1. Columbia, Md.

Updated: Oct 20, 2016 5:30 PM UTC | Originally published: Sep 19, 2016

why we love it
A planned community that prizes economic and social diversity.

Population102,221
Median Home Price$310,000
Property Tax$4,442
Unemployment rate3.5%
Commute time29 minutes

You know the phrase “50 is the new 30?” Apparently, that applies to cities and towns, too.

Columbia, Md., turns 50 next year, and it’s never looked better. One of the most successful planned communities in the country, Columbia is a magnet in the Baltimore–Washington corridor, attracting families in search of good schools and businesses hungry for educated employees.

A planned community—where covenants limit everything from new construction to the color you can paint your home—isn’t for everyone (though there are three of them in our Best Places top 10).

But Columbia is clearly thriving. It ranks in the top 5% of the 823 places on this year’s list for job growth and economic opportunity. The schools are among the state’s best. And in this pricey corner of the country, Columbia’s median home price is just over $300,000, 11% less than in Gaithersburg, one county over. “I sometimes tell people this is a little bit like the Land of Oz,” says Gary Ahrens, a retired high school teacher and counselor who sells real estate for Keller Williams.

The prices may be right, but Columbia also owes its success to an idea—or maybe it’s an ideal. Founded in the late ’60s, the town made the concept of community building part of the master plan. Each of the 10 bucolically named villages (Wilde Lake, Oakland Mills) includes a mix of residences— apartments, townhomes, and single-family houses—to promote socioeconomic diversity. Individual homes don’t have mailboxes; they’re collected in groups on each cul-de-sac or block to encourage neighborly mixing. Some people worship at a church or synagogue, but others prefer an “interfaith center,” where the faiths rotate through a communal space.

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Hoover, Alabama. The Hoover Metropolitan Stadium, which hosts the Southeastern Conference baseball tournament, was the one-time stomping ground to Michael Jordan, who briefly played for the Birmingham Barons.Courtesy of the Town of Hoover
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