[[ Click here to view the 2008 Burbs Charts ]]

[[ Read about last year's Rating the Burbs here.]]

Ah, the burbs. Those lovely neighborhoods with green lawns and homes with character and style, with easy access to highways and within walking distance of some of the area’s best amenities.

It’s images like those that set the top suburbs in the Greater Cincinnati area apart from the others.

Communities such as Amberley Village, Aurora, Fort Thomas, Glendale, Indian Hill, Madeira, Mariemont, Terrace Park and Wyoming have the homes where few look alike.

Other suburbs in the Tristate — from Lebanon to Richwood, from Pierce Township to Hidden Valley — offer newer, often bigger homes with a greater array of custom features.

Welcome to our second annual special report, Rating the Burbs, which examines and ranks our standout communities. In part, it’s a unique kind of relocation guide to help answer this question: Where would you most want to live if you were an outsider moving in, or an insider just itching to make a move?

Here’s where we begin:

Geography. The Cincy readership reaches throughout the counties of Southwest Ohio, Northern Kentucky and Southeast Indiana that make up our metro region. We focus on eight of those counties: Butler, Clermont, Hamilton and Warren in Ohio; Boone, Campbell and Kenton in Kentucky; and Dearborn in Indiana.

Communities. We define “Burbs” to include not only the suburbs and exurbs outside Cincinnati, but also those exceptional city communities that began as suburbs, such as Hyde Park and Mount Lookout.

Family. Downtown Cincinnati and riverfront towns such as Covington, Dayton and Newport are enjoying a resurgence with new and renovated housing, especially trendy condos. These residences tend to attract younger professionals and affluent empty-nesters. We look instead at the communities that tend to be the best places to raise children, which is why evaluating public schools is a big part of our analysis.
Property. The value of single-family houses is key indicator of the popularity and stability of any community. Rating the Burbs begins by looking only at Tristate neighborhoods where the median sale price in 2007 was at or near $180,000 or more. That’s why you may be surprised to see some popular places missing.

Intangibles. Aside from the statistics you’ll see listed on the following pages, we factor in some considerations that cannot be measured in numbers, such as close proximity to parks and recreation places that may not be located in the community’s borders.

Preferences. Some people love an older home on a quaint street with towering, mature trees — even if the place needs upgrades and renovations running well into six figures. Other people yearn to build the home of their dreams to their exact specifications on a lot of an acre or more — even if their trees don’t mature until the kids are in college and there’s not a sidewalk to be found for miles around. Our survey offers samples of both.

Susan Conway, a Realtor who is part of Team Recker — a top Sibcy Cline team in the Kenwood area, says many of the top suburbs have a certain charm that draws people in, such as town squares and gathering places.

“Homeowners love the feel of walking to something,” she notes. “Cafes where you can sit outside ... or where you can ride your bike or walk to schools.”

Two fast-growing counties north of Cincinnati, Butler and Warren, are well-represented in this list of the best burbs. Pat South, the president of the Warren County Board of Commissioners, notes that the population there has grown 26 percent since the 2000 census, as the suburbs from both Cincinnati and Dayton are meeting in her area. She adds that 50 percent of those residents have lived in her county less than 10 years.

Wide swatches of available land is a big draw. “We work very hard to retain the rural ambience, the rural feel that is still appealing to people,” South explains “The open space is part of the charm.”

Rating the Burbs looks at the best of the best. Any community or school system that appears toward the bottom of a list here is better than than thousands of others — and absolutely a better buy than what you’ll find in most other metro regions in the country.
— Sacha DeVroomen

Sacha DeVroomen is co-author of The Insider’s Guide to Cincinnati.

Special thanks for information provided by Jim Abele and the Multiple Listings Services staff of the Cincinnati Area Board of Realtors; Tammy Fryman and the MLS staff of the Northern Kentucky Association of Realtors Inc.; Susan Page and the MLS staff of the Southeastern Indiana Board of Realtors Inc.; and by the police departments and school districts listed.

No. 1 Montgomery
Montgomery is one of those rare neighborhoods with an appeal for everyone. Residents love the traditional feel of the community, while shoppers and diners flock to Olde Montgomery, the town’s central retail district. Downtown Montgomery is home to the famous Montgomery Inn, but in recent years other upscale restaurants such as Carlo & Johnny have also moved into the city. Strict zoning requirements preserve the high standards in the city, which has about 10,000 residents in about 5 square miles. The draw of the Sycamore Schools is what first lures families here; the city’s many attributes are what cause them to stay.
 
No. 2: Indian Hill
If you like horses, large estates and upscale living, Indian Hill is a well-preserved community that has been touted by Worth magazine as the 102nd richest town in the country. But that title may be deceiving, as parts of the village’s 20 square miles have smaller lots and homes. However, those residents still enjoy the great school system and lifestyle that the area offers. Indian Hill High School received a gold medal rating by U.S. News and World Report in 2007 as the 48th best public high school in the country. 
No. 3: Mariemont
Mariemont is another quiet, peaceful community whose homes are in high demand. This tiny, one-square-mile community, which is one of the area’s earliest planned communities, was designated in 2007 as a National Historic Landmark. The neighborhood — which still holds town meetings, complete with a town crier — is an English-style village, complete with an all-Tudor town square with a movie theater, shops and trendy restaurants. Although small, the village has its own school system, which is rated one of the best in the state.

No. 4: Amberley Village

One of the area’s amost prestigious communities is one that you don’t hear a lot about. That’s because there are no businesses here. It is a community that was carefully planned and works to preserve its rural, wooded characteristics. It’s only a five square mile area with about 3,000 residents. Many of the homes were built on at least one acre of land, and it’s a great destination for many people who work downtown as it is only 12 miles north.

No. 5: Terrace Park
Because of its age, Terrace Park is dotted with many tree-lined lots; the village claims to have more trees per street mile than any other community in the area. Few people leave the village along the Little Miami River, which enjoys the benefits of the highly rated Mariemont school district. It has an interesting history with forts and Indian battles, and it also once was the winter home for a circus, with elephants parading down the street for training. 
 
No. 6: Mason
Mason offers lots of amenities including four parks and a recreation center with an indoor pool. And of course, it has Kings Island right it its back yard, as well as The Beach Waterpark, Great Wolf Lodge and the Lindner Family Tennis Center. Tourism is one of the largest industries in Warren County; the sales tax accounts for 50 percent of the county’s funds.
 
No. 7: Mount Adams
You could call Mount Adams the city’s original suburb, back in the day of inclines and Nicholas Longworth’s famed vineyards. Today, Mount Adams serves upscale singles and trendy couples, offering a variety of elegant dining, boutique shopping, the beautiful Eden Park and lush Krohn Conservatory, and two of the town’s cultural powerhouses: The Playhouse in the Park and the Cincinnati Art Museum. It’s our slice of San Francisco, minus the streetcars.

No. 8: Symmes Township
When German and Scottish settlers first came to Symmes in the 1820s, it was to help build the Little Miami Railroad, the heart of the community. The township actually bears the name of John Symmes, who in 1788 made the “Miami purchase” that led to Cincinnati’s founding. Today, it’s a hotbed of residential activity (Symmes has hosted seven Homearamas in the past 20 years). The area is served by three highly ranked school districts: Indian Hill Exempted, Loveland City Schools and the Sycamore Community School District. Lake Isabella is the recreational centerpiece, with a 77-acre park, rowboat rentals and a fishing pier.
 
No. 9: Hyde Park
Cincinnati’s ultimate yupscale neighborhood (originally known as Mornington) is framed by tree-lined streets, lush parks and golf courses, and the iconic Hyde Park Square. Joggers, shoppers and diners head here for a dish of black raspberry chip at Graeter’s or a romantic meal at such hotspots as Teller’s, China Gourmet and Lemon Grass restaurants. Art galleries and offbeat gift shops also dot the neighborhood's major arteries, Erie Avenue and Edwards Road.
 
No. 10: Clear Creek Township
This Warren County township is close to Montgomery County, which makes for a lot of downtown Dayton commuters. Its largest town is Springboro and the township has 300 to 400 new homes built a year.

No. 11: Wyoming
A close-knit community that dates its roots back to 1861, Wyoming boasts more than 300 homes on the National Register of Historic Places. Its citizens love the city’s ethnic, religious and economic diversity. One of the reasons the city is so popular is that it is a city unto itself with its own services and its own school district, one of the highest ranked in the area. Architectural styles range from Victorian to modern, which helped the community win a national “Prettiest Painted Places” award.
 
No. 12: Deerfield Township
Deerfield is a bustling community of 29,000 people that offers a nifty mix of residential communities and high-end retail, especially at the new Deerfield Towne Center. Local government officials crow about easy access to the interstates for commuters, and the fact that there is no local income tax and zero earnings tax.

No. 13: Mount Lookout
Mount Lookout is best known for its shopping hubs, such as Mount Lookout Square, and its taverns and nightlife. (Who hasn’t scarfed a cheeseburger and a Bud at Zip’s Cafe?) Lesser known tourist attractions are Ault Park, with its dramatic views and winding rose paths, and the Cincinnati Observatory, the oldest such facility in the nation (the National Weather Service was actually founded here).
 

No. 14: Liberty Township
The operative word for Liberty Township is “growth.” With a population of 30,000, the township has averaged more than a thousand new residents for the past 10 years. New housing developments seem to spring up over night, taking advantage of available farmland and convenient access to I-75 and State Route 129. The township enjoys a thriving retail base, including one of the largest Kroger groceries in the world, but still pays homage to its rural agricultural past through the Liberty Township Historical Society and Liberty Township Garden Club.

No. 15: West Chester

West Chester has become a destination for many people new to the area, thanks in part to MONEY magazine naming it to its list of “100 Best Places to Live” in America. The area is made up of single family homes, with about 30 percent of the population 19 and under. New shopping areas and restaurants have sprung up in the area over the last 10 years as Union Center Boulevard was developed; its most recent retail addition is the IKEA store. West Chester is a hub of commerce as well, with multiple access ramps to the I-75 corridor. The economic base is primarily light industrial, high-tech, office parks and regional medical facilities.

The Numbers
Our overall rankings were formulated using raw data converted into points for home values, education, safety and other factors.

The survey began with communities where the 2007 median sale price of a home was $170,000 or higher, and was mostly limited for data-gathering purposes to communities designated as political subdivisions (city, township, village) or a Census-Designated Place (CDP). The $170,000 threshold was lowered in this year’s survey because the softer real estate market affected median and average sale prices of single-family homes.

These statistics were not calculated in the rankings: population, median sale price 2002, 5-year change in median sale price, property taxes.
Property tax information for Ohio was derived from Ohio Department of Taxation records and confirmed by the ODT. Indiana and Kentucky tax information was reported by state and county tax officials. Because property taxes can vary considerably with special taxing districts, credits, reductions and rollbacks, homeowners or prospective buyers should confirm actual taxes for a specific property by contacting the county auditor or treasurer’s office.

For the Commuting category, the numbers indicate the average drive time to work as reported in the 2000 Census by residents in these communities.

HOMES

Median home sale prices were provided by the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) staffs of the Cincinnati Area Board of Realtors, the Northern Kentucky Board of Realtors and the Southeast Indiana Board of Realtors. Those experts emphasize that the “5-Year Change in Median Home Price” is, by itself, not a reliable indicator of property appreciation.

SAFETY

Greater Cincinnati has some 200 villages, hamlets, townships, towns, small cities and municipalities. That means 200 different police departments, each with unique methods of record-keeping. Cincy collected 2007 information where available and attempted to even the playing field by comparing only “apples to apples” in the major crimes reported: murder, rape, assault, robbery, burglary, theft and auto theft. All of these communities are relatively safe in terms of violent crime, which is why we give more weight to property crimes. Crime statistics
were adjusted to rates per 1,000 residents.

EDUCATION

Note that this examination and ranking of Tristate public school systems included only those districts serving the communities that made our final survey list based on property values and other criteria. This means some exceptional local school districts were not examined this time. Two such exemplary school systems, for example, are Oak Hills (serving western Cincinnati and Hamilton County) and Fort Thomas in Kentucky.

Because private and parochial schools do not have to report all the data collected from public schools in our three-state region, it’s not possible to compare public-private fairly. Refer to our “Guide to Private Schools 2008” on page 63 for more information about them.
For communities served by more than one school system, data was used from district serving the most students in that community. Pierce Township in Clermont County, for example, is split between the West Clermont and New Richmond school districts.

The following data was not used in the school system rankings: per-pupil spending, school taxes, the percentage of economically disadvantaged students (those eligible for free or reduced lunches under federal income guidelines), and the percentage of gifted students. This year, we did not score points for extracurricular programs and sports because school systems differ considerably in how they count those.

Academic and other statistical information was gathered from state education departments, other public records and our own surveys of school districts.

“Indicators” refers to state academic performance measures. We show how many of those indicators each district met out of the total possible in Ohio and Kentucky. Indiana uses different measurements.

Ohio’s “Performance Index” combines and weights academic proficiency and progress test results in all grades and subject areas, and compares it to a scale of 0-120, with 100 being the goal. For Indiana and Kentucky, a comparable scale was created for comparison purposes. Kentucky schools, for example, student performance test results fall into four categories (Novice, Apprentice, Proficient, and Distinguished) and translate into a scale of 0-140, with 100 being considered proficient.

Other data was considered in the rankings, such as the Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) reports mandated by the federal No Child Left Behind Act. For school districts that already score exceptionally high in the academic achievement measures used, it is difficult to raise those AYP numbers significantly every year.

The state departments of education offer an impressive amount of information about school districts and individual schools.
Ohio: www.ode.state.oh.us
Kentucky: education.ky.gov
Indiana: www.doe.state.in.us
Another useful reference resource for schools is GreatSchools (www.greatschools.net).



EDITOR’S NOTE: We appreciate all of our readers’ comment, criticisms and suggestions. Many of these were posted before the full list of our Top 42 Burbs was posted online. That list includes, among others, Anderson Township, which was just within a few points of making the top 15 burbs that we profiled. Because we began our analysis with communities where the 2007 median sale price of a home was $180,000 or higher, many of those burbs that have a mix of neighborhoods and housing prices didn’t make the cut. See the link above about last year's Rating the Burbs, which leads to a story titled "What About Western Hills?"