Best Places To Live

Call us gluttons for punishment (and angry letters from you), but this year, we dared to tackle the unthinkable—we’ve numerically ranked (virtually) every place there is to live in our county, from best to worst. Yes, this means there is indeed a Number 1—and it also means there is a Number 40. Read on, and see where your town fell in our rankings.



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Photography by Phil Mansfield
With Adam Samson
Makeup by Jill K. Imbrogno for JKFlashy Makeup Service Co.

Photo by Phil Mansfield

 Maybe we all ask ourselves these questions at some point: “Did we make the right decision moving here?” “Are the schools better elsewhere?” “Did we pay too much for our house?”

I ask myself why I moved to New Rochelle every time I drive along one of the city’s crowded streets, with the traffic lights so poorly timed that it seems they’re always red, and I can’t move a block without having to stop. Must be that everyone else in the city feels the same way, because they’re all honking their horns. It’s like a massive case of road rage. But then, just as I’ve decided to pack up and move someplace better—and saner—I catch a glimpse of New Rochelle’s shoreline, and I head for it, down to the marina, where everyone is happy and friendly and smiling, and the city seems to have an entirely different personality.

That’s what this article is about: weighing the plusses and minuses of a community. Of course, we all have different criteria for what makes one town great and another town just okay. Good schools may be super-important to a young family, but to a retired couple, less so. A lively downtown may be what a single twentysomething is looking for, but fortysomething marrieds with children may not care at all about how many clubs their downtown has. Nevertheless, how does one go about evaluating a town? How can we determine the best places to live?

"Best" is, of course, subjective. And while a town may look good on paper—good schools, a breezy commute, plentiful parks—that certainly doesn’t guarantee that everyone living there loves it. Nevertheless, there is some merit in trying to determine the livability of an area, and, fortunately for us, there is a load of information available that helped us do so.

We found reams and reams of statistics to pull from. Our county government, in particular its Databook and its Land Use Report, offers information on just about everything in our 450-square-mile piece of earth that 950,000 of us call home. We also used the online site bestplaces.net to procure other data—e.g., how much houses cost and how much homeowners pay in taxes annually for their homes. To determine the quality of a school, we used the most recent SAT scores available (which we obtained from the New York State Department of Education). And yes, we know that SAT scores do not tell the entire story of a public school’s quality—indeed, we have in previous articles pointed out that there is a high correlation between the wealth of a community and its children’s SAT scores—but SATs are still one of the most frequently used criteria for judging a school’s success, and the scores are, of course, one of the factors colleges use to admit or reject students.

In all, we looked at 11 categories to determine the quality of a town: its public schools (high schools, specifically); housing costs; property taxes; proximity to New York City (as measured in commute time, in minutes, from the center of each town to Times Square as calculated by Google Maps); safety (per the violent crime index from bestplaces.net); diversity (as measured by the odds that two random people from the same town will be of different ethnicities); parks and recreation (average acreage of open/green space per residential unit); proximity to water (distance from the center of each town to the Hudson River or the Long Island Sound, whichever is closer); a lively downtown; shopping; and nightlife.

While most of the categories are measurable, the last three—a lively downtown (cafés, restaurants, pedestrian activity, general atmosphere, cultural offerings); nightlife (quantity and quality of bars, clubs, evening dining, and evening activities); and shopping (the quality and quantity of, and accessibility to, retail establishments)—are all subjective, of course. We used our knowledge of the county, as well as that of our trusted writers and sources.

Obviously, every one of our categories is not equally important. Many of us would be willing to do without a few music clubs for safe streets; diversity may be important to some of us but not to others. So we weighted the categories. How did we come up with our formula? We asked visitors to our website to tell us which of the 11 categories are most important to them. We also asked our friends, families, and anyone who would talk to us. And then we hashed it out in our offices (“I don’t care how close I am to the river,” one editor declared. Argued another, “It’s one of the first things I considered when I looked for my new apartment.”) And this is what we worked out, in terms of importance:

Schools
25.3%
Housing Costs
15.4%
Property Taxes
12.1%
Proximity to NYC
9.9%
Safety
7.7%
Diversity
6.6%
Lively Downtown
5.5%
Shopping
5.5%
Parks and Recreation
4.4%
Nightlife
4.4%
Proximity to Water
3.3%
(total equals 100.1% due to rounding)

 

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