We searched the country to find perfect places to live and raise kids. This year's winners offer more than affordable homes, great schools, and good neighbors -- they're also making smart moves to save the planet.
By Michael J. Weiss
Median income: $74,704
Median home price: $330,000
Households with children: 31%
Student/teacher ratio: 21:1
Residents who recycle: 55%
Oro Valley is only six miles north of Tucson. But when Tom Peterson, 46, an air traffic controller, and his wife, Myrna, relocated here in 1998 with then 5-year-old Jason and newborn twins Samantha and Tyler, it felt like they had moved a world away. "Tucson is sprawled out and impersonal," says Myrna, 45, a business accountant. "Here, it feels cozy and safe. There are beautiful parks and walking trails with cool sculptures. Everything you need is five minutes away -- and even then you always bump into somebody you know." The population has increased 25% since 2000, but the city has retained its small-town feel. Teens volunteer at community centers, while parents and retirees pitch in at schools, helping them earn consistently high ratings from the state. Myrna likes the lessons the kids are learning. The twins sometimes come home from school caked in mud after a field trip to clean up the plastic bags and other debris that get washed into the creek beds after a heavy rain. "Our kids know that preserving the land takes effort," she says. "The scenery here is postcard perfect, and we want to keep it that way."
Going for the Green: All new municipal buildings feature recycled carpets and low-voltage lighting; maintenance workers can use only nontoxic cleaning products.