What Makes These Towns the Best?

Middleton_Wi_Money100_RobHowardEDA President Rick Estenson lent me his copy of the August Money magazine.  The cover story is titled the “100 Best Places to Live in America“.

Number one is Louisville, Co, number two is Chanhassan, MN, number three is Papillion, NE, number four is Middleton, WI, and number five is Milton, MA.  (Hmmm, I used to wrestle against Milton in high school; we called them the rich kids.)  There’s several Minnesota towns in the top 100.  In fact, the upper Midwest is very well represented in the list.

I was interested in how they rated the towns.  On page 77 of the paper copy, they’ve ranked them by grades of “A”, “B”, or “C” (nothing lower in the top 100) for five categories: “Jobs/Economy”, “Housing Affordability”, “Safety”, “Education”, and “Leisure/Arts”.

Check out the list and compare the towns that you know with Northfield.  How do you think we stand up against the “top 100”?


  1. Patrick Enders said:

    Hmmm. Middleton WI, huh? Well, parts of it are nice, but an awful lot of it is just generic suburbs (it sits adjacent to Madison on Lake Mendota).

    As far as I’m concerned, the best thing about Middleton was that the city of Middleton forgot to remove a merry-go-round from one of the playgrounds during the paranoid-about-liability 90’s.

    The second best thing about Middleton was that they had a highly skilled skate sharpener.

    The third best thing about Middleton was the beer from Capitol Brewery, but that was best consumed at the Union Terrace in Madison proper.

    Any of those three things was worth a trip to Middleton. I can’t think of any reason to actually live there.

    I’ve now bounced around the Money website a bit, but I can’t find a page where they discuss their methodology in any detail. Has anyone found such a page?

    July 21, 2009
  2. kiffi summa said:

    Patrick : Could you comment on a comparison with Northfield?
    Re: Middleton,You said “… parts of it are nice but an awful lot of it is just generic suburbs”…

    What do you think a uninvolved visitor who toured the town would say about NF if they looked not only at the DT, but the south highway 3 strip, and the beige developments within the SE and NW boundaries?

    And then, if those three areas outside the DT, are to be considered “generic suburbs” how is that to be avoided? or should it be?

    I am interested in how you think values should govern a town’s development, rather than just letting a free market hand prevail.

    July 25, 2009
  3. Ross Currier said:

    Patrick –

    There’s a brief summary of their “methodology” on the bottom of pages 70 and 71…

    …I’ve quoted their “decision-points” and the resulting (number of) towns moving on to the next level of the ranking process.

    Start with U. S. towns that have a population of 8,500 to 50,000. (2,466)

    Exclude places where income is more than 200% or less than 85% of the state median; those more than 95% white; those with poor education and crime scores. (1,599)

    Screen out retirement communities, towns with significant job or population loss, or extreme growth, and those with no major airport withing 60 miles. Rank remaining places based on job growth, income increases, cost of living, housing affordability, school quality, arts and leisure, safety, health care, diversity, and several ease-of-living criteria. (580)

    Factor in more data on the economy, jobs, housing, schools, taxes. Weigh economic factors most highly. (100)

    Visit and interview residents, assessing intangibles like sense of community. (24)

    Select the winner based on the data and our findings. (1)

    I guess I’d have to call their methodology a mixture of science and art.

    July 27, 2009
  4. Patrick Enders said:

    That’s it? That’s art. Very fuzzy, Impressionistic art.

    Given their methodology, “What makes these towns best?” has already been defined. It includes:
    – proximity to a major airport
    – not too rich, not too poor
    – not too big, not too small
    – not too white
    – “economic factors most highly” (Duh. It’s Money Magazine, after all.)

    Ah well. “Best Town To Live” is about as subjective a question as one can get.

    For me, 320 Union St, Northfield MN is possibly the best place on the planet to live. YMMV.

    July 27, 2009
  5. Patrick Enders said:

    Reasons for the ranking include an unemployment rate of 6.1 percent, falling property taxes and rising median income, according to the magazine.

    July 27, 2009
  6. Ross Currier said:

    Patrick –

    Some of the “data” in their “methodology” reminded me of Goldilocks…not too this and not too that.

    I also wondered how they determined “school quality”, if “health care” meant “good health care”, “affordable health care”, or “choose any doctor you want at any time health care”, and what the heck are “ease-of-living criteria”.

    However, being in the Top 100 probably is worth something, and being #1 is probably worth quite a bit. I think Griff’s suggestion of comparing Northfield to Chanhassen, Chaska, Lino Lakes, and Owatonna might be a worthwhile exercise.

    July 27, 2009
  7. Patrick Enders said:

    The only one of those which I have any personal knowledge of is Owatonna, and the only thing I can say about it is that when I visited it, it made no significant impression on me – except htat there was a Lowe’s, and some nice buildings downtown.

    I never applied for the job opening there.

    Of course, one of my personal criteria for a good place to live is the presence of a good college or university. Do any of those towns have one of those?

    July 27, 2009
  8. Griff Wigley said:

    Interesting that in the leisure and culture category, they total up Movie theaters, Restaurants, Bars, Libraries (within 15 miles), and Museums (within 30 miles).

    Hey, why not art galleries?

    Or art/music events per month?

    July 27, 2009
  9. Curt Benson said:

    Ross, does Chanhassen have a “real downtown”? I haven’t been out there in years, but what I remember is sort of a suburban feel with no real city center, just a few strip like commercial centers. (I could be wrong.) Neighboring Chaska has a more Northfieldish vibe.

    Also, Chanhassen is opening its first high school this fall. (In fact, Chanhassen and Chaska will join Northfield’s Missota conference in 2010.) Prior to this fall, Chanhassen’s high school students were split between Minnetonka and Chaska High Schools.

    In my opinion, a town with out its own high school wouldn’t have its own identity–and would not qualify to be a “best” town.

    July 27, 2009
  10. Ross Currier said:

    Curt –

    I don’t know about the “real downtown” and I agree with you on the “own high school”.

    Personally, without both of the above, I would have trouble considering it an “authentic” town, although one resident claims that it has a “genuine small-town feel” because “people here really look out for each other”.

    As Tracy suggested on today’s radio show, Chanhassen’s low unemployment rate, at least in part, is “thanks to a broad jobs base in the Twin Cities area”. Other things highlighted in the write-up are the City’s “perfect triple-A bond rating” and “the 1,047 Minnesota Landscape Arboretum”.

    The summary “pluses” are “low crime, fiscal strength, lots of green space” (including “skating and hockey everywhere (town officials flood grassy areas to create outdoor rinks)” and the summary “negatives” are “scant nightlife, brutal winters” including “braving temps that often dip into single digits”.

    July 27, 2009
  11. Patrick Enders said:

    Single digits? Above zero? Boy, that sounds brutal.

    July 27, 2009

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