In 2006, we named the top places to live, from an inner-ring suburb to a golf-course community and historic areas to an arts and entertainment district.

Home-it's a complicated notion. Certainly, it entails more than a house, whether it's a Cape Cod, a Colonial or a tract mansion. More often than not, it's the surrounding neighborhood that makes people feel secure and welcomed: a combination of the neighbors who become friends, the services and amenities at hand, the comforting sense of belonging.

Earlier this year, Columbus Monthly set out to identify Central Ohio's best neighborhoods. Not everybody, of course, agrees that the ideal version of the American Dream is the one portrayed in, say, "The Brady Bunch"-the large single-family home with a two-car garage and a swing set in the yard. Nor does everyone think living in dense urban areas is all that cool.

We made our selections based on two factors that drive people to put down roots: lifestyle and geographical location. We picked winners by each quadrant of Greater Columbus-north, south, east, west-and differentiated between suburban neighborhoods and those within the city of Columbus. We also recognize that a significant number of people in Central Ohio are attracted to historic neighborhoods, as well as to those offering a certain way of life (golf course and arts/ entertainment). And while many feel more comfortable in homogeneous environments, there are those who prefer to live in blended communities-so we went in search of the best diverse neighborhood, too.

While "the good life" can be defined in many ways, we think most desirable neighborhoods share common characteristics. They have a strong sense of place, some cohesiveness that defines "us" from "them"-both definable boundaries and an identity. That's why you won't find many gleaming new areas on our list; instead, it's populated with established neighborhoods that have traditions and stories to tell.

There's also the matter of a sense of community, some intangible force that binds people. You see it shine through in active civic associations or even in the friendly and helpful ways that residents interact.

Other factors we considered were aesthetics (the general look), walkability, green space, availability of services, safety, diversity in housing stock, owner-occupancy rates, appreciating property rates and a reasonable tax rate. And we tried to factor in the impact of schools.

We spoke to lots of Realtors, development directors, planning departments and chamber of commerce types. We also hit the streets, listening to what folks liked and disliked about the places they called home. Sometimes there was obvious pride. Sometimes there was frustration. Often, when told we were working on a story about "best neighborhoods," they told us theirs should be on the list. That was a good sign.

So after sorting through more than 500 neighborhoods, we arrived at winners for each of our 14 categories. It's a diverse mix that turns out to represent an appealing balance of urban and suburban, young and old, modest and opulent. Though tastes and lifestyles are as varied as snowflakes, there's something worth celebrating in each of these places people call "home." (EDITOR'S NOTE: This story appeared in the December 2006 issue of Columbus Monthly.)


German Village

A place worth preserving

When Maria Minnelli moved into German Village two years ago, she was surprised to find how friendly it was. "During the first two weeks I was there," she says, "I was invited to four dinners." Neighborhood icon Fred Holdridge declares, "That's the village. Everybody knows everybody else's business. And they're always ready to help everybody else."

There is no question that German Village is the most historic neighborhood in Columbus. Settled during the mid 19th century by working-class German immigrants, it slid into decline after the Depression and nearly was lost to urban renewal post-World War II. In the 1950s, many of its northern blocks were demolished to make way for I-70 slicing through the city. One person is credited with the preservation of German Village: Frank Fetch, a longtime city of Columbus employee who began buying properties in the neighborhood in 1949 and was instrumental in establishing the German Village Society in 1960.

Today, German Village is a tourist destination as well as a vibrant neighborhood that's home to such notables as popular Channel 10 anchor Andrea Cambern and former Columbus mayor Greg Lashutka. Its more than 1,600 buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. All renovation and new construction is carefully regulated. The dominant building material is brick, blending with the narrow, shaded brick streets. Most of the buildings are cottages or houses of modest size, built on small lots (and they're not cheap).

Although the neighborhood is very much urban-and not immune from crime-it feels downright cozy. Along Third Street, as well as throughout German Village, are restaurants, coffee houses, art galleries, bars and specialty stores, including the 32-room Book Loft. While the area's population has long since ceased to be strongly German, Oktoberfest keeps that spirit alive the weekend after Labor Day each year. The 23-acre Schiller Park, lined with some of the most dramatic homes in the village, is a neighborhood gathering place-and also the site of free Shakespeare performances in the summer.

Katharine Moore, executive director of the German Village Society, says, "We are diverse in sexual orientation and age, but not in ethnicity." Gays have long found German Village a hospitable neighborhood, and there's a number of twentysomethings and plenty of seniors. "When we party," Moore says, "that's the mix." The good news is, "We are a place where lots of young couples start off," she says. The bad news for the seniors is that the neighborhood has an abundance of uneven sidewalks, curbs and stairs. "Our challenge," Moore says, "is our housing inventory is not conducive to an aging population."

A big plus for German Village remains its proximity to downtown Columbus. "I've said for years that we ought to put a sign up on Third Street for all the commuters to read as they drive by," Holdridge says. "The sign would say, 'If you lived in German Village, you'd be home now.' "

Elly Campbell, a resident for 36 years, remembers a livelier, more freewheeling German Village. "There were parties all the time," she says. She longs for the days when the village was a bit more eccentric, recalling that it wasn't unusual to see front-yard gardens of "tires with geraniums growing in them." Such signs of individuality largely have disappeared.

At least one tradition remains, however-the annual holiday party for residents, dubbed Casseroles and Carols, when "The Twelve Days of Christmas" is recited, with each table taking another verse. Campbell says it's "like magic," noting that often, "Some guys at a table get up and dance."

That's when most everyone-both old and new residents-come together and share the casual friendliness, the true Gemütlichkeit, of German Village.

Hangouts/attractions: Schiller Park, Book Loft, Lindey's, Oktoberfest, n home and garden tours, art galleries, specialty shops.

Population: 2,851

Median home value: $236,438

Median household income: $57,871

Percent owner-occupied: 48.9 percent

Median age: 37.6 years

Percentage minority: 9.8 percent


Old Worthington

The quaintness of New England

The New Englanders who arrived in Ohio in 1803 to settle Old Worthington had to rely on each other. After all, they'd left everyone and everything they knew hundreds of miles away.

The first 11 families built a dozen log cabins, including a large one that served as a school, a church and a community gathering place. Their group, the Scioto Company, modeled the area after the towns they'd known back east: as a village that measured one square mile, neatly bordered by North, South, Morning and Evening streets.

By the end of 1803-the same year Ohio achieved statehood-the settlers had cleared the land and planted corn. They'd named their new home for Thomas Worthington, one of the state's first senators. The settlers celebrated with a Christmas ball.

Two hundred years later, Ohioans don't need to cleave to one another the way the settlers did. But in Old Worthington, the spirit of community remains-along with the old buildings. Several 19th-century structures are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, including the Worthington Inn,

St. John's Episcopal Church, the New England Masonic Lodge and a number of private homes.

Jim Ventresca says the historic nature of the neighborhood is part of why he's enjoyed living in Old Worthington for the past 35 years. "It has such a rich background," says Ventresca, president of the Old Worthington Association.

Walk through the place on a sunny afternoon and it's immediately clear that it's more than a collection of charming New England-style houses. The sidewalks are busy with students on bicycles and skateboards and moms pushing strollers. Neighbors socialize frequently, says Stephan Cooke. "It takes me about four hours to mow my lawn," he jokes.

On one fall afternoon, John Wheatley was working on another resident's landscaping. He'd finished his own yard earlier in the summer, so he spent the next two months ripping out dead plants in his neighbor's front yard and then transplanting ones from his own. It's that kind of spirit that exists here.

The vibrant commercial strip along High Street helps foster that sense of community. Residents walk to the library or the post office. They gossip over cups of coffee at Starbucks and Scottie's Coffee and Tea House, or over a pint and a basket of fish and chips at the Old Bag of Nails Pub.

The Village Green, established by the settlers in 1804, serves as a gathering place. During the summer, families go to the park for a Sunday night concert series. Other community events include a farmers' market held on Saturdays from May to October, an arts festival in June, the Treasures on the Green flea market in July, a holiday open house that includes a parade with Santa and a fall arts and crafts festival that draws about 30,000 antique lovers and shuts down High Street.

The children of Old Worthington can hike to school; Evening Street Elementary School, Kilbourne Middle School and Thomas Worthington High School all are in or near the neighborhood. "That's worth a million bucks," Cooke says.

Hangouts/attractions: Village Green, Scottie's Coffee and Tea House, Starbucks, Worthington Hardware

store, Old Bag of Nails Pub, a farmers' market, arts and crafts festival.

Population: 899

Median home value: $196,212

Median household income: $65,359

Percent owner-occupied: 73.5 percent

Median age: 43.8 years

Percentage minority: 6.2 percent



Something for everyone

Calling this sprawling area of about 23,000 people one neighborhood may seem like a stretch. Clintonville, which extends from north of Ohio State to Worthington, actually is a collection of some 80 varying enclaves, such as Crestview, Dominion Park, Indian Springs, Overbrook and Delawanda.

Yet, a deep sense of community pride-forged over the decades-unites residents under the banner of Clintonville. This unity is achieved through such strong organizations as the Clintonville Arts Guild, the Clintonville Woman's Club,

the Clintonville Historical Society, the Clintonville Area Chamber of Commerce and the Clintonville Area Commission. It's also accomplished by such community events as the Clintonville Arts & Music Festival, two Clintonville homes tours and the 57-year-old Fourth of July celebration at Whetstone Park-the neighborhood's recreational hub that also is home to the Whetstone Branch library and the nationally acclaimed Park of Roses.

Neighborhood activist Paul Bingle says there's an intangible spirit about the place. "Drive down the streets, and you feel the hum of life, the parklike atmosphere, the well-kept streets," he says. "Without saying a word, you get the sense of community. Then start talking to people and there's an undeniable neighborliness, like a warm arm slipping around you."

There's a strong sense of civic duty in Clintonville; the area commission is recognized as a forceful advocate for the area. "It was interesting working with city government to get things like new street lights and improvements," says Bingle, a former commission member. "It was always, 'You blankety-blank Clintonville people always want the best.' And I'd say, 'Well, yes.' We're opinionated. The city knew it couldn't just throw Clintonville the cheap and quick fix. This community wants to be engaged. And it binds us together in strange alliances. It's people who don't know each other today, coming together tomorrow on projects. . . . We lock arms and fight passionately for our community."

Clintonville features the natural beauty of four ravines-Glen Echo, Overbrook, Walhalla and Bill Moose-within walking distance of two busy urban thoroughfares-North High Street and Indianola Avenue. Businesses include one-of-a-kind destinations that attract people from throughout the city: Clintonville Community Market, the Winemaker's Shop, Studio 35 movie theater, Nancy's Home Cooking and Whole World Natural Restaurant and Bakery.

"They move here because of the natural beauty and the opportunity to live in the city," says Chris Gawronski, chairman of the Clintonville Area Commission, who spent his childhood in the area and returned six years ago. "There's a combination of residences and neighborhood commercial areas, so there are things nearby that people can go to. Personally, I find the walkability to be wonderful."

There's also a varied housing stock, from the stately old homes that line East North Broadway to the smaller Cape Cods in the northern part. "You can't go on any street without hearing the hammers and saws of home improvements," says Bingle. "That's the noise of Clintonville right now. It's an audible vote of support for the staying power of Clintonville. We're saying, 'This is where we want to stay and we think it's a worthy investment.' "

Hangouts/attractions: Studio 35 movie theater, Nancy's Home Cooking, Whetstone Park, Whetstone Branch library, Park of Roses, Whetstone Recreation Center.

Population: 23,149

Median home value: $181,795

Median household income: $58,705

Percent owner-occupied: 67.9 percent

Median age of residents: 38.9 years

Percentage minority: 8.2 percent


Merion Village

Reinventing itself

In 1998, when Sherry Maynard moved to Merion Village, she could see three drug houses from her front porch. "Now," she says, "they're gone." Things have greatly improved in an area that once was riddled with crime and run-down housing. "The problems of the neighborhood," Maynard says, "have diminished considerably." Maynard comes by her opinion honestly, having bought and rehabbed half a dozen Merion Village houses in about as many years. "I'm working on one now that's 80 percent finished," she says. "It's going to be upscale."

That's a different direction for this traditionally working-class neighborhood just south of German Village that was largely built during the first third of the 20th century and occupied by immigrants from Germany, Ireland, Italy and Hungary. Today, according to Bob Leighty, president of the Merion Village Association, the area has "a very diverse population, with families that have been here for four generations next to families that are moving in just now." Maynard adds, "I see a different kind of person moving in-people who jog or walk their dogs or stroll with their children." She also notices fewer home rentals and more home ownership. "That makes a difference," she says.

Leighty says the Merion Village Association is making an effort to get the recently closed Barrett Middle School on the Columbus Register of Historic Places and to explore new uses for the building and its six-acre grounds. The association also is involved in revitalizing Parsons Avenue on its eastern border. Maynard hopes that translates into "businesses that will meet the needs of the people in the area. We don't need another tattoo parlor or pawn shop."

Leighty also is concerned about the wanton demolition of houses. The association was involved in saving three houses in September by moving them to Morrill Avenue from their original sites near the Emmanuel Lutheran Church. But it couldn't save other houses that were torn down south of the Parsons Avenue Kroger in October to make way for a new strip mall. "It's good that retail is coming in," Leighty says, "but we didn't have any say in that."

When John Burant and Tara O'Dowd were looking for their first home to purchase, they had several criteria in mind. "We wanted to be in the city," Burant

says. "We also wanted a residential area that was relatively quiet." They looked in Clintonville, but found nothing appealing that was in their price range. Last December, they discovered the right house at the right price in Merion Village.

Other Merion Village residents are increasing their investment in their homes. Last summer, Craig Scholz, who has lived in Merion for nearly 30 years, and his wife, Debbie, had a substantial addition built on the rear of their house.

Maynard is buoyed by the improved nature of Merion Village. "It's very exciting to be there during the changes," she says. "People in a community working together can make a difference. It just needs people who care-and who care to stay. And it just takes a handful."

Hangouts/attractions: Schiller Park, an annual garden tour, Thurman Café, German Village Coffee Shop. Population: 5,953

Median home value: $109,375

Median household income: $44,121

Percent owner-occupied: 51.5 percent

Median age: 35.5 years

Percentage minority: 10.2 percent



"Diamond in the rough"

There aren't many reasons to visit Eastmoor. There are, however, many reasons to live there-grand old houses, winding tree-lined streets, deep family roots.

Unlike most of Columbus's better neighborhoods, Eastmoor has no large park to which people flock. Nor does it have any big events that draw outsiders to its neighborhood. Eastmoor also lacks a trendy retail area.

Yet, Eastmoor-tucked between Main and Broad streets and wedged between Bexley and Whitehall-has proudly, if quietly, managed to sustain its quaint, neighborly lifestyle. "This is the greatest unknown commodity in Columbus," says resident Jim Ryan. "It's always been that way, and we plan to keep it that way."

Homes east of James Road closely resemble the small-box style of the post-World War II housing boom. But residents in the older section of Eastmoor, west of James Road, refer somewhat jokingly to their area as the Bexley annex. It's easy to see why. These Eastmoor homes look much the same as their more-affluent neighbor-beautiful stone structures with arches and dormers and large, well-kept yards shaded by mature trees. The big difference is price. In late October, for instance, a 2,300-square-foot stone Tudor-style home built in 1949 in Eastmoor was on the market for $224,900. A similar home a few streets over in Bexley-same age, style and square footage-was listed for $315,000.

That's part of the reason Brian and Linnea Blanchard moved to Eastmoor 13 years ago from Bexley. "We loved Bexley," Linnea says. "But we liked the bigger yards and the lower taxes here. We love to garden, and saw this big yard and fell in love." The Blanchard home was built in 1928 by the organist at the former Majestic Theater in downtown Columbus. "Eastmoor is a diamond in the rough," says Brian. "It has a lot of the old character at a better value."

The roots here are planted deeply. Ryan, 65, typifies many Eastmoor residents. His family has lived in the neighborhood since it was first platted in the 1920s, when about 15 large homes that still stand were built. Then came the Depression and development slowed. Ryan's father, Columbus attorney Joe Ryan, purchased eight lots for $500 apiece, profiting when the building pace picked up again in the 1940s and 1950s. Ryan's granddaughters now live in Eastmoor as well-the fourth Ryan generation in the neighborhood.

Eastmoor has a diverse mix-young families and empty nesters, renters and homeowners, whites and blacks. There also are strong Catholic and Jewish affiliations. The Catholic base centers on St. Catharine Church, which runs a school that many of the neighborhood children attend. "Eastmoor is anchored by St. Catharine," says Heidi Samuel, president of the Eastmoor Civic Association. "It depends very much on the vibrancy of the school and the parish." The nearby Columbus Torah Academy serves the educational needs of many of the neighborhood's Jewish children.

"These are families that work hard, who take a lot of pride in their neighborhood," says Samuel. "These are people dedicated to living in an environment that feels like the fabric of America."

Hangouts/attractions: St. Catharine Church and the Eastmoor pool. Also the green space on Virginialee Road that's the site of an annual Thanksgiving flag-football game and also is favored by dog-walkers and

Frisbee players.

Population: 9,736

Median home value: $109,208

Median household income: $40,116

Percent owner-occupied: 55.3 percent

Median age: 37.4 years

Percentage minority: 45.3 percent



Sustained by pride

Things don't change at Westgate. While the surrounding Hilltop area has been plagued by escalating crime and dropping owner-occupancy rates, Westgate carries on as an oasis of neighborhood pride-just as it has for decades. "I'm 41 years old," says Chuck Patterson, a member of the Greater Hilltop Area Commission, "and Westgate today is exactly the way it was when I was a kid; and I'm confident

that when my kids' kids are grown, Westgate will still be just the way it is now. There's something comforting in that."

Unlike many of the city's popular neighborhoods-Victorian Village and German Village, for example-Westgate has never undergone a period of revitalization. It's simply always been quiet, quaint and well kept. "They say every avalanche starts with a single snowball," says Patterson. "I don't think the residents of Westgate would ever allow that snowball to start rolling. There's too much pride there."

The neighborhood is anchored by the 46-acre Westgate Park-a serene, tree-filled green space that includes tennis courts, athletic fields, a large shelter house and a fishing pond. The park also is home to the annual Hilltop Bean Dinner, when the neighborhood comes alive with some 40,000 visitors to take part in the decades-old June tradition that typically includes a car show, live music and, of course, simmering pots of bean soup. The residents of Westgate, taking advantage of the many visitors, host a community yard sale. "It's just a good atmosphere, a good community attitude," says Westgate resident Tim Connett.

The homes are modest, though diverse, with most built in the post-World War II boom of the late 1940s and early 1950s. "This is not a homogeneous, vinyl-clad neighborhood," says Patterson. "Many of these homes have the beautiful, original woodwork that you'll never see again-the same thing that makes the Clintonville homes so desirable can be found here at half the price." Of the 46 Westgate homes on the market in mid October, the average selling price was about $130,000.

A visitor to the neighborhood-south of Broad Street and north of Sullivant Avenue, between Demorest and Hague avenues-would be hard-pressed to find an unkempt home or an uncut lawn. Westgate also is active and friendly. Children ride bikes on the streets and play ball in the park. Joggers say hello as they pass young parents pushing strollers. "It's our little sanctuary," says Connett, taking a break from working in his Sylvan Avenue yard. "There's a real sense of neighborhood here."

"This isn't a keep-up-with-the-Joneses kind of place," Patterson says. "It's more of a help-the-Joneses-out kind of place. It's cooperation, not competition. It doesn't matter if the average home price is $50,000 or $350,000. If the neighborhood looks like a place where people don't care, then people who don't care will move in. That's not Westgate."

Hangouts/attractions: Westgate Park, Hilltop Bean Dinner, Joseppi's, Minelli's.

Population: 5,921

Median home value: $116,890

Median household income: $44,581

Percent owner-occupied: 63.8 percent

Median age: 36.2 years

Percentage minority: 12.6 percent


Twelve Trees

Seclusion and Hoover Reservoir

On a warm fall Saturday afternoon, Tom and Cathy Lewis are chatting with Lamar and Sherry Rose in their driveway while the Roses' grandson rides his kiddie car back and forth. Tom and Cathy are astride their new bikes, which they're about to try on the bike path running alongside Hoover Reservoir-one of Central Ohio's most beautiful geographic features-just across Sunbury Road from the neighborhood's entrance. The two couples have been residents of Twelve Trees almost since its development in the late 1970s. Even though their kids are grown and they're now empty nesters, they have no intention of leaving. "We could have moved up to Medallion," Tom says about the nearby country-club community. "But we just love it here."

Twelve Trees consists of winding roads that disguise its closeness to the heavy traffic of Sunbury Road. Nestled on generous lots are 219 homes. (One 3,000-square-foot home for sale in October was listed for just under $300,000.) Different stories circulate about how the development was named. One is that it comes from a pledge to have at least a dozen trees on each lot. Another is that it refers to the 12 varieties of trees native to Westerville. That's the version that Brad Kalista, president of Twelve Trees Homeowners Association, endorses. Whatever the explanation, the neighborhood has trees galore.

The trees provide seclusion as well as shade. "In the summer when I'm standing in my backyard," Mary Ware-Guldin says, "I can't see the streetlights across the street or the light from my neighbor's house. The only light comes from fireflies." It seems entirely appropriate that when a resident dies, the association plants a tree with a plaque in memoriam.

A neighborhood tradition occurs on Beggar's Night, when three hot dog stations are set up for the trick-or-treaters and their parents. The hot dogs, along with chips, cookies and refreshments, enable families to skip cooking that night. Until recently, the homeowners association distributed candles and paper bags to residents during the holidays so the entire neighborhood could be lined with luminaries.

This is definitely a family neighborhood with lots of community spirit. "Neighbors look out for each other," Sherry Rose says. Ware-Guldin, who has lived in Twelve Trees for 14 years, says, "It's a very friendly, supportive neighborhood." This was evident when a fire recently consumed a house in Twelve Trees and neighbors helped the family with casseroles, clothing and other forms of assistance. Posted on the bulletin board by the development's entrance was a message from the family of the damaged home. It read: "Thanks for caring and your generous support."

Hangouts/attractions: Hoover Reservoir, Hoover Grille, Inniswood.

Population: 1,263

Median home value: $260,913

Median household income: $115,681

Percent owner-occupied: 94 percent

Median age: 48.6 years

Percentage minority: 9.3 percent


Downtown Canal Winchester

A piece of Americana

Spend a day walking around historic downtown Canal Winchester-its roots date to 1811-and you might run into Peg Eisnaugle. Most likely, she won't be driving.

Eisnaugle, a resident of Canal Winchester for 30 years, says she loves the fact she can walk or bike anywhere she needs to go. "Being able to ride all over town is wonderful. We have a bike path a half a block from our house," says Eisnaugle, a member of village council. "I don't have to get in the car and go anywhere. I can walk, which is wonderful to me. I love that."

She lives just down the street from the town hall and feels safe enough to walk home from her council meetings, even though they may not end until after 10 pm. "That makes all the difference in the world," she says. "When a community feels that way, then they're more apt to be out and about."

In downtown Canal Winchester, there are plenty of places to be out and about. There's the Harvest Moon Coffee House-"A lot of people just go in there and sit and talk and chat," says Eisnaugle-as well as two small family-owned restaurants, the Barnett Wigwam Restaurant and Shade on the Canal (just the Wigwam and Shade's to villagers), both of which are Canal Winchester institutions filled with old photos on the walls, blue-plate specials and vinyl-upholstered booths.

It wasn't too long ago, though, that things weren't going so well. In the late 1990s, "There were nine vacancies downtown," and "an unsettled attitude" pervaded the area, says John Garrett, executive director of Main Street Canal Winchester, an economic revitalization group formed to make "our downtown a destination." Strip malls had started to pop up on nearby Gender Road, and, he says, "The downtown was kind of getting ignored."

Now, the area has recovered. "Our Main Street program is what got our neighborhood to where you're noticing it," he says. "What downtown Canal Winchester provides is that quaint Americana feel. The downtown is the heart of our village."

A key addition was Stradley Park, a pavilion with a gazebo, park benches and fountains. It's the site of several of the village's many community events, including Art in the Park, which holds concerts and features the work of local artists. The village also has a farmers' market, held on Wednesday nights July to August and Saturday mornings May to October. A three-day-long Labor Day festival is a highlight, as is Christmas in the Village, held Dec. 1 and 2 this year. The annual event starts when Santa comes to town to light the village tree, and includes hayrides, carriage rides, a bonfire and an ice sculpture.

Downtown Canal Winchester neighbors bond together in the old village spirit. They watch each other's houses and keep an eye on unfamiliar folks wandering the streets. They stop and say hello when they're taking a walk. Some of them even let out the dogs of neighbors who are working late.

"If I ever needed anything," Eisnaugle says, "I know that I could knock on their door and they'd be right there to help."

Outside the 1893 home where they've lived since 1978, Mike Jones and his wife, Susie, greet fellow villagers as they pass by, including one Rollerblading neighbor with his dog. "Everybody talks," says Mike. "Everybody looks out."

Hangouts/attractions: Stradley Park, Harvest Moon, Shade's, the Wigwam, Art in the Park, farmers' market.

Population: 3,436

Median home value: $172,030

Median household income: $63,142

Percent owner-occupied: 84.9 percent

Median age: 40.7 years

Percentage minority: 5.7 percent


Hampsted Village

Where New Albany families grow

A handful of "It's a Girl!" balloons flutter in a slight fall breeze, tied to a mailbox outside a Fodor Road home. A couple of blocks away, another cluster of Mylar balloons announces the arrival of a baby boy. Families are growing in Hampsted Village.

This 610-home neighborhood tucked between Dublin-Granville Road and the New Albany bypass was the pride of Showcase Homes, a division of M/I, when it began selling lots in 1994. It was the first affordable new development among the stately country-club mansions that transformed New Albany from a small farming community to the white-picket-fenced Camelot that Limited Brands founder Les Wexner began creating in the late 1980s.

"A lot of us moved in here in our 20s, newly married with dual incomes and the intention of starting families," says Hampsted Village resident Mic Gordon. "It was the entry-level New Albany neighborhood."

Now, Gordon-like many of his neighbors-has children, a 6-year-old and a 4-year-old. "It reminds me of the neighborhood I grew up in," he says. "Not a collection of homes, but neighbors. A nearly empty school bus pulls into my section of the neighborhood every day and leaves full."

While a neighborhood chock-full of kids is nothing unique, Hampsted Village is a notch above most-the homes are a bit nicer and the grass a little greener (both literally and figuratively for the youngsters growing up with New Albany pedigrees). There are plenty of open green spaces where kids can throw a football within earshot of their fathers' call to dinner; it's a place where a forgetful youngster can leave a bicycle out in the yard overnight and still find it there in the morning.

Homes range in price from the high $200,000s to about $600,000, with an average of about $350,000. (Unlike the Georgians in the country-club area, many homes here are Colonial.) And they're appreciating nicely. A decade ago, it was possible to get into Hampsted for under $200,000. Showcase Homes' blueprint included nine models. Rick Lemmons, president of the homeowners association, estimates about 15 percent of the development was left as green space, which is maintained by the association. An architectural advisory committee ensures the neighborhood's design standards.

The Green at Hampsted Village, in the west section of the neighborhood, is one of the more popular spots for residents. The open space includes a large gazebo where a community Easter egg hunt and a Halloween costume parade are held. There's another large park off Tumblebrook Drive and a handful of smaller pocket parks and tree-lined islands. A well-used multipurpose trail winds its way through the neighborhood, leading to ball fields, New Albany High School, New Albany Elementary School and an outdoor swimming pool facility.

Gordon says most of his neighbors moved into Hampsted Village to get a foot in the New Albany door "and all it offers," he says. But it's become more than a springboard to bigger and better things. "Now they're living well within their means and staying because it's just such a great place to raise a family," he says.

"I've moved five times in eight years in three continents," says resident Kim Abelman, a native of South Africa. "This is where I want to stay."

Hangouts/attractions: Green at Hampsted Village, Plain Township Aquatic Center, Swickard Woods Park

and the library, Starbucks and Rusty Bucket on Market Street.

Population: 5,032

Median home value: $309,177

Median household income: $97,462

Percent owner-occupied: 70.1 percent

Median age: 32.4 years

Percentage minority: 14.2 percent


Britton Farms

"Convenient to everything"

It didn't take long for Britton Farms to earn a reputation as a suburban gem. Only seven years after its 1991 inception, it was named by Columbus Monthly as one of the area's 20 best neighborhoods. The development of nearly 300 homes in the northern tier of Hilliard was distinctive for its underground utilities, attractive landscaping and uniform lampposts and mailboxes-as well as the variety of the homes (buyers selected from 45 floor plans).

When Marilyn and Don Kemp moved to Columbus from Atlanta in 2000, they chose Britton Farms. They say they have never regretted their decision. "The people are great," Marilyn says. And the location, Don points out, is "convenient to everything." The new Britton Parkway between Hayden Run Road and Tuttle Crossing speeds up traffic and provides quick access to nearby Tuttle Mall. And

I-270 is close by, just to the east.

Bob Cronin, a trustee of Britton Farms Homeowners Association, says the neighborhood has no lack of get-up-and-go energy. "It's amazing how many people walk and jog," he says. "I've been up as early as 5:15 in the morning and I see people running." Cronin runs his own six-mile course at least five times a week.

Cronin points out other pluses of Britton Farms. "It's a neighborhood with a lot of kids, but it's a quiet neighborhood," he says. Kids anticipate the Fourth of July parade and Beggar's Night at Halloween-an evening that the Kemps learned early requires a well-stocked supply of candy. Homeowners vie for prizes by decorating their houses and front yards at Halloween and Christmas.

A bonus for families is that the schools that serve the neighborhood are within walking distance: two elementary schools, Weaver Middle School and Hilliard Davidson High School.

The development is moderately priced, as newer developments go. Recently one real estate salesperson listed 14 homes in Britton Farms ranging in price from $235,000 to $320,000. Britton Farms Park, maintained by the city of Hilliard, is near the subdivision entrance off Davidson Road. Its 6.7 acres feature a walking path and two ponds.

Now 15 years old, Britton Farms has moved into a settled state. Landscaping is established and trees are beginning to give some shade. Homes are close enough to promote neighborliness, yet apart enough to provide elbow room. But for Cronin, a good neighborhood is all about good neighbors. "You can trust the people around you," he says. "It's a good mix of individuals-a good melting pot, if you will."

Hangouts/attractions: Tuttle Mall, Britton Farms Park, Dairy Queen.

Population: 1,654

Median home value: $340,278

Median household income: $146,072

Percent owner-occupied: 99.4 percent

Median age: 33.1 years

Percentage minority: 8.1 percent


Victorian Village

Fun right around the corner

If you want a night out on the town, the Short North is a good choice, thanks to its bars, restaurants and art galleries. But just imagine if the Short North was your neighborhood hangout. It is if you live

in Victorian Village, which runs from Goodale Boulevard to Fifth Avenue west of High Street.

"We're very, very lucky to have the Short North as the core of our neighborhood," says Rob Pettit, president of the Victorian Village Society and a resident for 13 years.

The trendy strip has plenty of art galleries, from Sherrie Gallerie for ceramics and the nonprofit Roy G. Biv to the Ohio Art League and the African art-centric KIACA Gallery; villagers can't go to the Short North Gallery Hop, held the first Saturday of each month, without running into a neighbor or two.

Art isn't the only source of entertainment. Villagers can walk to the Short North Tavern for live weekend music, the Union Station Video Cafe for Sunday night show tunes, the Surly Girl Saloon for punk rock aerobics and Emack & Bolio's ice cream parlor for a stash of board games. Pettit says the Press Grill bar is a particularly popular hangout. "You go in there and it's like 'Cheers,' literally," he says. "Everybody does know your name."

"We're within walking distance of 50 restaurants and night spots," says Pat Lewis, who bought a house in the neighborhood in the 1970s, before the area was trendy. "A lot of us will walk downtown to the Ohio Theatre or Palace."

People in the neighborhood also appreciate what's outside the commercial strip: the beautiful Victorian homes, friendly neighbors and Goodale Park. "If you came to our block, which is between Second and Third on Neil, you could basically find out that everybody knows everybody," Pettit says. Communitywide events include a fall tour of homes and a summer neighborhood yard sale-as well as two happenings that draw large crowds from throughout Columbus: the July 4 Doo Dah Parade, where participants have been spoofing politicians (among others) for more than 20 years, and ComFest, the 34-year-old arts and music festival that turns Goodale Park into a hippie commune the last weekend of each June.

The Sunday of ComFest marks another Victorian Village tradition: the gay pride parade, which starts at Goodale. With the Short North being home to the GLBT rights group Stonewall Columbus and such gay bars as Havana and Union Station, Victorian Village is an attractive neighborhood for gay residents.

Pettit says the neighborhood feels so friendly in part because of its diversity, including ethnic, racial and socioeconomic. The village draws everyone from single Ohio State students renting apartments to empty nesters moving from the suburbs for a taste of urban social life. And in recent years, more families with children have been staying in the neighborhood. The Midtown Parents and Kids association helps parents meet during organized play groups.

Victorian Village, which suffered urban decline from the 1920s into the 1960s, has slowly but steadily made progress. A major milestone came a couple of years ago when a home was sold for more than $1 million. "It demonstrates that sort of coming around," Pettit says.

"We've got tons of people who live in the neighborhood now that moved here from Arlington, Bexley, Worthington, Dublin," says Lewis. "Ten years ago they wouldn't have set foot in the place. All of us that moved in 30 years ago, all of our friends thought we were nuts."

Hangouts/attractions: Goodale Park, Press Grill, ComFest, Doo Dah Parade, gay pride parade, art galleries, Gallery Hop, popular restaurants and bars.

Population: 4,129

Median home value: $223,380

Median household income: $41,757

Percent owner-occupied: 22.2 percent

Median age: 32.7 years

Percentage minority: 14.8 percent


Marble Cliff

A face-to-face community

During warm weather, it's fairly common to see in-line skaters whizzing by dog-walkers, joggers and strolling couples on this neighborhood's well-maintained sidewalks lined with huge trees and gorgeous old homes. There's a strong pulse of activity-and a friendly feeling accompanying it-in Marble Cliff, which is nestled among Upper Arlington, Grandview Heights and Columbus.

"It's a very face-to-face community. People know their neighbors," says Anne Jewel, a member of the village council. "When you walk your dog, you'd better make sure you've got plenty of time, because you're going to see your neighbors."

Folks who move here tend to stay put; when Bill Johannes, a 25-year resident, mentions new neighbors, he's referring to a couple of families who've lived in Marble Cliff for two or three years. Johannes resides in a home his wife's great-grandmother built in 1913. "We hope to say that the same family's been in the house for 100 years," he says.

The village of just more than 600 people was settled in 1890, and eventually became one of the first suburbs of Columbus. Known as the Hamlet of Marble Cliff, it took its name from the nearby Marble Quarry, the country's largest limestone quarry when it opened in the mid 1800s.

Marble Cliff's entrances are marked in stone, and at Cambridge Boulevard the street is separated by a grassy median with a fountain, plenty of trees and seasonal plants (mums in October).

"It's a great place to raise kids," Jewel says. "It's the kind of place where kids have a lot of freedom, where parents feel very comfortable. Somebody always knows your mom."

Many of the children, who attend the Grandview school district, walk to school. High school seniors in the village are eligible for the Paul J. Falco Scholarship. Named for Marble Cliff's late mayor, the scholarship fund has given 41 students $65,000 since 1998.

A sense of safety also contributes to the positive vibe. Jewel says the worst crime in Marble Cliff is "an occasional stolen bicycle. It's very safe." She adds, "It is quiet. We're sort of tucked away here."

But not too far.

Cafe del Mondo, a small coffee shop and Italian eatery that opened this year at nearby Marble Cliff Station, quickly has become a neighborhood hangout. Everything else-groceries, restaurants, a movie theater, bars, consignment shops, dentists, gas stations, auto repair-is a short drive away in Grandview or Columbus. "It's close to a lot of things," Johannes says. "You can get to the airport in 15, 20 minutes" by hopping on nearby I-670.

The village's main event is an annual Christmas party, usually held in one of Marble Cliff's historic churches; it includes face-painting or cookie-decorating for children and a visit from Santa. Last year's party was particularly idyllic: A horse-drawn carriage took residents through Marble Cliff on a caroling expedition.

There's also an informal Easter egg hunt in the community park, Tarpy Woods. "Last year, we probably had almost 50 kids. Each parent showed up with 15 or 20 eggs for their kids, and then a bunch of people hid them all, so we had hundreds and hundreds of eggs hidden," says Jewel.

Social life in the village doesn't end with community events. During the summer, the cul-de-sac at the end of Cambridge is sometimes home to impromptu cookouts. "We either share driveways, or we hang over the back fence and see our neighbors," she says.

Hangouts/attractions: Tarpy Woods, Cafe del Mondo, restaurants and shops along Grandview Avenue.

Population: 634

Median home value: $362,121

Median household income: $50,224

Percent owner-occupied: 50 percent

Median age: 45.8 years

Percentage minority: 4.1 percent


Muirfield Village

Setting the standard

The notion of Muirfield Village being named Central Ohio's best golf-course neighborhood makes John Reiner cringe. The Muirfield resident doesn't play golf-and loves the neighborhood enough to have remained here for 28 years.

Reiner, the owner of Oakland Nursery, contends that if all of Muirfield's golf touchstones-the Country Club at Muirfield, Muirfield Village Golf Club, the Memorial Tournament, even its association with Jack Nicklaus (its developer)-were somehow removed, this still would be considered one of Central Ohio's best neighborhoods. "A community isn't about a country club, it's about your neighbors," says Reiner. "There's always been this whole Muirfield myth that this is an elitist neighborhood, and it's not."

Yet, as much as Reiner would like to deny it, the notions of Muirfield and golf are inseparable. Muirfield Village set the standard for modern golf-course communities in Central Ohio. And the benefits are plentiful, from hosting Central Ohio's biggest summer party of the year-the Memorial-to the gorgeous green space the courses provide (as well as the amenities available at the clubs for those who are members).

When Muirfield Village lots began selling in the late 1970s, it became the place to live in Central Ohio. It was such a desirable spot that the farming community of Dublin seemingly grew overnight into a prestigious suburb.

And as fast as the upwardly mobile were scrambling for Muirfield sites, developers were trying to duplicate its success. Between 1990 and 1995, six more golf-course communities would spring up.

"What sets Muirfield apart is the care and the cleverness of the four or five different landscape architects that Jack Nicklaus hired," says Reiner. "Some of these supposedly upscale developments now-I don't understand why people put up with it," he says. "You look out your back door into two or three other homes. If you're drinking cheap Scotch, your neighbors know it. But that's not the case in Muirfield." Deed restrictions and architectural standards have ensured that the high quality would be maintained.

The oft-heard knock against Muirfield is that the homes are outdated. But rather than leave the amenities of the neighborhood, many resident are making the same choice as Michael Fite: renovation. Fite, who moved here in 1993, says he figured he could gut and renovate his home for less money than it would cost to build in a newer country-club community. As Realtor Ray Hustek says, "You can't re-create the land plan. But you can renovate the home. And renovating companies have been busy in Muirfield."

While million-dollar homes line the championship course at Muirfield Golf Club-including Nicklaus's own-there are more affordable homes coming on the market. Reiner said in mid October that a house near Muirfield's 17th green was listed at $325,000, while another, not on the course, was going for $224,900.

And Reiner points out it's becoming a family neighborhood again. "Young families moved in here when it was first built," he says. "Then we went through a sterile period, when everybody's kids grew up and went to college. Now, thankfully, the kids are moving back, and we're pulling out the barbecues again."

Hangouts/attractions: Country Club at Muirfield, Muirfield Village Golf Club, the Memorial, Bogey Inn.

Population: 7,971

Median home value: $412,450

Median household income: $150,373

Percent owner-occupied: 96.4 percent

Median age: 42.3 years

Percentage minority: 8.6 percent



"More than tolerant. It's embracing."

Berwick has become Columbus's poster child for neighborhood diversity over the years. But its reputation is well earned. It has remained stable, and racially integrated, for decades.

According to recent estimates, the percentage of minority residents is about 58 percent. But Berwick isn't just about multiracial diversity. Many Jewish families are attracted to the area because of its proximity to Beth Jacob Synagogue and the Leo Yassenoff Jewish Community Center. There's also a growing gay population. Doug Hazelman and his partner migrated to Berwick from the Olde Towne East area. "It's a very comfortable place to live," says Hazelman,"and people leave each other alone."

"It's more than tolerant," says Bruce Black, president of the Berwick Civic Association. "It's embracing. This is kind of an everybody-in-the-sandbox neighborhood. It's just always been this way. The neighborhood takes care of itself."

Located on Columbus's east side-just south of Bexley, between Alum Creek and James Road-Berwick has been a destination for professionals, both black and white, since its start in the 1950s. Today, it consists of more than 1,500 houses, and it's home to Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman.

There's an active civic association, with more than 500 members; it organizes a huge annual celebration in August that's affiliated with "National Night Out."

It's an older neighborhood, with plenty of empty nesters. Matt Malone recalls a different Berwick. Born and raised here, he remembers when the place was bustling with kids, all of whom attended Berwick Elementary. That is, until federal judge Robert Duncan-who was a Berwick resident at the time-wrote the court order forcing the desegregation of Columbus public schools in 1977. Rather than face the prospect of sending their children to an unfamiliar school across town, many families fled to the suburbs.

Now, as its residents grow older, questions are raised about Berwick's vitality. It's an issue Malone now faces; he and his wife are expecting their first child. "I love Berwick," he says. "But I want to live where my kid can grow up in a neighborhood with other kids. I'm currently not seeing that in Berwick."

But Berwick Alternative is slated to be rebuilt and expanded (from a K-5 to a K-8), and the civic association has been talking with the Columbus school district about allowing a larger percentage of Berwick-area children to attend the new school. (The current math-and-science alternative school selects students via a lottery.) Black, for one, is hopeful. "Once we get that done, we'll start to see the families coming back," he says.

Hangouts/attractions: The restaurants and shops on Bexley's Main Street, as well as the Drexel East.

Population: 4,160

Median home value: $162,212

Median household income: $57,946

Percent owner-occupied: 82 percent

Median age of residents: 53.7 years

Percentage minority: 58.8 percent


Although these six neighborhoods didn't make our list, we thought they still deserved recognition.

On summer nights or fall weekends, residents in Westerville's Spring Grove will pull their chimeneas into their driveways and stoke up a fire as a signal for neighbors to come over for refreshments and conversation. The system is entirely informal, yet frequently employed.

Whitehall isn't exactly known for its stately homes. But you can find a collection of them nestled against the southwestern edge of Columbus Country Club and along Big Walnut Creek. Fairway Boulevard winds its way past huge lots with majestic trees that hide these sprawling stone homes.

Many an argument has been started trying to distinguish Beechwold from Clintonville, though one secluded section has been known as Old Beechwold without debate for decades. Just steps from the busy intersection of Morse Road and High Street, it's an oasis of calm. Streets are narrow and winding, the housing stock is architecturally engaging and the sun filters through a large canopy of trees. It's even got an interesting history: This was the site of the first Columbus Zoo.

Close to Northern Lights shopping center-an area not particularly known for its high-quality neighborhoods-Kenmore Park is a north-side secret. The modest, Cape Cod homes are well maintained, with some renovation taking place. A few landscaped rotaries keep traffic pedestrian friendly and lend a manicured feel to the area.

Speaking of rotaries, the residents of Dennison Place simply refer to their neighborhood as "The Circles." The four well-landscaped rotaries-located on Michigan and Pennsylvania avenues between Fifth and King avenues-complement the late 19th-century housing stock.

Another hidden gem: Poste Lake, near the intersection of Rt. 161 and Sinclair Road. About 30 homes, with an estimated average value of $350,000 each, sit on large, treed lots along a 29-acre lake (complete with a beach area). The lake was created, one resident says, in the 1920s after the land was quarried for gravel and sand to construct bridges in downtown Columbus. Many people living here enjoy paddling a kayak or canoe and fishing for bass, bluegill and catfish. Great blue heron wade along and feed at its shores. "It's our little piece of heaven," says one resident while enjoying the fall colors reflecting on the still water.


To find the most current data for Columbus Monthly's Best neighborhoods, we turned to the Danter Company, which supplies exactly that kind of information to developers all over the country.

Columbus Monthly provided neighborhood boundaries, and Ken Danter's staff used several sources to produce numbers for population, median home value, median household income, percentage of owner-oocupied dwellings, the median age of residents and the percentage of minority residents.

But even the best of data professionals, such as Danter, have problems compiling accurate numbers for small areas. So keep in mind these are estimates, and meant only for general use.

Thanks to the Danter Company for its assistance.