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Which counts more: high-priced houses or clean air? Money magazine's "best places to live" feature is a crock, like all such rating systems, because it depends on weighing one incommensurable factor against another. They report, they decide. It's more fun to check out which midwestern places closest to Chicago rank best in particular categories.
Richest: Naperville (#11 overall with $99,863 median household income)
Best-educated: Evanston (#4 overall with 31.2 percent of residents holding graduate degrees), closely followed by Oak Park (#7 overall wirh 29.1 percent)
Safest, maybe: Wheaton (#16 overall lowest reported rate of violent crime)
Quickest to work: Bloomington (#14 overall shortest commute, median 12.6 minutes)
Fastest job growth: Bolingbrook (#16 overall at 34.6 percent)
Skinniest and most singles: Champaign
Youngest: Cicero (#23 overall, median age 26.95 years). Hah! You thought we were going to say Champaign!
Cheapest housing: Decatur
Cleanest air: Ames, Iowa (#15 overall with 98.1 percent of "good" days on the Air Quality Index)
Having fooled around with this, it strikes me there's another reason "best city" rankings are a crock. They pull in the extremes, which are usually smaller places. Certain Chicago neighborhoods could compete on most of these rankings--OK, maybe not cleanest air--but they don't get counted as places to live, and Chicago as a whole averages out. Maybe it's just that suburbanites buy more middlebrow magazines, so they get catered to.