What did we learn from Money Magazine's 2010 list of the best small cities?
We learned that Columbia and Ellicott City, Md., are great places to live, as the combo pulled down a No. 2 spot of the Top 100 Places to Live list -- the only place in the Mid-Atlantic region ranked in the top 20.
That was a surprise to a lot of people in the Washington region -- but not Howard County Executive Ken Ulman.
“Money Magazine said, and I quote, we ‘have it all,’ great education, public safety and the lowest unemployment rate in the state,” Ulman said in a release after the rankings were announced. “And they are right! This is truly a special place, and I want to take this opportunity to thank all the people who make our quality of life so spectacular.”
Columbia is conveniently located between Washington and Baltimore. Its lakefront, open spaces, parkland, restaurants, shops and major music venue Merriweather Post Pavilion seem to offer everything.
"We've lived here for almost 20 years, and yes, I believe it because there's a lot of choices if you want to go out to eat, things to do, leisure activities -- definitely," said Columbia resident Jackie Olson.
"We actually moved up here from Prince George's County," said Charles Gibson, who has twin 4-year-old sons. "Columbia's pretty nice. It's quiet. They have the best schools in Maryland."
Columbia, with its modern conveniences, is only half the attraction. Ellicott City, steeped in Civil War history, makes the area a destination to visit.
"Look around you," said Jennifer Horter, owner of Bombshell Hair Salon. "It's beautiful here. You have so much history, people are friendly, and for someone who has kids like me, it's a great place to raise your kids."
What wasn't a surprise to most folks? That Bethesda, Md., was listed as the top-earning town in the U.S. with a median family income of $172,541.
Bethesda also ranked No. 7 in the Pricey Homes category, with a median home sale price in 2009 of $725,000.
Meanwhile, Arlington, Va., and Towson, Md., were named among the Rich and Single list. They came in at Nos. 11 and 14, respectively.
And Richmond, Va., topped the Cleanest Air list, which measures low pollution levels and good air quality.
Columbia and Ellicott City were named to the Best Places to Live list for their recent economic success, with an unemployment rate at 5.2 percent and a median family income of $110,602. They were also cited for having a scenic downtown, vast amount of parkland, excellent schools and diverse population.
"Money magazine looks at the entire country best schools, public safety, jobs and economic climate, and we're the second best place in America to live," Ullman said. "We'll take it."
As for No. 1 Eden Prairie, "I might have to go out and visit," Ullman said.
Gaithersburg, Md., came in at No. 25 for its rising economy with an unemployment rate of 4.4 percent and convenient location an hour away from both D.C. and Baltimore.
Money Magazine took various factors into account while creating the list, including median family income, job growth, home prices, test scores, crime rates, restaurants and even weather.
Other local cities in the top 100 include Centreville, Va., at No. 30, Rockville, Md., at 31, Alexandria at 47, and Chesapeake, Va. at 85.
Top 100 Best Places to Live
1. Eden Prairie, MN 64,000 (population)
2. Columbia/Ellicott City, MD 155,000
3. Newton, MA 82,000
4. Bellevue, WA 124,000
5. McKinney, TX 125,000
25. Gaithersburg, MD 59,000
30. Centreville, VA 54,000
31. Rockville, MD 61,000
47. Alexandria, VA 145,000
1. Bethesda, MD $172,541 (median family income)
2. Greenwich, CT $164,807
3. Palo Alto, CA $153,615
4. Newport Beach, CA $144,917
5. Lower Merion, PA $144,686
9. Burke, VA $127,036
16. Reston, VA $122,212
21. Ellicott City, MD $116,820
1. Palo Alto, CA $ 1,180,000 (2009 median home sale price)
2. Newport Beach, CA $ 1,008,000
(No No. 4 listed)
3. Greenwich, CT $ 997,498
5. Santa Monica, CA $ 820,000
6. Arcadia, CA $ 737,500
7. Bethesda, MD $ 725,000
Rich and Single
1. Newport Beach, CA
2. Newton, MA
3. Brookline, MA
4. Sandy Springs, GA
5. Irvine, CA
11. Arlington, VA
14. Towson, MD
1. Richmond, VA
2. Lake Havasu City, AZ
3. Novato, CA
3. San Rafael, CA
5. Ames, IA
The full list with breakdowns by location and financial variables can be found at money.cnn.com.