How we picked the Best Places to LiveWorking with data provider OnBoard and consultant Bert Sperling of BestPlaces.net, we set out to find the best towns in America. Here's how:
Start with places that have populations above 7,500 and under 50,000.
Screen out retirement-oriented communities, places where income is less than 90% or more than 180% of the state median and towns that are more than 95% white.
Eliminate towns with low education scores, high crime rates, declines or sharp increases in population, projected job losses or lack of access to airports or teaching hospitals.
Rank remaining places based on job, income and cost-of-living data; housing affordability; school quality; arts and leisure opportunities; ease of living; health-care access; and racial diversity.
Gather more data on job markets, housing prices, schools and ambience. Interview community leaders and residents by phone.
Visit and do more interviews. Assess the sense of community, vibrancy of town center, natural surroundings, amenities, real estate and congestion.
Give Middleton, Wis., the nod, 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 are as of 2006.
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(Sperling Cost of Living Index derived from the Consumer Price Index from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (published and unpublished), with health costs from Medicare and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Consumer Expenditure Survey (BLS), Current Population Survey (BLS),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). In some cases, AACRA Q4 2006 COLI publication was used, as supplied by OnBoard.
Average annual state auto insurance premium are 2006 figures as reported by Insurance.com. Note: no values were available for AK, HI, MA.
Median home sale price is actual sales collected from county and municipal assessor's offices for 2006. Only includes sales within the place boundaries.
Home price gain calculated using median sale price increase from 2005 to 2006. 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 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. OnBoard projection/aggregation.
Quality of Life
Air quality index are county numbers. Source: EPA.
Personal crime incidents are per 1,000 from 2005 FBI incidence reports.
Property crime incidents are per 1,000 from 2005 FBI incidence reports.
Percent of workers with long commute times from U.S. Census and OnBoard projections.
Percent of population that walks or bikes to work from U.S. Census.
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. 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, diabetes rates, hypertension 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.
Elder-care facilities from Total Living Choices. (www.totallivingchoices.com)
Meet the neighbors
Percent of 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.
Map data detailsHomes for sale provided by Trulia Real Estate Search.
City stats from Money, OnBoard. [onboardllc.com]
Locations of Best Companies to Work For and Fortune 500 companies come from FORTUNE lists.
Map location sources and data partnersLocations and data for colleges, hospitals, museums, wineries, gardens, ski resorts, and top employers 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 member institutions. (www.aam-us.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 doctors offices, recreational facilities, hospitals and more (www.infoUSA.com)
Insurance.com - average auto insurance rates. (www.Insurance.com)
Total Living Choices - Elder Care facility counts and related content (www.totallivingchoices.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: sports, concert and family/arts events within 15 miles (source: Ticketmaster), movie theaters within 15 miles, restaurants within 15 miles (source: InfoUSA).
Plentiful cultural options based on number of: museums in 30 miles (source: American Association of Musuems), arts theaters in the city (source: InfoUSA), orchestras within 30 miles (source: Symphony.org), and family arts events within 15 miles (source: Ticketmaster).
Job growth is based on 2000-2006 % growth. Source: Census data, with Onboard projections for 2006 and data normalization for 2000.
Low crime rate is based on violent crime incidences, including robbery and assault, percentages. Source: FBI 2005 incidence reports. Geographic aggregation and estimate (where needed), by OnBoard.
Sunny weather based on number of clear days in the area 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 2007