Niche names Naperville 2nd best place to live

This is not an uncommon accolade for Naperville: Niche recently named the suburb the second best place to live in the country.

Niche looked at 228 cities and more than 15,000 towns and based rankings on crime rate, public schools, cost of living, job opportunities and local amenities…

Niche also took into account reviews from residents in the various cities and towns. Out of the 397 reviews, 111 people gave Naperville an “excellent” rating, 187 said it is “very good,” 91 called the city “average,” six said it is a “poor” place to live and two said it is “terrible.”

Naperville got an A+ for both its public schools and being a good city for families, an A in diversity, an A- in housing and a B+ in both nightlife and crime and safety.

Niche ranked Ann Arbor, Mich., the best city to live in America. Rounding out the top five cities to live in America are Arlington, Va.; Columbia, Md. and Berkeley, Calif.

Several quick thoughts:

  1. In Money‘s 2016 rankings of the best places to live, Naperville was #10.
  2. Including reviews from local residents is an interesting twist. Why did a few respondents give Naperville a poor rating? Weather and a few other issues. And the two terrible ratings are both related to the state of Illinois.
  3. Where doesn’t Naperville do well? A C+ for cost of living as well as for weather.
  4. The top five cities are all within major metropolitan areas where they are sizable communities but nowhere near the biggest community. This may be notable until you look at Niche’s list of the “best places to live” and there you find smaller suburbs.

Money’s Best Places to Live are pretty well-off

The top communities on Money‘s Best Places to Live 2015 are not the wealthiest suburbs but they are fairly wealthy compared to national incomes. Only 7 have median household incomes less than $70,000 (the lowest is $57k) and 17 have median household incomes over $100,000. The median household income for the entire United States? $53,046 (data from 2009-2013).

Money’s methodology contributed to having communities with these income levels. Among other factors that went into creating these rankings:

-“[excluded] places with a median family income less than 80% of the state average”

-“Eliminate places with a median family income of more than 210% of the state average or a median home price over $1 million. Rank the rest on factors including job growth, diversity, and ease of living, giving the most weight to economic opportunity, housing affordability, education, and safety.”

In other words, the methods ensured that these communities couldn’t be too poor or too wealthy. Yet, the above-average incomes in these communities are connected to all sorts of other factors: not just jobs but higher-paying jobs (likely white collar), the money available in the tax base, the education level of residents, the kinds of available housing, and so on.

Could the average American live in these communities? Perhaps there would be some cheaper housing (that is a factor in these rankings though it is primarily about cost and not about having apartments and smaller and/or older houses) and the median household income suggests half of residents in these communities are below the figures posted here. However, these rankings are geared toward people of higher social classes.

Naperville ranked as the 186th most diverse city out of 230 biggest cities

Naperville may be the safest big city but it doesn’t have much diversity according to new rankings from WalletHub:

As the culmination to our series on diversity studies, this final installment combines our previous reports on economic class diversity, ethno-racial and linguistic diversity, and diversified economies with household diversity to paint the clearest image of America’s cities today. Recognizing that economic opportunity follows diversity, where in the U.S. would you rather live? Better yet, where would your unique background be most valuable to society?

To help you answer those questions, WalletHub once again examined the demographic profiles of the 230 most populated U.S. cities. In order to construct our final rankings, we tallied each city’s scores in the four major diversity categories we analyzed in this series.

Los Angeles leads the way at #1 and Chicago is at #32 overall. For the record, Naperville ranks 125 in income diversity, 336 in educational diversity, 265 in racial & ethnic diversity, 170 in language diversity, 149 in region of birth, and 183 in industry diversity. Naperville is also listed as one of the five lowest in marital status diversity as well as in household type diversity.

The commentary on the rankings suggests that economic opportunity is linked to higher levels of diversity. This may be the case but it doesn’t necessarily mean that the economic opportunities are equitably spread across cities. Perhaps having opportunities nearby is better than no opportunities at all – though I’m reminded of some of the earliest American sociological neighborhood studies like The Gold Coast and the Slum that noted how closely the rich and poor could live near each other with no interaction. Even if Naperville is not diverse in many of these areas, that doesn’t mean that it can’t be wealthier or that it won’t be viewed as a desirable place to live (ask Money or other magazines). Indeed, some might see the lack of diversity as highly desirable for both defensible (wanting a higher quality of life – isn’t that what the suburbs are supposed to be about?) and indefensible (trying to avoid members of a different racial/ethnic groups or certain social classes).

Naperville named safest American city over 100,000 people

Niche.com recently named Naperville the safest American city:

The rankings were based on evaluations from 215 cities with populations of more than 100,000 residents and included analysis of the city’s violent and property crime data, including murder, assault, robbery, burglary, larceny and vehicle theft rates.

Niche, a Pittsburgh-based ranking and review web site, used the 2013 FBI Uniform Crime Report “Crime in the United States,” an annual publication that reports the number and rate of violent and property crime offenses. They then used a formula to determine the city’s safety ranking, which includes weighting the crime by category: murder rate at 30 percent; assault and robbery at 20 percent each; and burglary and larceny at 10 percent each.

Two Naperville officials are quoted in the story praising crime prevention efforts. This helps but my guess regarding the bigger factor is the wealth of the community. According to the latest (2013) Census estimates: Naperville has a median household income of $108,302, the poverty rate is 4.1%, and the percent of residents with a high school degree is 96.5% and 65.9% have a bachelor’s degree. There are plenty of wealthy communities in the United States but they tend to be smaller. Once you get cities bigger than 100,000, it is hard to find many that have the number of educated and wealthy residents as Naperville.

Picking apart the top cities for singles rankings

Rankings of the top cities for singles may not be that valid:

“It doesn’t make much difference” where millennials live in terms of their marriage prospects, Andrew Cherlin, director of Johns Hopkins’ sociology department, wrote in an email. He said most major cities now have about the same rate of millennial inhabitants…

And indeed, most of the top cities for this category were near military installations. No. 2 on Wang’s list was San Luis Obispo, which is less than an hour from Vandenberg Air Force base, the third-largest air force base in the country. No. 4, in Hanford, Calif., has a large Navy presence…

So what does predict whether you’ll get married? The reigning champ of marriage indicators is Mormonism, even for millennials. Utah towns occupy the top three slots among 18-34 year-old marriage rates (nearly 2/3rds of millennials are already spoken for in western Utah County, Utah). And the U.S.’s top-three Mormon states, Utah Wyoming and Idaho, occupy the top three slots for states.

Surprise, surprise; rankings found on the Internet may not be that great. Sometimes this has to do with methodology: what is included in the rankings and how are the different dimensions rated? This is discussed here: do you want to look at millennial composition (where Washington D.C. leads the pack) or millennial marriage rate (Washington D.C. doesn’t do as well)? One lesson might be to have more specific rankings – do you really mean it is best for singles if your data is based on the marriage rate?

Additionally, two other issues arise. One, what if the cities aren’t that different from each other? Rankings are intended to differentiate between options but mathematical differences do not necessarily equal substantive significances. Second, why are the rankings in this order? Here, what related factors – such as the proximity of military installations – might be relevant? This may be hard to pick up at times because not all the cities may be affected by the same phenomena. Thus, the researcher has to do some extra digging to try to explain the rankings rather than just simplistically report them.

Even with the argument from Richard Florida about the creative class seeking out cities with enticing culture and entertainment, how many people move where they do because of such rankings?

The American Dream and how Chicago magazine determined “Chicago’s Best Places to Live”

Chicago has a new list of the best places to live that includes 12 Chicago neighborhoods and 12 Chicago suburbs. Here are the factors the magazine used to identify these communities

First we looked at the factor that tends to be uppermost in the minds of families these days: safety. We eliminated from contention all community areas that notched violent crime rates higher than 7.0 offenses per 1,000 inhabitants last year (the city average: 9.3 per 1,000). That meant tossing out the Loop (9.9 per 1,000) and the historic South Side neighborhood of Pullman (11.2 per 1,000), for example. And we eliminated suburbs with violent crime rates above their county’s average—which removed from contention such otherwise appealing places as Evanston (2.2 per 1,000) and Oak Park (2.7 per 1,000), both in Cook County (2.1 per 1,000).

Then we turned to education. If a town or community lacks a public school whose students score above average on standardized tests, we dinged it. And because raising kids in an area that’s at least somewhat diverse is a goal of most parents, we nixed spots where more than 92 percent of residents are of any one race. (Bye-bye, Kenilworth, Western Springs, and Winnetka.)

For the places that remained, we looked at ease of transportation downtown, giving extra points to those that have several el stops and at least one Metra stop. (Places with outstanding schools and low rates of property crime also got bonus points.) And we considered how home prices in these places have fared in recent years compared with prices in neighboring areas, as well as whether buyers there can get good value for their money—which is not the same thing as paying the smallest amount. (For detailed price charts covering all Chicago suburbs and neighborhoods with at least 20 home sales in 2013, see this page with all the housing data.)

Finally, I hit the pavement to assess which spots possess those hard-to-define qualities that matter hugely when you’re looking for somewhere to live. Things like vibrancy (are there lots of bustling restaurants and shops?). Beauty (are there architecturally interesting buildings or just cookie-cutter developments?). Friendliness (does the community have a natural center that brings people together?). Is it, quite simply, a great place to call home?

So it boils down to safety, good schools, good transportation, higher than average housing values, and quality of life. Such measures are not uncommon on Best Places to Live lists.

However, it struck me upon reading this list that these traits tend to match a particular vision of a good community. If I may put it this way, it is a middle to upper-class ideal where kids are safe and nurtured and communities are protected from the difficulties of the world. It roughly matches the American Dream where people can live in small-town type places (even though most Americans do not live in such areas, they harbor the ideal of living in a tight-knit community – even if they may not want to contribute much to it) in relative comfort.

Just to take the two examples from DuPage County, Wheaton and Hinsdale, these communities partly derive their ranking from protecting this particular vision over the decades. Not everyone can move into these communities; it requires a certain amount of money as the affordable housing the communities discuss has much more to do with allowing senior citizens and recent college graduates to have somewhere to live rather than truly addressing low-income residents.

Maybe this methodology does reflect what many Americans want. The suburbs on the list are nice and the Chicago neighborhoods, while having more diversity, tend to be the more sought-after ones. At the same time, such lists could reinforce the notion that protected and wealthy places are the best ones, the ones we should all aspire to live.

Zillow back with Trick or Treat ratings for major cities

Zillow is back with its 2014 rankings of “Best Cities for Trick or Treating.” San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Chicago round out the top three. The methodology has not changed much compared to 2013:

We take data seriously here at Zillow, even when it comes to trick or treating. While wealthier neighborhoods are often known for their frightfully sweet harvest on Halloween night, we calculate the Trick-or-Treat Index using a holistic approach with four equally weighted data variables: Zillow Home Value Index, population density, Walk Score® and local crime data from Relocation Essentials. Based on these variables, the index represents cities that will provide the most candy, in the least amount of time, with the fewest safety risks.

In the era of Internet lists, this is a potentially catchy list. The factor of housing values filters out a lot of places with the top 10 dominated by coastal cities with Chicago as the only Midwestern or Southern entry.

Yet, it also seems limited to major cities, not even metropolitan regions, so its scope is limited. Many Americans live in suburbs or smaller big cities and those don’t seem to make the cut here. Perhaps Zillow doesn’t have the same availability of data in these places.

I suspect that people within these cities would not all appreciate it if people took these rankings seriously and in large numbers flocked to the highest-rated neighborhoods just to get better candy more quickly. But, it would certainly be interesting if large numbers did show up…