Prototype study ranks most livable neighborhoods: Heights area comes out on top

One can hardly open a magazine or visit the Internet these days without encountering community rankings. Locally, Cleveland Magazine publishes a popular and highly publicized annual ranking of suburbs according to criteria and methodology chosen by its editorial staff. Every year, observers note that the report favors outlying suburbs, while discounting the criteria that are most important to people who choose to live in older communities, such as Cleveland Heights and other inner-ring communities. The problem with any effort to rank communities is that it will include making judgments that some disagree with.

Utilizing publicly available data, Cleveland Heights resident, Greg Donley, with encouragement from the Heights Observer, has created a new ranking of area neighborhoods. Donley developed a methodology that he believes is more objective in turning data into a series of rankings, and one that considers factors that are important to urban and inner-suburban residents. The results will doubtless come as a surprise to many people.

In this prototype study, the Observer rated 18 representative neighborhoods in Greater Cleveland for all-around livability using 10 criteria. The neighborhoods are ranked 1–18 in each category. The overall winner is the neighborhood with the lowest cumulative number of points.

For the prototype, University Heights, which shares the 44118 zip code with Cleveland Heights, is not broken out separately. If it were, University Heights would likely score between Cleveland Heights and South Euclid, as it is located between them and has comparable housing costs.

An abbreviated summary is printed here. The complete report, with full rankings for each category and details about methodology and sources, is available in a PDF document that is available at

Read the full report.

Study the comparison chart.

Walkability Index walkability score.

1 Ohio City
2 Lakewood
3 Cleveland Heights

Culture Access
Museums, galleries, music venues, and movie theaters within five miles; extra points for greater significance.

1 Cleveland Heights
2 Shaker Heights
3 Ohio City

Public School Effectiveness
To correct for the race gap in test scores, our measure compares the test-passage rate for black students in each district to black students in the other districts. It does the same for white students, in order to understand school effectiveness independent of race. Then, because students in poverty score 10–15 percent lower than average on a nationwide basis, we apply a poverty correction factor derived from the percentage of disadvantaged students in a district as reported on the state report cards.

1 Solon
2 Orange
3 Beachwood

Private School Options
One point for every private elementary and/or secondary school within five miles.

1 Shaker Heights
1 Cleveland Heights
3 South Euclid

Higher Education Access
Higher education institutions within five miles; extra points for greater significance.

1 Cleveland Heights
2 Shaker Heights
3 South Euclid

Quality Dining
Top-100 local restaurants ( within five miles (one point for each).

1 Ohio City
2 Cleveland Heights
3 Shaker Heights

Commuting/Transportation Options
One point each for: auto time to downtown under 20 minutes; auto time to University Circle under 20 minutes; walk to rapid transit line under 20 minutes; bicycle to downtown under 40 minutes; bicycle to University Circle under 40 minutes; walk to downtown under 60 minutes; walk to University Circle under 60 minutes.

1 Cleveland Heights
1 Ohio City
1 Shaker Heights

Park and Countryside Access
One point each for: auto time to countryside under 20 minutes; bicycle to countryside under 30 minutes; number of public parks within five miles. Lake proximity counts as countryside.

1 South Euclid
2 Rocky River
2 Westlake

Neighborhood Scout crime index.

1 Westlake
2 Mayfield Heights
3 Strongsville

Annual Cost for Median Home
The Annual Cost for Median Home (ACMH) is the annual cost of a 30-year mortgage at 5 percent interest on the median home value in the community, assuming 20 percent down. Annual property tax is added to that. The ACMH is the out-of-pocket cost per year (after down payment) to own the median house.

1 North Collinwood ($6,516)
2 Maple Heights ($7,068)
3 Euclid ($7,632)
16 Solon ($19,008)
17 Beachwood ($19,776)
18 Orange ($21,720)

Cleveland Heights rises to the top overall because it has the best physical proximity to many amenities, and it remains close to its competition on all the other metrics.

For those who want many of the same advantages for a bit less money, try South Euclid. If you’re willing to pay considerably more and give up some walking-distance access, Shaker Heights is right there. The Cleveland neighborhoods of Ohio City and North Collinwood compete very well and cost a lot less, but take a hit on schools. Lakewood would be right up there with the leaders if it were closer to cultural and educational centers. The far-out suburbs are indeed far out--out of contention if one wants a livable neighborhood as defined by these metrics. Comments and suggestions welcome at

1 Cleveland Heights (35)
2 South Euclid (48)
3 Shaker Heights (53)
4 Ohio City (66)
5 North Collinwood (74)
6 Lakewood (76)
7 Beachwood (84)
8 Maple Heights (90)
9 Rocky River (96)
10 Mayfield Heights (101)
11 Orange (102)
12 Warrensville Heights (110)
13 Parma (117)
14 Euclid (118)
14 Westlake (122)
16 Solon (124)
17 Strongsville (132)
18 Medina (152)

Greg Donley

Greg Donley is a member of the Heights Observer's editorial advisory committee.

Read More on Features
Volume 4, Issue 10, Posted 1:57 PM, 10.03.2011