How we picked the Best Places to LiveWorking with data provider OnBoard of New York and consultant Bert Sperling of BestPlaces.net, we set out to find livable locales that combine the best of city and suburban life. Here's how we did it.
Start with places that have populations exceeding 50,000.
Screen out cities of more than 300,000 people and retirement havens where more than 40% of the residents are over 50.
Eliminate cities with low education scores, high crime rates, absurdly high housing costs, declines in employment or income less than 90% of the state median. Remove bedroom communities and places where people identify themselves as being from a smaller locale within the area.
Once we narrowed down our list to 201 small cities, we ranked the remaining places based on what matters most: A Money/ICR poll of 1,005 Americans found that ample job opportunities, good schools, and low crime are the most important characteristics people look for in a place to live. Meanwhile, the most disliked attributes are congestion, high crime, and lack of job opportunities. Using this information, we ranked places using 38 quality-of-life indicators and 6 economic opportunity measures in the following categories: Ease of Living, Health, Education, Crime, Park space, Arts and Leisure.
Rank remaining places on economic opportunity, taking into account income, job growth and affordability; quality-of-life indicators, including risk of violent crime and property crime, quality of public schools, arts and leisure, park space and incidence of stress-related ailments; and "ease of living" gauges such as commute times, divorce rates, population density and weather. Limit counties to one city each, unless the No. 2 city has more than 75,000 in population and a distinct identity.
Cull more data on job markets, housing prices, schools, ambience, weather and taxes. Interview local officials, residents and community leaders by phone.
Visit and do more interviews. Assess congestion, natural surroundings, the vibrancy of town centers and sense of community.
Award No. 1 rank to Fort Collins, based on data and qualitative findings.
Feedback on the Best Places to Live list? E-mail the editors
Online notes and sourcesUnless otherwise indicated, all data as of 2005 from OnBoard. Projections are based on available U.S. Census and Bureau of Labor Statistics data.
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).
Average annual state auto insurance premium are 2005 figures as reported by Insurance.com. Note: no values were available for AK, HI, MA, NJ.
Median home sale price is actual sales collected from county and municipal assessor's offices for 2005. Only includes sales within the place boundaries.
Home price gain calculated using median sale price increase from 2004 to 2005. Note that median price change does not reflect the potential appreciation of individual or same sale properties. Median prices are based only on those properties that sold within the calendar year. If there were many new construction sales, the median price trend will be less reflective of sales values for existing homes.
Test scores are collected by OnBoard 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 private school from U.S. Census.
Quality of Life
Violent crime risk index is a comparative measure of the risk of a violent crime occurring. Violent crime includes murder, rape, robbery and assault. (100 = the national average. 200 = twice the national average.) Note that a risk of 100 reflects a safe area. Crime risk index is based upon a comprehensive modeling of FBI crime reporting jurisdictions for the most recent seven years available weighted toward the current year and applied to a census block level geography incorporating several highly correlated demographic variables. Risk is NOT equivalent to incidence. Trends since the last FBI UCR may not reflect accurately.
Property crime risk index is a comparative measure of the risk of a violent crime occurring. Property crime includes larceny, burglary and motor vehicle theft. (100 = the national average. 200 = twice the national average.) Note that a risk of 100 reflects a safe area. Crime risk index is based upon a comprehensive modeling of FBI crime reporting jurisdictions for the most recent seven years available weighted toward the current year and applied to a census block level geography incorporating several highly correlated demographic variables. Risk is NOT equivalent to incidence. Trends since the last FBI UCR may not reflect accurately.
Personal crime incidents are per 100,000 from 2004 FBI and State Crime Reports.
Property crime incidents are per 100,000 from 2004 FBI and State Crime Reports.
Percent of workers with long commute times from U.S. Census.
Leisure and culture
Number of arts and leisure activities (including museums, restaurants, hiking and camping spots, golf courses and professional sports teams) within proximity of each city is calculated by OnBoard. Data sources: InfoUSA, MRI and InSource marketing survey data, Trails.com, American Public Gardens Association, American Hiking Society, American Association of Museums, Symphony.org, Reserve America, Ticketmaster, American Zoo and Aquarium Assocation, GoSki.com.
Weather data from NOAA National Weather Center observation reporting stations.
Health statistics (BMI, heart disease, cancer, cardiac rates) are for the county from Bert Sperling's bestplaces.net. Data sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and 2003/2004 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System survey from the CDC.
Meet the neighbors
Percent of city population that is divorced from U.S. Census.
Average annual dollar amount spent on vacation (domestic & foreign) is per household from MRI and InSource marketing survey data.
MONEY Magazine's additional sourcesJobs/Economy
Median family income is aggregate 2005 income estimate for families from the Census 2000, supplemented by the 2003 American Community Survey estimates.
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.
Income Growth is 2005 to 2010 percent change in median family income.
Family purchasing power is the median family income adjusted using Sperling Cost of Living Index.
Projected job growth is calculated by tracking current and historical job growth (BLS), population shift and employment against changes in economic growth indicators from 2005 to 2010.
Home affordability is 2005 median sale price divided by 2005 median household income.
Educational Climate Index is based in part on the U. S. Census Bureau's Socioeconomic Status ("SES") a measure that has been widely used since its introduction in 1963. The SES combines measures of income, educational achievement and occupation to form an overall measure of social status. The first step in enhancing this measure is to make adjustments for the change in the consumer price index since 1963. More significant modifications to the SES are made by adjusting the weights used in the measure to more strongly reflect the education aspect of social status. Thus, the resulting index correlates highly with the traditional SES, but because of the increased influence of education, the new measure is more appropriate for use in identifying the zip codes with the best conditions for quality schools. This new index is referred to as the Educational Climate Index (modified socioeconomic scale).
School Test Scores: Test results are collected by GreatSchools.net from state departments of education. OnBoard uses this content as the underlying source both for the place's average performance calculation and the comparison between that and the state averages.
Real Estate Data: All data is collected directly from County and Municipal Assessor's offices. Collection method varies by municipality but includes electronic, microfilm and onsite keying.
Square mileage of designated green space/parkland within city. Includes park grounds, state/provincial parkland, city/community parkland, golf courses, and national/regional forests. Source: OnBoard aggregation, MapInfo.
Number of doctors within the county and number of hospitals within a proximity of each city is calculated by OnBoard. Data sources: InfoUSA, American Hospital Assocation, Association of American Medical Colleges.
Ease of living
Population density calculated by dividing 2005 population by total area of the place. Weather data from NOAA National Weather Center observation reporting stations. Percent of city population that is divorced or without health insurance, percent of students in private school, and percent of workers with long commute times from U.S. Census.
Many additional sources are utilized by OnBoard as the basis of statistical projections and models. Some of these sources include:
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
US Census Bureau
Bureau of Labor Statistics
Environmental Protection Agency
Federal Aviation Administration
Federal Bureau of Investigation
Federal Tax Administration
County Tax Assessor's offices
National Center for Education Statistics
TicketMaster - counts of events by type and location. www.TicketMaster.com is the world's leading ticketing company and online/offline marketing network.
Trails.com - locations, names and types of hiking trails in North America. www.Trails.com provides an information resource about hiking, trails, and the outdoors. It is made up of a team of outdoor enthusiasts with backgrounds in web development, project management, outdoor retail, digital content, and information technology.
OnBoard feeds this information into its statistical modeling process. As with all content based on public, private and governmental sources, these projections and estimates can only be as accurate as the underlying source materials. Errors and omissions in these sources may result in incomplete or inaccurate projections. While we make every effort to identify such issues, neither OnBoard nor CNNMoney.com guarantees the accuracy of this information.
Map data detailsCity stats from Money, OnBoard.
Locations of Best Companies to Work For and Fortune 500 companies come from FORTUNE lists.
Map location sourcesLocations and data for colleges, hospitals, museums, wineries, gardens, ski resorts, and zoos and aquariums are from OnBoard (www.onboardllc.com) -- which maintains a data warehouse of community, demographic, school, school performance, local businesses and amenities, and property transaction data -- and its aggregation of data from public sources and the organizations below:
American Association of Museums - names and addresses of their 3,100 member institutions. (www.aam-us.org)
American Hiking Association - locations for Trail Day events. (www.americanhiking.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)
Festival Network Online - the names, locations and types of all registered festivals and events. (www.festivalnet.com)
GoSki.com - names and locations of North American ski resorts. (www.GoSki.com)
Great Schools - NCLB test scores. (www.GreatSchools.net)
Hoovers, Inc - names, address, and employee site counts for North American employers. (www.hoovers.com)
InfoUSA - listings and counts of businesses by type including doctors offices, 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 nor CNNMoney.com guarantees the accuracy of this information.
Find your best place to live -- How it worksAffordable housing based on median home price.
Plentiful leisure activities based on number of: events located in the city (source: Ticketmaster), movie theaters in the city, restaurants within 15 miles (source: InfoUSA), family arts events within 30 miles (source: Ticketmaster), and festivals in the city (source: Festivals.com).
Plentiful cultural options based on number of: museums in the city, arts theaters in the city (source: InfoUSA), orchestras in the city (source: Symphony.org), events located in the city and family arts events within 30 miles (source: Ticketmaster), and festivals in the city (source: Festivals.com).
Job growth is based on 2000-2005 % growth. Source: Census data, with Onboard projections for 2005 and data normalization for 2000.
Low crime rate is based on risk of violent crime, including robbery and assault. Source: OnBoard, modeling of FBI crime reports for the most recent 7 years.
Good weather based on number of clear days per year.
Short commute time based on median commute in minutes.
Good health-care access based on number of teaching hospitals in the area.
MONEY Magazine's Best Places to Live 2006