Residents say Sammamish, Wash., is one friendly place. Wives in the suburban Seattle community have been known to swap recipes while their husbands borrow tools. Children play in the cul-de-sacs and walk to school by themselves if they live close enough.
"I have never lived in a community that's more welcoming," says Katy Chung, a six-year resident and a stay-at-home mother. "When we first moved here, neighbors came out of their homes to introduce themselves and give me delivery menus!" That friendliness is not unusual in Sammamish, adds Chung, who now joins her neighbors in welcoming newcomers to the neighborhood.
A bevy of economic and social factors have helped to strengthen the community spirit in Sammamish. Nearly 90% of households (including Chung's) own their homes. Unemployment in the town of 46,700 people is a relatively minuscule 5% thanks to the major corporations headquartered nearby like Costco, Starbucks and Microsoft. Sammamish's crime rate is roughly 90% lower than the national average and residents laud the quality of the local school system. Combine that with an array of events that offer residents the chance to connect regularly, including a weekly farmers market, the Sammamish Days and Nights Jazz Music Festival, Shakespeare in the Park, and an annual Arts Fair, and perhaps it's not surprising that the city's official motto is "Building Community Together."
Recipe-sharing and hokey mottoes may sound more like an episode of "Leave It to Beaver" than reality, but it turns out a few bastions of neighborliness can be found across America. Sammamish tops Forbes' inaugural list of America's 15 Friendliest Towns. Yahoo! Homes is publishing the top eight; to see the rest, go to Forbes.com:
Behind the Numbers
Friendliness can mean different things to different people, and certainly what seems like a welcoming town to some can be unpleasant to others. Nonetheless, in any place, there are measurable factors that we believe are associated with a strong sense of community or that serve to promote good-feeling among neighbors.
We teamed up with Nextdoor.com, a San Francisco-based social network for neighborhoods, to assess 500 small metro areas with populations between 5,500 and 150,000. Using data from the U.S. Census, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Chronicle of Philanthropy, and City-Data.com, we ranked the towns based on four data points: percentage of owner-occupied homes (studies have shown a direct correlation between homeownership and neighborhood stability); the crime rate; charitable giving; and the percentage of college graduates (research has found that college-educated folks typically display more civic engagement, with higher rates of voting and volunteering). Nextdoor then conducted qualitative surveys among its membership in the towns that rated the highest to help finalize the ranking of the top 15.
Another West Coast town placed second on our list: Orinda, Calif., an Oakland suburb with nearly 18,000 residents where 92% of households own their homes. Roughly 77% of those residents have a bachelor's or a higher degree. As in Sammamish, the crime rate is much lower than the national average.
"Holidays and events are a really big deal to Orinda residents," says Kelsey Grady of Nextdoor.com. Annual events include the Orinda Film Festival, the California Shakespeare Theater and an annual daylong 4th of July celebration that kicks off with a pancake breakfast. On Nextdoor, Orinda residents have been known to organize holiday gatherings like pumpkin carving contests and neighborhood wine and cheese parties.
Many of the towns that made our list have certain commonalities beyond the factors we rated them on. Nearly all boast tracts of public open spaces (like parks, beaches and outdoor recreational trails) and a central downtown or main street hub that lends itself to town-sponsored events and parades. All of these places host a bevy of festivals, concert series, and street markets. Many of the towns have neighborhood watch groups and organize major events like National Night Out, an annual crime and drug prevention event sponsored by the National Association of Town Watch.
The community-building and sense of neighborliness does come at a price. The cost of living in many of the towns on our list is well above the national average -- in large part thanks to relatively high home prices. In Sammamish, for example, listing prices are up nearly 13% in October since the same month last year. Pending sales are up 24% and the Seattle suburb currently has less than two months' worth of housing inventory on the market. The median home price is a hefty $535,000. "It's definitely a sellers' market here because this is a very desirable place to live thanks to the solid neighborhoods," says Margo Allan, a real estate agent with Windmere Real Estate.
Daniela Rennie, a resident of the No. 5 town, Westerville, Ohio, gushes: "This town is a gem. Any time you need anything, you can ask most of the neighbors." She relocated from Baltimore nearly a decade ago. She says it's not unusual to see neighbors bartering for things, mowing foreclosed homes' yards, or taking turns watching the kids. "It's like that 'Cheers' show where 'everybody knows your name.' "
8. Downers Grove, IL
Located about 25 miles outside of Chicago, this Midwestern suburb peddles more than 140 community events and festivals. About 80% of residents own their own homes and the population is highly educated. In addition to a boutique and restaurant-filled downtown, this suburb has about 600 acres of parks and green space. On Saturdays during the summer, neighbors partake in a farmers' market and auto enthusiasts gather on Friday nights for an informal classic car show.
7. Alpharetta, GA
Near Atlanta, the so-called "City of Celebration" loves to throw events throughout the year. Among the most popular: the Alpharetta Arts StreetFest, food fest called Taste of Alpharetta, an annual parade for war veterans, a "Scarecrow Harvest" in which residents craft and display scarecrows for Fall, and a holiday tree-lighting ceremony. According to Nextdoor, holiday parties, yoga groups, and movie nights are commonly organized in neighborhoods around town.
6. Frisco, TX
This rapidly growing suburb centers on sports. There's an athletic center for residents and several venues host professional teams in hockey, soccer, minor league baseball and D-league basketball. Sometimes called the "Dallas Bubble," the population has ballooned from about 40,000 to 120,000 since 2000. Still, 80% of residents own their homes and the community has a large Neighborhood Watch Group dedicated to improving quality of life and reducing crime. The Parks and Recreations Department hosts a 5K 'Frosty Run' and Breakfast with Santa and neighborhoods plan events like July 4th parties and Easter Egg hunts, according to Nextdoor.
5. Westerville, OH
The local leadership of this Columbus suburb carved out roughly 40 parks and erected facilities like the Westerville Community Center, which touts a track, gymnasium, pool, and climbing wall. Every fourth Friday of the month local businesses do sidewalk sales. Otterbein University plays a role in social activities among residents and community initiatives like Westerville Are Resource Ministry collect food to help families and people out of work. Crime is nearly nonexistent thanks in part to community engagement that includes neighborhood block watch and participation in National Night Out.
4. Seal Beach, CA
This Orange County seaside enclave boasts a wooden pier used for fishing and sightseeing and a tree-lined Main Street studded with pubs, restaurants, and seashell shops. The southern tip of the city is home to the Seal Beach National Wildlife Refuge, which is surrounded by quiet neighborhoods that escaped the overbuilding of the housing bubble. About three-quarters of residents own their homes and the crime rate remains below the national average. A big draw in the winter: the annual Seal Beach Christmas Tree lighting, where residents participate in a parade and real snow is generated. "Our city is filled with friendly people who are proud of our town, our pier, and our heritage," trumpets the city's website.
3. Fishers, IN
Fishers has a minuscule crime rate and one of the top school systems in the state. Year-round activities include the annual two-day "freedom festival," a summer concert series, a renaissance fair, and the Flavor of Fishers Festival during which local eateries showcases dishes. It's not uncommon in Fishers to be invited to a neighborhood event like a barbecue or pool party, according to Nextdoor.
2. Orinda, CA
Located outside of Oakland, this Northern California suburb has a tiny crime rate and a high percentage of owner-occupied units (92%). The town is home to a bevy of artsy activities that draw residents by the thousands including the Orinda Film Festival and the annual Shakespeare Festival. The town hosts a day-long July Fourth event every year that kicks off with a pancake breakfast. Neighbors also organize events like pumpkin-carving contests and wine-and-cheese parties, according to Nextdoor.
1. Sammamish, WA (pictured at top of story)
Nearly 90% of the residents of this Seattle suburb own their own homes. Crime is low as is unemployment. Surrounded by snow-capped mountains and overlooking a lake, Sammamish offers outdoor activities like skiing, water sports, hiking and biking. Community-organized events include a weekly farmers’ market, a Concerts in the Park series, Shakespeare in the Park, Sammamish Days and Nights Jazz Music, and an annual arts fair.
To see the rest of the 15 friendliest towns in America, go to Forbes.com: