Rating the Towns 2011
What makes one city or town better than another? It's impossible to give a definitive answer, of course, because of all the variables involved, not only in the towns themselves but in the eyes of the beholders there. Some of us like urban neighborhoods and an easy walk to an ethnic bakery, others prefer long driveways and the sound of crickets at night. Many like the idea of living near the shore, others don't like the smell of low tide. And lots of us prize things that are hard to quantify, like community spirit, or a religious community, or the nearness of family and friends.
Still, the goal of "Rating the Towns" is to identify the areas--schools, crime, cost of living, local economy, leisure and cultural opportunities--that most people seem to think most important when they judge the quality of local life.
This time around, there has been a slight shifting in our four population groups, reflecting the results of the 2010 census. A number of towns have grown into the next larger population group, usually resulting in a higher finish in the rankings.
We hope you find these ratings useful, whether you're transferring to Connecticut from out of state, looking for a new town to live in or seeking ways to improve the old one. And if you live in a Connecticut town too small to be included here, don't worry--we'll be rating and ranking the small towns, under 10,000 population, in our March 2012 issue.
The Numbers We Used
EDUCATION: This category combines five elements: the 2009, 2010 and 2011 Mastery Test results for 4th, 6th and 7th grades; results of the 2009, 2010 and 2011 Connecticut Academic Performance Test (CAPT); local SAT scores for 2008, 2009 and 2010, and the percentage of 2010 public high school graduates who went on to two- or four-year colleges. Test scores are weighted more heavily.
ECONOMY: The strength of the local economy was determined by the 2011 Public Investment Community score, compiled by the Office of Policy and Management, which rates all Connecticut towns under a formula based on population, per capita income, the adjusted equalized grand list per capita, the unemployment rate, the equalized mill rate and per capita aid to children.
COST OF LIVING: This category weighs most heavily the median price of a single-family house purchased in the first six months of 2011, a figure that predicts many other local expenses. The sales figures are provided by The Warren Group.
CRIME: This category is based on major crimes (murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, motor-vehicle theft) committed in 2007, 2008 and 2009 per 1,000 population, the most recent figures available from the state Department of Public Safety.
LEISURE/CULTURE: Includes local library expenditures per capita in 2010, the number of theaters, museums, festivals, concert venues, historic sites, colleges and universities, golf courses, local newspapers, radio stations, state parks and forests, voter turnout in the 2008 election and good local restaurants.
Rating the Towns 2011: Population Over 50,000
After falling behind Fairfield in the 2009 rankings, Greenwich has regained what it probably believes to be its rightful place at No. 1. Its school test scores wavered a bit a couple of years ago but now have resumed the top spot. Still, you may wish to save over a million dollars on the median price of a house and consider Fairfield, where the schools, crime rate and local economy are exemplary, and the views of Long Island Sound can be just as sweet.
Elsewhere, Stamford and West Hartford have switched places at Nos. 3 and 4. Both cities continue to see interesting residential, retail and restaurant changes in their downtowns (both are well worth a trip). Meriden made slight improvements in this population group in school results, crime and its above-average library expenditures per capita to move from last place in 2009 up to No. 12 this time. Meanwhile, Stratford benefits from going over 50,000 in population, according to the 2010 census, and joining this larger group. Last time, it languished near the bottom of the 25,000-to-50,000 group, but here it cracks the Top 10.
As a group, the state's most populous cities continued their struggle with poor schools, high crime and shaky local economies. However, as we've pointed out before, if you don't have school-age children and aren't particularly worried about crime, a few of the major cities offer rich cultural amenities and a lot of house, condo or apartment for your money. New Haven and Hartford finished well ahead in the number of cultural outlets available, from concerts and theater to good restaurants galore.
|4. W. Hartford||3||7||7||15||5||37|
|13. New Haven||15||19||17||6||1||58|
|17. West Haven||12||13||12||8||18||63|
|18. New Britain||17||16||16||3||12||64|
|19. E. Hartford||14||14||14||7||19||68|