Best Places to Live

During our 2008 Aug 22 class meeting , the question of how "best places to live" rankings were arrived at arose. We thought it might be interesting to find out, because the answer could inform how we connect land conservancy activities to public benefit.

A subcommittee of Louise Alexander, Steve Allen, Julia Gruber, and Kathryn Reis agreed to work on this. They will post some information here by Thurs 28 Aug approx 2PM, and we will discuss during the Aug 29 session .

Subcommittee Findings as of 8/28/08

Below is a list of the news sources featuring best places to live, followed by a summary of some of the highlighted publications (organizational approach, selection process, findings, etc.)

List of Various News Sources Featuring Best Places to Live

CNN's Money

Money Magazine

~Chart of selection criteria at

Outside Magazine

Relocate America's 2008 Top 100 Places to Live

Sperling's BestPlaces

U.S. News and World Report

Highlights from

Showcases best cities for every life stage. Selection criteria included:
1) Metro areas with "a strong creative class, including scientists, engineers, architects, educators, writers, artists and entertainers." According to Richard Florida at George Mason University, these professionals help cities exude an atmosphere of energy and activity.

2) Job growth

3) Per-capita income growth

4) Measures of innovation (e.g., ratio of patents granted to number of city residents)

5) Life stages, such as people flocking to cities (e.g., D.C.) where young professionals want to be surrounded by other young professionals (criteria emphasizes number of bars and restaurants per capita). Other life stages included families, empty-nesters, and retirees.

6) City's affordability

7) Bohemian indicator to represent a city's diversity and cultural amenities. Focuses on how many visual and performing artists live in the area.

Quantitative analysis of city data conducted by Kevin Stolarick (Carnegie mellon University), Catalytix and the Richard Florida Creativity Group.

Highlights from Outside

Summary from Jeremy Spencer, Senior Editor for Outside Magazine
Each package has a theme; mine was ten top towns that have seen hard times and are making a comeback in a progressive, future-minded way; the runner-up towns, the bright ideas, were examples of smart thinking in cities that didn't make the top ten cut but had something great going on to help revitalize the town. for this year, we did look at confirmed greenspace and things like that, but determining factors are far less scientific and more subjective. We do deep research, talk to readers, look at the adventure options/natural features/nat'l parks, rivers, mtns. then in the city, we look at culture, arts, revitalization, leadership, talk to local subscribers, talk to appropriate city/town PR folks and hear what they want to highlight in context, etc, etc, etc. we spend months researching, and either I or a writer or a fellow editor or a researcher or a freelancer has visited the town; they're nominated by a lot of people, and the list we start out with is very large, then we winnow it down to what we believe are the best 20 for our theme that year.

We look at tons of objective facts, then go with our inclinations as ordinary people: would I move here? Why? The writeup for the towns is essentially the answer. Inclusion in the pkg means Yes, we would live here. The writeup itself is the Why.

Some of Outside's Top City Picks
Washington, D.C.
Downtown revitalization
New stadium downtown (LEED certified)
Bike share program
1,754 acre Rock Creek Park, 40 miles of trails
C&O townpath in Georgetown

Pop. 581,500
Median age: 35
Med. household income: $51,900
Med. home value: $437,700
Avg. commute: 29 mins.
Largest employers (metro): Federal government, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, SAIC, Inova Health, U. of Maryland

Chattanooga, TN
Riverfront revitalization
Concentration on natural resources
Downtown Greenspace program – remodeling condos, townhomes
Take Root project – promoting native, urban forestry
100 miles of singletrack within 10 miles of Chattanooga by 2010

Pop. 151,900
Median age: 38
Med. household income: $37,000
Med. home value: $119,900
Avg. commute: 19 mins.
Largest employers: BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, Hamilton Co. Dept. of Education, Erlanger Health, Tennessee Valley Authority, McKee Foods

Ogden, Utah
Mayor’s goal: Transform Ogden into adventure sports capital of America.
Two kayak parks
Paved trail network
Rec center with climbing wall, wind tunnel, surf wave
20 miles of foothills singletrack
Snowbasin 20 minutes away

Pop. 81,000
Median age: 29
Med. household income: $36,500
Med. home value: $114,700
Avg. commute: 22 mins.
Largest employers: IRS, McKay-Dee Hospital, Weber School District, Autoliv, Weber State U.

Portsmouth, NH
More downtown revitalization
Walkable city
Close to mountains and beach

Pop. 20,600
Median age: 38.5
Med. household income: $45,200
Med. home value: $318,000
Avg. commute: 22 mins.
Largest employers: Liberty Mutual, Portsmouth Regional Hospital, City of Portsmouth, Lonza Biologics, Demoulas Market Basket

Tacoma, Washington
Downtown revitalization of Commencement Bay waterfront
Cleanup of Thea Foss Waterway – former Superfund site
$84 million initiative to expand parks system

"Our vision is to increase urban density while respecting the natural space," says the city council's Marilyn Strickland. "We've tapped only about one-tenth of its potential."

Sidebar on Oakland, California – one of the “bright ideas”
Downtown revitalization focus
Streamlined permit process to encourage development
Economic incentives for developers
10,000 housing units in various stages of construction
15 art galleries
40 new restaurants
20 story condo complex

Pop. 199,700
Median age: 36
Med. household income: $44,300
Med. home value: $228,300
Avg. commute: 24 mins.
Largest employers (county): Fort Lewis, Tacoma Public Schools, McChord Air Force Base, State of Washington, MultiCare Health

Relocate America's 2008 Top 100 Places to Live

Producers of this listing claim its the only process that relies on statistics and feedback of the people living, working and playing in the highlighted communities. Anybody can nominate a community for consideration at any time during the year. Community nominations are coupled with specific data on education, employment, economy, crime, parks, recreation and housing. The editorial team at Relocate America reviews, rates and judges all data and community feedback. Cary, Raleigh, and Holly Springs are Triangle Region communities that made this list of top 100 best places to live. Note, Charlotte, NC made the top 10 list of best places to live (as did Kathryn's home town of Tulsa, OK ... woo-hoo!!!)

Here are some environmentally intriguing highlights about Cary and Holly Springs.
Cary: "... Cary has more than 20 public parks, 20 miles of trails, cultural arts programs as well as concerts and other special events throughout the year. ... In recent years, the Town has instituted measures to more closely manage growth, which remains a regional issue. Cary is embarking on an ambitious open space conservation program to protect water quality and preserve the natural beauty of the region. The Town of Cary believes in getting out in front of challenges rather than waiting and reacting. It leads the way in protecting the environment and was the first in the state to conserve drinking water by reclaiming its highly treated wastewater for irrigation at hundreds of homes and businesses. ..."

Holly Springs: "...Education, public safety, and quality-of-life are perhaps the most important of our strategic goals for Holly Springs. The Bass Lake Park project - which will include a wonderful retreat center, boating activities, greenways, bike paths, walking trails, fishing and more - is just one example of our focus on park development. ...Dense groves of pine trees, interspersed with dogwoods, azaleas and other flowering plants, dominate many of the area's handsome homesites. A variety of appealing architectural styles, and new and old homes, also border parks, lakes and golf courses, or are aligned along quiet city streets. ..."

Sperling's BestPlaces to Live

Sperling's BestPlaces, in partnership with County Home Magazine, uses multiple categories to list cities and other locations (e.g., most romantic cities, most energetic cities, best green cities). On the Best Green Cities list, Durham is number 16.

Regarding the Best Green Cities category, the website reported the following quote: "We are seeing a real interest, by both our readers and the marketplace, in exploring a green lifestyle," said [Country Home] Editor-in-Chief Carol Sheehan. "We wanted to find out who in America is actually taking action, where they are, and what they are doing."

The judges for the Best Green Cities category relied on the following data:
1) Air and watershed quality.
2) Mass transit usage.
3) Power usage.
4) Farmers markets.
5) Organic producers
6) Number of green-certified buildings

To identify the Best Green Cities, Sperling's BestPlaces gathered data from the Census Bureau, the U.S. Green Building Council, Department of Transportation, Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the online directory. "Sperling's BestPlaces ranked the 379 major metropolitan areas, as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau. Over 80 percent of all U.S. residents live in these 379 metro areas."

Why does Money Magazine's "Best Places to Live" Criteria Include Green Space?

Money magazine develops their own set of criteria to create their "Top Places" features. Generally, Money spends a couple of months gathering all manner of data on cities across the U.S. -- data on education, green space, arts & leisure info, crime, income, housing prices, etc. Money weights each criteria to come up with a total score for each city, and then the Money team visits the top 20-30 cities to see which ones actually pan out in person.

Tara Kalwarski has been the project lead on data gathering for Money and responded that, "Money includes green spaces because it enhances a place's appeal. And the reasons Money decided this are neither qualifiable nor quantifiable. It's more of an aesthetic." Based on this belief, Money uses green space as a factor and the metric used is determined from information provided by a data supplier, OnBoard. OnBoard creates data points that include a total of square miles of green/park space in a given locality. OnBoard cannot give out information gathered for clients without payment.

Interesting to note is that in Money's 2008, "Best Places to Live" list Plymouth, MN was ranked #1. The summary describes Plymouth as having, "topnotch schools, good jobs, affordable housing, low crime, an active outdoor culture... did we mention the outdoors? Plymouth boasts more than half a dozen sizable bodies of water.

Highlights from U.S. News and World Report

Best places to retire search tool is based on: preferred geographic region, weather, cost of housing, recreational & cultural activities, social environment, access to healthcare, and crime rates.