The 100 best places to raise kids

/ Source: Children's Health

From the moment she finds out she's expecting, a new parent's mind begins to construct a fantasy of the perfect place to build a nest: a community that's safe, nurturing, stimulating, and economically sound. A neighborhood where parents reflect your values — education, health and fitness, concern for the environment — and raise their children the same way. The kind of place where a child can slip on her rubber boots, grab her colorful umbrella, and play on the quiet, tree-lined street outside her home without worry.

The editors of Children's Health wanted to find where in America such places existed and how we can make the communities we live in today more like that ideal, so we embarked on a comprehensive statistical analysis to rank 100 noteworthy American cities scattered across the country. We considered more than 30 factors that parents deem vitally important, including crime and safety, education, economics, housing, cultural attractions, and health. (See the criteria used.) When we crunched the numbers, these were the cities that best complemented family life.

1. Burlington, VT

Living on Lake Champlain rewards you with more than scenic views and colorful fall foliage. The schools' per-pupil spending and graduation rates rank near the top of the country, as does the percentage of the population with advanced degrees and the median family income. And, as is often the case, wealth leads to health — there's less obesity here than anywhere else in the country, possibly because the city also has the fewest fast-food restaurants per capita.

See the rest of the list below:

2. Madison, WI

3. Fargo, ND

4. Lincoln, NE

5. Fremont, CA

6. Lexington, KY

7. Honolulu, HI

8. Cheyenne, WY

9. Omaha, NE

10. Yonkers, NY

11. Austin, TX

12. St. Paul, MN

13. Jersey City, NJ

14. San Francisco, CA

15. New York, NY

16. Little Rock, AR

17. Washington, DC

18. Minneapolis, MN

19. Colorado Springs, CO

20. Billings, MT

21. Boston, MA

22. Seattle, WA

23. Sioux Falls, SD

24. Pittsburgh, PA

25. Bangor, ME

26. San Diego, CA

27. Albuquerque, NM

28. Raleigh, NC

29. Portland, OR

30. Providence, RI

31. Louisville, KY

32. Manchester, NH

33. Wichita, KS

34. Anchorage, AK

35. Lubbock, TX

36. Boise City, ID

37. Durham, NC

38. Des Moines, IA

39. San Jose, CA

40. Nashville, TN

41. Montgomery, AL

42. Atlanta, GA

43. Spokane, WA

44. Denver, CO

45. Fort Wayne, IN

46. Newark, NJ

47. Aurora, CO

48. El Paso, TX

49. Indianapolis, IN

50. Kansas City, MO

51. Charlotte, NC

52. Charleston, WV

53. Buffalo, NY

54. Oklahoma City, OK

55. Richmond, VA

56. Rochester, NY

57. San Antonio, TX

58. Arlington, TX

59. Columbia, SC

60. Tulsa, OK

61. Greensboro, NC

62. Baton Rouge, LA

63. Norfolk, VA

64. Columbus, OH

65. Anaheim, CA

66. Corpus Christi, TX

67. Jacksonville, FL

68. Los Angeles, CA

69. Fort Worth, TX

70. Chicago, IL

71. Oakland, CA

72. St. Louis, MO

73. Tucson, AZ

74. Cincinnati, OH

75. Riverside, CA

76. Philadelphia, PA

77. Wilmington, DE

78. St. Petersburg, FL

79. Salt Lake City, UT

80. Dallas, TX

81. Houston, TX

82. Jackson, MS

83. Baltimore, MD

84. Bakersfield, CA

85. Hartford, CT

86. Birmingham, AL

87. Milwaukee, WI

88. Sacramento, CA

89. Grand Rapids, MI

90. Modesto, CA

91. Toledo, OH

92. Las Vegas, NV

93. Phoenix, AZ

94. Tampa, FL

95. Cleveland, OH

96. Fresno, CA

97. Memphis, TN

98. Orlando, FL

99. Miami, FL

100. Detroit, MI

Love thy neighbors: A lesson from Lincoln, Neb.

Cornhuskers are some of the longest-living people in the nation, in part because they're so darn neighborly. "A key factor to a long, healthy life is a sense of belonging to your community," says John Scheer, Ph. D., an associate professor of nutrition and health sciences at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. In fact, one study found that older people with strong social ties were more likely to live 10 years longer than those who kept to themselves. If your own ties are frayed, volunteer for something that will reconnect you to your town, like working at a farmer's market or coaching T-ball.

Leave the car parked: A lesson from San Francisco, Calif.

Hills and cable cars aside, few American cities make it as easy to walk as San Francisco. Dan Burden, founder of the nonprofit Walkable Communities Inc., ranks the city as one of his favorites, but he says any community can become more pedestrian-friendly. Widening sidewalks and narrowing traffic lanes are a start, as is replacing traffic signals with roundabouts. "They force drivers to slow their speed," he says, "and they move 30 percent more vehicles than traffic signals do." Trees can also inspire walking by providing shade from the sun and a barrier from cars. Plus, in urban environments such as San Francisco, trees can increase property values by 20 percent and reduce air temperature, yielding huge energy savings for nearby homes and businesses.

Build parks: A lesson from New York, N.Y.

"If there's one thing I've learned about parks during my three-decade career," says New York City Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe, "it's that a city can never have too many." Well-maintained parks benefit nearby homeowners as well as local governments. According to the National Recreation and Park Association, a house within 800 feet of an urban park sells for 2 to 3 percent more than neighbors farther away, and that translates into a larger tax roll for the government.

Dream big but start small, says Warrie Price, president of the Battery Conservancy, an organization that's rebuilding 25 acres of parkland at Manhattan's southern tip. "Short-term improvements help demonstrate the power of beauty," she says. Peter Harnik, who runs the Trust for Public Land's Center for City Park Excellence, recommends creating a civic organization and lobbying for a park or refurbishing an existing space. Try contacting a local business or foundation, or even grassroots fundraising, for financial support.