A co-worker recently walked into my office seeking some advice. He was planning a move to an eastern suburb. He'd reviewed last year's annual "Rating the Suburbs" issue and looked at homes in a number of the communities that interested his family.
"We're trying to decide between a few suburbs. Can you tell me which one's best?" he asked.
As you might imagine, I get that question a lot. So I have a pretty standard answer: "It depends on what you want out of your community."
Our ratings are meant to appeal to a wide range of people. They place the greatest weight on education and safety as the foundations of a community. Housing, city services, property taxes and demographics are also a part of the equation.
We believe these statistics are valuable tools in taking the measure of a town. But, obviously, there's more to a community than numbers. At the heart of every great place to live, work and raise a family are people — people who care about where they live, about their neighbors, about making a difference.
That's why, along with our usual rankings, we have chosen to take a look at our top 10 suburbs through the eyes of families who live in those communities. These candid profiles reveal some common issues: schools dealing with funding shortfalls, concerns about encroaching development, even a desire for better street lighting. But the stories are personal as well, reflecting each family's attraction to its community.
It's the same advice I gave my co-worker: Talk to people in the community. Sit in a coffee shop and ask how people perceive their city, their school system, their safety forces. Ask what big issues are facing the suburb and how they're being handled. Find out what one thing people would change about the place where they live.
Similarly, we also get to know 10 individuals whose efforts have made a significant impact on our communities. Among them are developers Mitchell Schneider, Robert Stark and Peter Rubin, whose work seeks to energize our economy, as well as community activists Julie Ganim and Jan Van Wagner, who fought to preserve their own little patches of green space.
Every city needs leaders at every level working to improve Greater Cleveland.
And according to the statistics from the 65 suburbs in our rankings, there is some encouraging news. For example:
The average median home-sale price has increased from $157,201 in 2001 to $162,818 in 2002 to $166,575 in 2003, figures that stay ahead of the rate of inflation.
The average number of community services offered by our 65 suburbs has increased from 6.65 services (out of a possible nine) in 2002 to 6.98 services last year, which means more recycling programs, recreation opportunities and senior services.
In 2002, there was an average of 7.37 violent crimes per 1,000 residents in the suburbs we rate. Last year, that number had dipped to 6.94. Similarly, the average number of nonviolent crimes per 1,000 dropped from 20.03 to 19.24 during that period.
Our educational indicators showed mixed results, however. While the average graduation rate (92.1 percent in 2003 vs. 91.3 percent in 2002), attendance rate (95.1 percent in 2003 vs. 95 percent in 2002) and ACT scores (21.9 in 2003 vs. 21.6 in 2002) inched ahead this year for our 65 suburbs, the average standardized-test scores in fourth, sixth, ninth and 10th grades all slipped.
It's a bad sign — as are news reports of teacher layoffs, program cuts and reduced extracurricular offerings. Our schools prepare our kids to guide our neighborhoods, lead our towns and enhance our region. Giving them the richest experience possible begins with all of us, and really demonstrates what we want out of our community.