfoUSA)
Museums (American Association of Museums)
Green space (Onboard Informatics)
Orchestras (Symphony.org)
Sports, concert and family/arts events (Ticketmaster)

The neighbors
For singles and population age, cities are rated vs. the Best Places database of 1,800-plus U.S. cities.

Check the box for "high income" or "college educated" to limit your search to cities that score higher than the Best Places DB average.

Note: The Best Places DB average refers to the average for the entire Best Places database of 1,800-plus U.S. cities with populations 19,400 and up.

MONEY Magazine's Best Places to Live 2008

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

From the August 2008 issue
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Top 3

City Median income
New Canaan, CT $231,138
Darien, CT $218,130
Lake Forest, IL $212,122
City % single
Hoboken, NJ 57.7%
Cambridge, MA 52.4%
Somerville, MA 51.4%
City Median home price
Nicholasville, KY $70,000
Watauga, TX $117,040
Redan, GA $115,000
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