Cincy Magazine's fifth annual "Rating the Burbs" project is our biggest ever. With stats on more than 130 communities, including more than 65 school districts, the rankings provide a comprehensive look at life in Greater Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky villages, cities and townships.

How did we do it? We started with the U.S. Census Bureau's just-completed 2010 decennial census for population figures in the metropolitan area. The Census provides data on more than 175 villages, cities, townships and Census Designated Places in Kentucky's Boone, Campbell and Kenton counties as well as Ohio's Butler, Clermont, Hamilton, and Warren counties. Communities with fewer than 1,000 residents were dropped.

Next, we collected 2009 crime statistics from the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting Program, which lists four categories of property crime and four categories of violent crime. We used 2009 numbers because the FBI had not broken down 2010 statistics by place as of our deadline. Reporting to the FBI is not mandatory, so for areas not contained in the FBI report, we checked community and state websites, and contacted local police departments for a breakdown of crimes in those areas.

Crimes are weighted in our rankings "” with murder and robbery given more heft than, say, motor-vehicle theft.

Thanks to the Cincinnati Area Board of Realtors and the Northern Kentucky Association of Realtors, we examined neighborhood-specific median home sales data. We looked at the total number of sales and compared the median prices in 2010 with the median in 2005. As the 2008 housing bust continues to cycle through the economy, prices are down from five years earlier in most areas. Communities with solid price gains, though, had a good shot at leaping in this year's ratings.

We also collected property tax data from county auditors and treasurers (Ohio) and property valuation administrators (Kentucky) to compare what taxes cost in each area for a $100,000 house. Owner-occupied housing was updated through the 2010 census, and average commute-to-work times were updated through the Census' 2005-09 American Community Survey, the latest information available for such statistics.

We added 30 school districts to our education rankings. We consulted state report cards, school websites and the school districts. We weighted various categories to score each district. Our chart contains the Top 35 districts.

As we said last year, no ratings system is perfect. However, we gathered and pored through thousands of statistics to bring you a snapshot of the best of what our area has to offer.

Research conducted by Lucy O'Brien and Bill Ferguson Jr.


In 1973, a young Jordanian landed in Madeira with a dream: He wanted to run his own chili parlor.

Thirty-eight years later, Jiries Khalilieh is still operating J.K.'s Chili "”"World's Finest Chili""” making the fresh Cincinnati-style concoction, tending to the grill and selling lottery tickets.

J.K.'s is just one of the small businesses that make up the fabric of Madeira, which is this year's top pick and repeat winner, in our fifth annual "Rating the Burbs."

"It's so friendly, quiet and safe," Khalilieh says between serving customers recently. When he came here, "there was no chili place in Madeira, so I took my chances."

It worked out well.

Khalilieh, now 64, and his wife raised two children, and he points to Madeira City Schools as a big reason why they decided to stay. The schools, ranked fourth among more than 65 area districts in our rankings, "provide a very good education. They have good teachers," he says.

Tom Moeller couldn't agree more.

Moeller became city manager 22 years ago, and the education system was a big factor for his family staying, too. As part of his job, he has helped integrate many city and school activities and facilities. For instance, the city contributed $250,000 to resurfacing Madeira High School's football field with artificial turf in 2007, and the community raised the remainder of the $750,000 cost of the project. In return, the school allows the city use of the field for recreational purposes, which saves wear and tear on the city's grass fields.

"It turned out to be a first-class facility," Moeller, 56, says.

That kind of city-school cooperative spirit extends throughout the community. City and education leaders look out for their residents, and residents look out for one another. That's also why the city is relatively low in crime.

Activities abound, and there's never a lack of volunteers, Moeller says. Last year, the city celebrated its 100th anniversary, and a committee of 25 to 30 people kept the events going all summer.

"Literally, thousands of (volunteer) hours are given every year," Moeller says. "That's what makes the community what it is."

Moeller also says the Madeira Chamber of Commerce "has been very active in the past four or five years," promoting business activities in the city of 8,726 residents about 12 miles northeast of downtown Cincinnati.

The median price of a home was $209,501 in 2010, up from $206,500 five years earlier. Although that might not sound like much, it was one of just two dozen area communities where home prices were up in that five-year period, as the three-year economic meltdown continues to clear. About nine of every 10 Madeira homes are owner-occupied.

Even top-ranked communities have challenges, though. With roughly 85 percent of Madeira zoned residential, and the remaining 15 percent zoned commercial and retail, the burden of paying for services falls mostly on residents. The city expects to lose almost 15 percent of its budget through state cuts, meaning that officials will be asking residents to help set the city's priorities, Moeller says. But close-knit Madeira has been through a lot in its 100-plus years. Its spirit is sure to prevail.

"” Bill Ferguson Jr.

Since 2000, Union Township in Warren County has seen almost a 35 percent population growth as of 2010. People flock to the area with good reason: The cost of living is almost 11 percent lower and the unemployment rate is 1.5 percent lower than national averages. The area honors a rich historic tapestry at the Warren County History Center, and enjoys plenty of artistic community events such as antique, quilt and crafts shows. With plenty of excellent education options, Union Township is a great place to raise a family.

Terrace Park, nestled along the Little Miami River, is a community created by its people, featuring dozens of organizations such as the Garden Club, Swim & Tennis Club, and Women's Club, as well as a Newcomers group. The schools are top notch, and the Recreation Committee provides facilities and activities, including baseball, soccer, basketball, softball and lacrosse. The Terrace Park Country Club was formed in 1900 and traces its roots to 1898 when William T. Irwin returned from Scotland with golf clubs and started playing in vacant lots with a few buddies. The club features an 18-hole golf course, tennis courts and a swimming pool.
The ever-popular "Fourth at the Fort," business districts with real character, and a renovated town center are just some of the attractions in Fort Thomas, a community along the Ohio River. Like its name suggests, Fort Thomas has a rich military history. Just minutes from downtown Cincinnati off I-471, the city is home to the historic Fort Thomas Military and Community Museum. Most homes are single family, and the parks are getting makeovers to provide even more recreational opportunities.
A combination of things make Newtown special. "The excellent quality of life in the Village of Newtown is exemplified by our award-winning school system, quaint neighborhoods and many recreational opportunities," says Mayor Curt Cosby. Newtown offers a chance to live in a village with just a 20-minute commute west to downtown Cincinnati.
A recent survey of residents reports 98 percent are happy with the operation of the community, which boasts a nationally recognized school district, is located near three major highways, and features retail and restaurants in its picturesque historic downtown. Every Montgomery resident is a five-minute drive from a park. For most, it's just a short walk to playgrounds, running paths, baseball diamonds, tennis courts or the community pool. Residential lots tend to be a half-acre, offering a traditional family environment that attracts a nice mix of families and retirees. There's a shared symphony with Blue Ash, too.
Clearcreek Township was created in 1815 from portions of Franklin and Wayne Townships. With 44.7 square miles, it is among the fastest-growing areas in Southwest Ohio. Good schools, median home prices of $232,500 and high safety ratings have placed Clearcreek among the top communities for the second year.
The rolling farmland along the Ohio River has close to 7,500 residents. It offers excellent schools, economic opportunity and is convenient to downtown Cincinnati and the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport. The schools are located in the Kenton County School District.
At the Villa Hills Civic Club members can stroll along the new nature trail, and enjoy local wildlife sightings.
Indian Hill offers winding roads with fabulous homes set back behind hedges and trees "” with a median home sale price in 2010 of over $1 million. The schools are outstanding, with a nationally ranked high school where 73 percent of students participate in Advanced Placement classes and have a passing rate of 92.8 percent. With its quiet, residential atmosphere, a strong sense of community, reputation for low crime, and varied recreational activities, the area has become a magnet for business and political leaders. The 20-square-mile town has its own water supply, police (the Indian Hill Rangers, founded in 1903) and fire protection. It also has soccer and lacrosse fields, walking paths, nature trails, bridle trails, playgrounds and picnic areas.
Grand homes along tree-lined avenues, a Farmers Market and a July 4 parade celebrating "150 years of Wyoming" with kids on decorated bikes and servicemen and women "” what's not to love? Top it all off with a school district consistently rated among the state's best. The close-knit atmosphere fosters a commitment to volunteerism, whether it's with the fire department or helping preserve the city's beauty. Wyoming is diverse, with various cultural and religious backgrounds, many ethnicities, and a range of incomes.
Scenic landscapes, excellent schools and plenty of nearby recreation make Anderson a draw. Though one of the most heavily populated townships in Ohio, Anderson enjoys beautiful outdoor scenery with preserved green spaces, and more than 16 miles of riverfronts along the Little Miami River and the Ohio River. The Forest Hills School District has received numerous accolades, including an "Excellent" rating on the Ohio State Report Card for five consecutive years. Close proximity to Riverbend, River Downs and historic Coney Island make it an attractive central location for entertainment and recreation.

The Community Band invites one and all to bring their instruments and join in. No audition necessary. It's just part of the welcome extended in this Kenton County city. Home to Northern Kentucky's largest healthcare provider, St. Elizabeth Hospital, Edgewood also has two parks and seven schools. Freedom and Presidents parks provide great recreation, baseball, basketball, football, soccer, tennis and volleyball.

With easy access to I-275, it's just a short drive to downtown Cincinnati. Between 1970 and 2000, Edgewood doubled in size.

Named for a natural cold spring discovered in the area in the 1780s, Cold Spring is about eight miles south of Cincinnati. The city has easy access to I-71, I-75, I-275, and I-471. As part of Campbell County Schools, Cold Spring has three elementary schools within its city limits, with a middle school and a high school in a nearby part of the county. Five parks provide residents recreational opportunities. Daniel Boone is reported to have acquired 500 acres in the area as a reward for his Revolutionary War service.

Walking through historic Mariemont feels like being transported to colonial America, with its red brick Tudor buildings and tree-lined walkways. The neighborhood features two overlapping national historic districts, Mariemont Historic District and Village of Mariemont, and it even maintains the tradition of a Town Crier. As a Tree City USA community, walking is a favorite pastime when coupled with the low crime and beautiful homes, parks and landscapes. The school district continues to be recognized for its distinction, ranked eighth out of more than 600 Ohio schools in the 2009-2010 performance index score. 

Named one of the nation's best small towns in 2009 by Money magazine, Springboro offers tranquil suburban living with small-town charm, yet has equidistant access to Cincinnati and Dayton. The location has helped Springboro become one of the area's fastest growing communities with a population increase of almost 50 percent since 2000. The schools are ranked "Excellent" by the Ohio Department of Education, new businesses are moving in, and attractions include the nation's fourth-largest dinner theater, La Comedia.  

Come to enjoy Caesar Creek State Park where a U.S. Army Corps of Engineer-built dam created a 2,830-acre lake. Bridle and hiking trails as well as Caesar Creek Pioneer Village and Nature Center provide much to do. Waynesville's antique stores and sauerkraut festival are among its attractions. Wayne Township shares its county's excellent schools, tourist attractions and great location. Despite a rough economy, there was less than a one percent drop in the median home sale price over the past five years. 

A community of 5,515, Morgan is bordered by Indiana to the west. It is served by Ross and Southwest Schools, which are both solid academic systems. The median home sale price was $210,000 in 2010 in this community, which will celebrate its bicentennial this year with a parade, quilt show, fireworks and a ceremony honoring its veterans.  

A stellar safety rating, rolling landscape, Indian Creek and several streams contribute to the quality of life in Butler's Ross Township. Residents can take advantage of the proximity of Cincinnati and Dayton as well as major highways and interstates. Organized in 1803, it was one of the original subdivisions of Butler County. Sixty-five firefighters are located in two fire stations in the township, and the fire department has a response time of five minutes or less.

#19  MASON 
Cintas Corp., Mitsubishi, Procter & Gamble and Luxottica are among the premier companies located in Mason. When it's time to play, head over to Kings Island amusement park, The Beach Waterpark, Great Wolf Lodge or The Golf Center at Kings Island. Mason is also home to the world-class Western & Southern Open tennis tournament. Seven parks, a community garden and a municipal pool make Mason a top community.  Despite great growth, Mason has preserved its small-town charm and offers a great location, outstanding schools and successful businesses.

Deerfield is an attractive place for families, showcasing a handful of arts organizations, such as Mason-Deerfield Alliance, a thriving farmers market, three award-winning schools and hundreds of acres of parks. The community also offers year-round camps, Movies in the Park and educational programs with crafts and lifestyle workshops. The population grew approximately 41 percent between 2000 and 2010, according to Census. 

"”  Brianna Bodine and Dianne Gebhardt-French 

Fresh from an analysis of suburban Cincinnati, some might wonder about neighborhoods in the city of Cincinnati.

Local media regularly report about the city's loss of population to the suburbs. Since it peaked at 503,998 in the 1950 census, the city's population has steadily declined, standing at 296,943 in the 2010 census.

But what about those who choose to stay in the city? What are the hot neighborhoods?

Eleven Cincinnati neighborhoods had a median home sale price above $100,000 in 2010, according to a breakdown by the Cincinnati Area Board of Realtors. That list was led by Mount Adams at $340,000, followed by Mount Lookout at $332,500 and Hyde Park at $311,800.

Mount Lookout's price was up 11 percent from five years earlier, while the other two dropped during that time.

Other neighborhoods where median home sale prices were above $100,000 in 2010: Clifton ($127,250), Columbia/Tusculum ($298,750), East End ($204,000), Mount Washington ($131,878), Oakley ($189,750), Paddock Hills ($102,000), Pleasant Ridge ($138,000) and Walnut Hills ($105,000).

The biggest median price appreciation for 2005-10 came in Columbia/Tusculum, where prices leaped 17 percent. The biggest loss came in Walnut Hills, where the median price took a 42 percent dive.

When comparing crime, home prices and other statistics in city neighborhoods, it's difficult to get apples-to-apples comparisons, because the different reporting agencies tend to apply slightly different boundaries.

However, it's fair to say the Hyde Park, Mount Washington and Pleasant Ridge areas have fewer incidents of crime for every 1,000 residents than the other neighborhoods. Even so, only Hyde Park falls close to the average crime rate in suburban communities.
 As clear as Cincy tries to be with the label "Rating the Burbs," editors are inevitably greeted with questions that begin "What about (insert non-suburb community here)?"

What about Hyde Park? What about North Avondale?

It's easy enough to explain in a meeting of editors. But the prospect of facing readers at a neighborhood picnic and on Facebook sent us back to Cincy's "Rating" reporter for a way to look at Cincinnati neighborhoods. We settled on one measure: home sales.

So, back to Hyde Park. Despite its beautiful park-like square, Hyde Park is not a suburb. It doesn't have a government or school district.

And North Avondale? Despite its strong identity and community, the gulf in housing prices kept it from the list of city neighborhoods with median home sales of more than $100,000.

Also, Indiana is not included because of incomplete data.

Still, there is plenty to tell you.

"” The Editors


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