Best Places to Live in 2013

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The economy remains Americans' No. 1 concern. So as CNNMoney set out in search of this year's best places to live, our data crunching and reporting paid close attention to how well towns were doing economically. Using data from Onboard Informatics and other sources, we looked at everything from unemployment rates to job growth to housing appreciation, affordability, and more. A place, of course, is more than the sum of its numbers, so CNNMoney visited three dozen top scorers. That led us to 10 small towns (we alternate the Best Places list yearly between bigger and smaller locales) that are not only thriving, they've also got all you could want in a place to raise a family: plenty of green space, good schools, a strong sense of community. No question that you'll pay up to live in some of them, but you get a lot too.


TOP 15 PLACES TO LIVE:

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Best Places to Live in 2013

Population: 36,048*

Shrewsbury offers scenic small-town life with easy access to jobs in Worcester and Boston. While property taxes increased by 5 percent last year, the town still has one of the lowest rates in the state. The town center is packed with shops and ethnically-diverse restaurants, and more than $8 million worth of renovations are in store for the public library.

For outdoor fun, there are 75 acres of recreation fields and fountains at Dean Park and crew regattas on Lake Quinsigamond.

--Kerry Flynn

See homes for sale in Shrewsbury, Mass.

*Demographic information provided by Onboard Informatics.

Population: 19,135*

About a third of the residents of this community commute to Salt Lake City for work, but a couple of projects may start to shrink that number. The biggest is the new $200 million Station Park development, which combines office space, housing, stores, and restaurants.

Still, Farmington is best known for its outdoorsy charm: Sandwiched between the Wasatch Mountains and the Great Salt Lake, the town offers a huge 18,000-acre wildlife refuge and 115 miles of bike and hiking trails.

See homes for sale in Farmington, Utah.


--Hailey Lee

*Demographic information provided by Onboard Informatics.

Population: 21,715*

You'll find everything from luxury homes to modest townhouses in Montville, which is just a 50-minute train ride from New York City. Schools are a big draw here, with Montville High ranked among the best in New Jersey.

There's no walkable downtown yet, but residents pushed for the town to revitalize Towaco Center, an area near the train station. The project, which will include housing, shops, and a high-end steakhouse, will be completed next year.

--K.F.

See homes for sale in Montville, N.J.

*Demographic information provided by Onboard Informatics.
Population: 47,790*

Parker, established in 1981, may be young, but it already has more to offer than many older towns. Local favorites include the performing-arts center, which has a 500-seat theater and an outdoor amphitheater, and the H2O'Brien Pool water park.

The housing crash hit Parker hard, but the town's proximity to Denver (30 minutes) has helped the market rally; new construction is up, and entry-level homes priced at under $300,000 are selling quickly.

--K.F.

See homes for sale in Parker, Colo.


*Demographic information provided by Onboard Informatics.
Population: 22,407*

You'd never guess that this seemingly rural town, dotted with apple orchards and lakes, is also home to a bevy of high-tech jobs at companies like Red Hat and Juniper Networks. But tech firms form the town's economic backbone.

That doesn't mean natural beauty is in short supply: Westford is home to more than 2,000 acres of conservation land, two public beaches, and the Nashoba Valley Ski Area. The town itself has few entertainment options, but Boston is just 35 miles away.

--K.F.

See homes for sale in Westford, Mass.

*Demographic information provided by Onboard Informatics.
Population: 22,421*

West Goshen Township has a lush, suburban feel, with quiet, tree-shaded residential areas, lovely parks, and a full slate of community activities.

Looking for larger-scale entertainment? The King of Prussia Mall, America's largest shopping center, is only 20 minutes away. Surrounding the town is store- and restaurant-packed West Chester, a hamlet that serves as the area's unofficial downtown.

West Goshen also boasts an array of local employers, including Comcast and QVC, and is an easy commute to the economic hubs of Philadelphia and Wilmington, Del. If your heart's set on moving into a brand-new house, keep in mind that some newer residential developments lack personality and are expensive compared with older homes.

--Susie Poppick

See homes for sale in the vicinity of West Goshen, Pa.

*Demographic information provided by Onboard Informatics.
Population: 40,205*

Residents enjoy shopping and socializing in Apex's historic downtown, which plays host to events like a jazz festival and the Peak City Pig Fest. For more outdoor fun, there's the 400 acres of parks, baseball diamonds, and tennis courts.

The town has a range of affordable homes and is still growing, with residential building permits up 60% in the first quarter of 2013 compared with 2012.

Apex's growing population means, though, that while the schools still outperform many in the state, they've become more crowded. (A new high school is slated to open in 2015.) A new toll road has shrunk the roundtrip drive to the Research Triangle by 40 minutes but costs $3.66.

--Taylor Tepper

See homes for sale in Apex, N.C.

*Demographic information provided by Onboard Informatics.

Population: 19,837*

Papillion is a regular on our list because of its top-notch schools, safe streets, and 15-minute, traffic-jam-free commute to Omaha, home of major employers in industries like financial services and health care.

There are also plenty of jobs around town. Black Hills Energy and Nebraska's largest credit union recently moved their headquarters to Papillion. The town scores additional points for having the most affordable homes in the top 10, a wealth of green spaces, including 13 parks and a 17-mile trail system, and a new AAA baseball stadium. (Go, Storm Chasers!)

Shoppers and foodies, take note: Downtown has few stores, and the fine-dining options are practically nil.

--Vanessa Richardson

See homes for sale in Papillion, Neb.

*Demographic information provided by Onboard Informatics.

Population: 31,761*

At the helm is Mayor David Nichols. Formerly CEO of a publicly traded manufacturing company, he has helped bring several new employers to town -- where they join an already impressive list of firms like Procter & Gamble and Mitsubishi.

These jobs, plus proximity to Cincinnati and Dayton, attract a diverse workforce, and the schools are among Ohio's best.

The shopping, on the other hand. is less varied. While Mason does have a few non-chain restaurants and shops in town, big-box stores are the norm.

--Ismat Sarah Mangla

See homes for sale in Mason, Ohio.

*Demographic information provided by Onboard Informatics.
Population: 13,345*

Home to Alcatel Lucent's U.S. headquarters, close to major pharmaceutical makers, and a 50-minute commute into New York City, Berkeley Heights offers easy access to a wide range of jobs.

The dining scene in town has flourished in the past couple of years, thanks to new additions like Strega Bistro and Nagoya Sushi. The 2,000-acre Watchung Reservation gives locals a place to picnic, canoe, and ride horses. And the community has a neighborly feel.

On the downside, there are few major retailers. Plus the housing market can be daunting, though not out of line with the area.

--Donna Rosato

See homes for sale in Berkeley Heights, N.J.

*Demographic information provided by Onboard Informatics.
Population: 18,736*

There are plenty of reasons to love this small town just outside Portland -- quaint historic downtown, top-ranked schools, relatively affordable home prices -- but residents gush most about its proximity to fun stuff.

Just west of Sherwood is Willamette Valley wine country. Keep going and in less than two hours you're on the Oregon Coast. Or travel 65 miles east to Mount Hood for skiing or hiking. Then there's Portland, home to highly acclaimed restaurants, microbreweries, museums, theater, and more.

It's also an easy commute to the likes of Nike in Beaverton, Intel in Hillsboro, and a plethora of high-tech and medical jobs. Oregon was hit hard by the recession, but the region has made a strong comeback. Says Judy Adler, a local real estate agent: "The recovery has been incredible."

--Sarah Max

See homes for sale in Sherwood, Ore.

*Demographic information provided by Onboard Informatics.
Population: 23,685*

Chanhassen was affected by Minnesota's woes during the downturn, but the town is bouncing back and taking fresh steps to improve. The area school district recently provided $700,000 in grants for classroom tech projects and is now rolling out Wi-Fi on all school buses. The town also beefed up commuter options.

The housing market, which took a big hit, is surging back. Jobs have remained strong, and nearby Minneapolis offers big-name employers like Target and the Mayo Clinic.

One perk of Twin Cities-area living is access to the great outdoors. Chanhassen's highlights include 34 parks, 90 miles of trails, and the 1,137-acre Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. When below-zero wind chills set in, there's February Festival with ice-fishing contests, sledding, and cookouts.

--Veronica Crews

See homes for sale in Chanhassen, Minn.

*Demographic information provided by Onboard Informatics.
Population: 16,285* 

Unlike other cookie-cutter suburbs in Northern Virginia, Vienna offers walkability, a historic center, and unique businesses that give Vienna an identity all its own.

A town green anchors the community and serves as a gathering spot for local events, like the Concerts on the Green summer series. A 45-mile bike path and park built on the roadbed of a former railroad cuts right through town, and downtown is dotted with one-of-a-kind stores and homegrown eateries. The small-town feel comes with access to all the D.C. metro area attractions.

All that comes at a cost: Real estate prices and taxes are among the highest in the county. A typical three-bedroom can sell for $600,000 -- and bidding wars are the norm. Then there's the traffic, though that's just a fact of life for anyone near the nation's capital.

--I.S.M.

See homes for sale in Vienna, Va.

*Demographic information provided by Onboard Informatics.

Population: 18,924*

A two-time No. 1, Louisville comes in strong yet again. It's a great place to raise a family, with well-regarded schools and a safe community.

Louisville's housing market has been on the rise since 2008, and its place in the technology-rich Denver-Boulder corridor has kept the job outlook solid, despite recent setbacks like Phillips 66 pulling the plug on a much-anticipated renewable-energy campus.

Locals say the work-life balance in Louisville is hard to beat. Come summer, residents can look forward to weekly events featuring food trucks from local restaurants, beer gardens, live music and much more. Then there's the Colorado sunshine, 1,800 acres of open space, and, of course, the Rocky Mountains, just a 20-minute drive away.

--Pieter Van Noordennen

See homes for sale in Louisville, Colo.

*Demographic information provided by Onboard Informatics.

Population: 17,944*

This New England town is surrounded by a wealth of good jobs in Boston, Providence, and the Route 128 tech corridor. That helped insulate Sharon from the worst of the recession and ignited its rapid recovery.

A half-hour train ride from Boston or Providence, this one-time summer resort has the natural beauty of a more remote place. Forty percent remains open space, and the town jewel, Lake Massapoag, offers a place for residents to swim, picnic, and enjoy concerts on Memorial Beach.

Sharon's schools are a big draw for families. So is its diversity. The town has seven synagogues, nine churches, and one of New England's largest Islamic mosques. Nearly 30 percent of students in public school are nonwhite, and 18 percent speak a language other than English at home.

--D.R.

See homes for sale in Sharon, Mass.

*Demographic information provided by Onboard Informatics.

See the complete list at CNNMoney.

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