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: $68,505
Median home price: $159,500
Households with children: 43%
Student/teacher ratio: 18:1
Residents who recycle: 49%
Michelle and Jeff Petrenko have a long list of things they love about their hometown -- a healthy economy, the state's top-rated schools, and ample green space for sons John, 17, and Zachary, 14. But what they cherish most about this leafy suburb 25 miles outside Cleveland is its community spirit. Parents meet with the mayor and the fire and police chiefs to help organize big events like the annual soccer tournament, which draws hundreds of teams from northeastern Ohio. "There's an open-door policy, and people want to help out because they feel the warmth," says Michelle, 44. Last year youth groups and local citizens raised $25,000 to clear a junkyard of 20,000 tires (they were recycled) and create an additional soccer field. Town leaders, who nixed a 12-acre housing development on the peninsula near Lake Brunswick to preserve the native flora and fauna, also make it easy for residents to keep things beautiful by lending out weed trimmers, mowers, and other gardening equipment for free. "You rarely see a house with a "for sale" sign out front, but people are always working on their yards," says Jeff, 44, an engineering supervisor. "This is the kind of place where families plan to stay for a long time."
Going for the Green: At the Eco Arts Chalk Festival in May, kids compete in a sidewalk drawing contest and make their own rain barrels out of recycled plastic drums to catch runoff from roofs for watering gardens and lawns.