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Issue Date: June 2007 Issue

Spruced-up Suburbs

Steve Gleydura
It’s been a long time between home-improvement projects: A decade since we’ve added any more than a handful of towns to our annual Rating the Suburbs issue.

Even for the tool-challenged like me, it probably means some sprucing up is in order — a coat of paint here, a little Chester Township there, maybe a new floor and new appliances in the kitchen.

Back in 1997, Cleveland Magazine added an entire guest room. What had previously been limited to Cuyahoga County was expanded to include “suburbs that traditionally have been ‘bedroom’ (albeit back-bedroom) communities for Cleveland — Twinsburg, Willoughby and Avon Lake, to name a few,” the editors noted. An additional 17 communities in five counties joined the list that year, with Avon earning the No. 5 spot in the rankings.

Since then, residents have filled those communities like so many boxes in the attic. (In the past 10 years, the median home-sale price in Avon is up 61.76 percent.)

And the expansion continues. More people are moving farther from Cleveland into what was once farmland and forest. 

And with that outmigration came the same questions year after year: Why doesn’t Cleveland Magazine include suburbs like Bainbridge, Richfield or Kirtland? Then, last year we conducted our first Rating the Suburbs survey, and many of those exurbs were named as places people would love to live if money were no object. Obviously, these towns were desirable. So we’ve added 11 new suburbs from Bainbridge to Bath.

And though the editors wondered how the rookie burbs would fare, there was little cause for concern. Chester Township (12), Kirtland (15) and Concord (17) cracked our overall top 20. (Only three other communities not ranked among last year’s top 15 made this year’s list.)
Revere (8), Kenston (9) and Kirtland (12) all ranked among our best school districts, while Concord Township (2), Amherst (5), Kirtland (7), Hinckley (10) and Chester Township (13) all made the list of safest communities.

Clearly this has made for a strong housing market in these areas, since three of the top 5 increases in median home-sale price over the past 10 years comes from the first-time burbs.

If you need any further evidence of why people are attracted to such communities, just look at this year’s survey of 400 suburbanites, which found that 14.25 percent of people cited “peace and quiet” as their favorite reason for living in their suburb.

As we were doing some remodeling of our list, we sought to restore some of the original details that had been painted over in the last round of home improvements. A decade ago, communities such as Valley View and Gates Mills with fewer than 3,000 people were dropped. That also eliminated the Cuyahoga Heights Schools, since none of the towns that the district serves meets the population threshold. But as the only district in Cuyahoga County not represented, it didn’t seem fair to leave them out. So Cuyahoga Heights returns this year to the school rankings at a very respectable No. 17.

Unfortunately, we’ve also had to drop a suburb. East Cleveland’s police department is no longer able to compile crime figures and has not supplied them to the magazine or the FBI in the past two years.

Finally, a look back at 1997’s Rating the Suburbs unearthed this frequently asked question: “Why are so few East Side suburbs represented in the Top 10?” Things sure have changed. Rocky River was the last West Side burb to take the top spot — back in 1999.

Back then, the West Side’s strong safety numbers buoyed their rankings. Many of those communities are still strong — Amherst and Bay Village rank among the top 15 this year in safety. Avon and Avon Lake made the top 20, joining perennials Westlake and River.

But schools seem to be propelling the East Side to the top these days. The top four districts are all on that side of town. That emphasis also has helped the housing market there. And safety’s not as big an issue, though both Pepper Pike and Mayfield Village tumbled in the rankings due to unusual violent crimes. (A double domestic murder in Mayfield Village was the first reported murder or rape in that community since 2003.)
Really, though, whichever side of town you’re looking at, there are great communities, wonderful neighborhoods and plenty of amenities. And just like our rankings, our choices continue to expand.

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