Westchester Magazine List of Top Towns | Bedford Luxury Real Estate

Call us gluttons for punishment (and angry letters from you), but this year, we dared to tackle the unthinkable—we’ve numerically ranked (virtually) every place there is to live in our county, from best to worst. Yes, this means there is indeed a Number 1—and it also means there is a Number 40. Read on, and see where your town fell in our rankings.

Photo by Phil Mansfield

 Maybe we all ask ourselves these questions at some point: “Did we make the right decision moving here?” “Are the schools better elsewhere?” “Did we pay too much for our house?”

I ask myself why I moved to New Rochelle every time I drive along one of the city’s crowded streets, with the traffic lights so poorly timed that it seems they’re always red, and I can’t move a block without having to stop. Must be that everyone else in the city feels the same way, because they’re all honking their horns. It’s like a massive case of road rage. But then, just as I’ve decided to pack up and move someplace better—and saner—I catch a glimpse of New Rochelle’s shoreline, and I head for it, down to the marina, where everyone is happy and friendly and smiling, and the city seems to have an entirely different personality.

That’s what this article is about: weighing the plusses and minuses of a community. Of course, we all have different criteria for what makes one town great and another town just okay. Good schools may be super-important to a young family, but to a retired couple, less so. A lively downtown may be what a single twentysomething is looking for, but fortysomething marrieds with children may not care at all about how many clubs their downtown has. Nevertheless, how does one go about evaluating a town? How can we determine the best places to live?

“Best” is, of course, subjective. And while a town may look good on paper—good schools, a breezy commute, plentiful parks—that certainly doesn’t guarantee that everyone living there loves it. Nevertheless, there is some merit in trying to determine the livability of an area, and, fortunately for us, there is a load of information available that helped us do so.

We found reams and reams of statistics to pull from. Our county government, in particular its Databook and its Land Use Report, offers information on just about everything in our 450-square-mile piece of earth that 950,000 of us call home. We also used the online site bestplaces.net to procure other data—e.g., how much houses cost and how much homeowners pay in taxes annually for their homes. To determine the quality of a school, we used the most recent SAT scores available (which we obtained from the New York State Department of Education). And yes, we know that SAT scores do not tell the entire story of a public school’s quality—indeed, we have in previous articles pointed out that there is a high correlation between the wealth of a community and its children’s SAT scores—but SATs are still one of the most frequently used criteria for judging a school’s success, and the scores are, of course, one of the factors colleges use to admit or reject students.

In all, we looked at 11 categories to determine the quality of a town: its public schools (high schools, specifically); housing costs; property taxes; proximity to New York City (as measured in commute time, in minutes, from the center of each town to Times Square as calculated by Google Maps); safety (per the violent crime index from bestplaces.net); diversity (as measured by the odds that two random people from the same town will be of different ethnicities); parks and recreation (average acreage of open/green space per residential unit); proximity to water (distance from the center of each town to the Hudson River or the Long Island Sound, whichever is closer); a lively downtown; shopping; and nightlife.

While most of the categories are measurable, the last three—a lively downtown (cafés, restaurants, pedestrian activity, general atmosphere, cultural offerings); nightlife (quantity and quality of bars, clubs, evening dining, and evening activities); and shopping (the quality and quantity of, and accessibility to, retail establishments)—are all subjective, of course. We used our knowledge of the county, as well as that of our trusted writers and sources.

Obviously, every one of our categories is not equally important. Many of us would be willing to do without a few music clubs for safe streets; diversity may be important to some of us but not to others. So we weighted the categories. How did we come up with our formula? We asked visitors to our website to tell us which of the 11 categories are most important to them. We also asked our friends, families, and anyone who would talk to us. And then we hashed it out in our offices (“I don’t care how close I am to the river,” one editor declared. Argued another, “It’s one of the first things I considered when I looked for my new apartment.”) And this is what we worked out, in terms of importance:

Schools
25.3%
Housing Costs
15.4%
Property Taxes
12.1%
Proximity to NYC
9.9%
Safety
7.7%
Diversity
6.6%
Lively Downtown
5.5%
Shopping
5.5%
Parks and Recreation
4.4%
Nightlife
4.4%
Proximity to Water
3.3%
(total equals 100.1% due to rounding)

 


Is your hamlet, village, or town not specifically ranked? Blame it on the county. As we all know, our county is a confusing hodgepodge of incorporated and unincorporated villages and hamlets tucked into towns, cities, and municipalities (e.g., the town of Rye, which is bigger than the city of Rye, contains two villages—Port Chester and Rye Brook—along with the Rye Neck section of Mamaroneck. Got that?). Which municipalities (very loosely speaking) to include and how to group them was largely dictated by the availability of the stats and how taxes are collected, etc. In all, we looked at 40 communities. Also, since some communities are served by more than one high school, we calculated weighted composite average SAT scores for those towns.

Our goal was to assimilate all this information, weigh the variables, crunch the numbers (we enlisted the help of Pace University Mathematics Professor Augustine B. Mascuilli), and come up with our rankings. Disagree with us? Go online and use our sortable data chart to view which factors you deem most important. Read on for a community-by-community analysis.

Businesses along Irvington’s idyllic Main Street beckon patrons with ample alfresco opportunities.

Photo by Phil Mansfield

[1] Irvington

Diversity: 4 / Housing Costs: 5 / Parks & Recreation: 8
Property Tax: 4 / Proximity to NYC: 7 / Safety: 10 / Schools: 9
Proximity to Water: 10 / Nightlife: 7 / Shopping: 6 / Downtown: 7

Who isn’t smitten with Irvington? Charming, quiet, green, with a darling Main Street, stunning river views, a burgeoning dining scene (Been to the Red Hat lately? What about Day Boat Café, Chutney Masala, or Mima?), this unassuming rivertown is pretty near perfect. Tucked in next to the mighty Hudson, Irvington, named after Washington Irving, who had the smarts to not only write The Legend of Sleepy Hollow but to live in town (Sunnyside, his cottage, is now a tourist destination), scored the highest in our tally, getting a perfect 10 for safety and proximity to water (duh); a 9 for its schools (where the average SAT score last year was 1778, or 267 points above the national average); and an 8 for its green space (23 percent of Irvington land is reserved for parks and recreation). While no one would claim that Irvington’s houses are bargains—the average house costs $585,780—they are below the countywide average of $725,000. And there are alternatives, with co-ops, condos, and smaller wood-frame houses along tree-lined neighborhood streets going for far less. What’s more, the commute to Manhattan isn’t bad at all: in less than 40 minutes, you can zip into Midtown on Metro-North. All in all, a great mix.

Ossining’s dated but charming main street wends its way down to the Hudson.

Photo by Phil Mansfield

 

[2] Ossining

Diversity: 10 / Housing Costs: 9 / Parks & Recreation: 6
Property Tax: 9 / Proximity to NYC: 4 / Safety: 8 / Schools: 5
Proximity to Water: 10 / Nightlife: 5 / Shopping: 5 / Downtown: 6

We understand why Mad Men producers chose to locate their star couple (now, alas, divorced) smack in the middle of Ossining. This rivertown (population 24,146) scored two 10s—one for its nearness to the river and the other for its diverse population (45 percent of its residents are non-white). And in our pricey county, it’s actually among the most affordable towns in which to purchase a home: the average price of an Ossining house is $383,330, which is $341,670 less than the average price of a house in the county. Ah, but what about property taxes? They’re among the county’s lowest; indeed $6,654 less than the county’s average of $16,689. And while it may not be a hop, skip, and a jump to New York City (it takes 50 minutes to get to Midtown), its schools are above average (SAT scores were 1659 out of a total 2400). Plus Ossining, architecturally, has a charming downtown with underappreciated cast-iron buildings (though the shops can use an upgrade), as well as a historic area (many village structures are on the National Register of Historic Places), and lovely streets that wend their way down to the shoreline.

Despite being on the river, Dobbs Ferry doesn’t have as much open space per resident as some of its neighboring towns—but look at those views.

Photo by Phil Mansfield

 

[3] Dobbs Ferry

Diversity: 7/ Housing Costs: 7 / Parks & Recreation: 3
Property Tax: 7 / Proximity to NYC: 8 / Safety: 8 / Schools: 6
Proximity to Water: 10 / Nightlife: 7 / Shopping: 6 / Downtown: 7

This densely populated rivertown (population: 10,893), just 20 miles north of Midtown, offers a mix of two-family homes, Victorians from the 1900s, mid-century split-levels and Colonials, and sprawling estates. The average cost of a house is under a half-million, significantly lower than the county average of nearly three-quarters of a million, and its property taxes are relatively low, too: $13,451. Its quaint downtown offers a variety of dining and shopping options, a welcome asset to those whose first choice is small-town living. The village’s public parks—however lovely they may be—are not quite enough to serve the 3,967 households in the village. School performance was above the mid-point but not as high as neighboring Hastings-on-Hudson.

Hastings-on-Hudson’s blend of artsy stores, hot restaurants, and quaint mom-and-pop shops make the village an appealing choice for many.

Photo by Phil Mansfield

 

 

 

[4] Hastings-on-Hudson

Diversity: 4 / Housing Costs: 5 / Parks & Recreation: 5
Property Tax: 5 / Proximity to NYC: 9 / Safety: 4 / Schools: 9
Proximity to Water: 10 / Nightlife: 6 / Shopping: 7 / Downtown: 8

This rather artsy rivertown is right off the Saw Mill River Parkway, about a half-hour drive to Midtown with good schools and some terrific river views. And the combination of all that plus an un-gentrified but nevertheless charming downtown, a couple of “wow” restaurants, and an interesting array of living choices (houses at different price points, condos, co-ops, apartments, and affordable units) add up to one of Westchester’s top places to put down roots.

Mamaroneck offers a thriving, bustling downtown in Westchester.

Photo by Phil Mansfield

[5] Mamaroneck

Diversity: 7 / Housing Costs: 5 / Parks & Recreation: 4
Property Tax: 2 / Proximity to NYC: 7 / Safety: 10 / Schools: 8
Proximity to Water: 10 / Nightlife: 9 / Shopping: 7 / Downtown: 9

Mamaroneck bustles with energy along its main drag, with an array of restaurants and shops reflecting a diverse populace. (Indeed, the odds of someone of one race bumping into someone of another race in Mamaroneck is 50/50.) Check it out on a Thursday night—the town is jumping with music, outdoor dining, and shops open late for business. As for proximity to water, you couldn’t get much closer, and there’s plenty for everyone to do along the Long Island Sound shoreline, from the weekly farmers’ market in the warmer months to opportunities to kayak and sail, and playgrounds and ball fields for youngsters.

Traffic moves smoothly during most hours in the downtown, thanks to many pedestrian-friendly crosswalks and a lack of traffic lights. Like Hastings, Mamaroneck offers a variety of housing, making it an attractive place to live for people of many different income levels—although property taxes are high: $22,738 per year on average.

[6] Pleasantville

Diversity: 6 / Housing Costs: 6 / Parks & Recreation: 4
Property Tax: 6 / Proximity to NYC: 4 / Safety: 10 / Schools: 7
Proximity to Water: 4 / Nightlife: 10 / Shopping: 8 / Downtown: 9

This central Westchester village (it’s virtually smack-dab in the middle of the county) couldn’t have a more appropriate name. With the Jacob Burns Film Center (in its scant nine-year existence, it’s become a Westchester institution that not only screens top-notch films but frequently hosts the actors and/or directors of those films for enlightening discussions), quaint shops, quality restaurants, and tree-lined streets along which children can safely walk to school (all kids walk—or are driven; there are no school buses here), the town lives up to its moniker. Shopping, nightlife, and the downtown are all admirable. And if you yearn for a lovingly restored Victorian with front porches to rock on and greet your neighbors, this is the place. Usonia, an enclave of low-slung cantilevered houses designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and other architects, shares a zip code with Pleasantville (but is outside the village proper). The town offers an easy commute to Midtown, with many residents living within walking distance of the Metro-North station, and is nestled almost equidistant between the shopping/dining areas of Central Avenue to the south and Mount Kisco’s Main Street to the north.

[7] Scarsdale

Diversity: 5 / Housing Costs: 2 / Parks & Recreation: 7
Property Tax: 1 / Proximity to NYC: 7 / Safety: 10 / Schools: 10
Proximity to Water: 6 / Nightlife: 6 / Shopping: 10 / Downtown: 8

Scarsdale is virtually synonymous with great schools. It should come as no surprise that this quintessential upscale village came in in the top 10, thanks in large part to top scores for its schools (the high school’s students collectively got the highest SAT scores in the county: 1899—or 159 points higher than the county average of 1640 and 388 higher than the national average); safety; and shopping (Wilson & Son, La Dentelliere, BoConcept, Space.NK.apothecary, et al). Which may explain why housing isn’t cheap in this beautifully manicured town of 17,672 residents. The average cost of a house in Scarsdale is $876,740, making it the sixth most expensive place to live in the county. And when it comes to property taxes, it’s among the worst towns to live in (it, along with Bronxville, Harrison, and Rye rated a 1 out of 10—ouch!).

[8] Croton-on-Hudson

Diversity: 5 / Housing Costs: 9 / Parks & Recreation: 8
Property Tax: 8 / Proximity to NYC: 3 / Safety: 5 / Schools: 7
Proximity to Water: 10 / Nightlife: 3 / Shopping: 3 / Downtown: 4

Croton is a little gem of a village—right on the water with lots of parks. It also offers a variety of price points when it comes to housing. But in order to live here, one has to relinquish desires for a quick in-and-out of Manhattan. A daily commute is doable, but it’s still a hefty 35 miles north of the city. It also lacks a sparkling nightlife scene and shopping options are sparse. But the point is—and Crotonites will tell you this in no uncertain terms—you don’t move here for those kinds of amenities. One moves to Croton for its green space, its seven miles of waterfront, its opportunities to hike and boat, and wondrous experiences like witnessing rainstorms barreling across the Hudson from the opposite shoreline.

Bronxville buzzes with one of the loveliest and most vibrant downtowns in all of Westchester.

Photo by Adam Samson

[9] Bronxville

Diversity: 2 / Housing Costs: 2 / Parks & Recreation: 1
Property Tax: 1 / Proximity to NYC: 10 / Safety: 8 / Schools: 10
Proximity to Water: 6 / Nightlife: 9 / Shopping: 9 / Downtown: 9

Like Scarsdale, Bronxville is a community that some might give an eyetooth to live in. And rightly so. In a number of respects (proximity to Manhattan, high-quality schools, a vibrant downtown, great shopping), Bronxville is tops. And it is just gorgeous. Some suspect that Bronxville must have a housing law that prohibits residents from having anything other than drop-dead beautiful houses with lush green lawns. How wonderful.

But, alas, it isn’t perfect. Indeed, when it comes to housing affordability and property tax rate, fugetaboutit. It ain’t cheap; in fact, it has the fourth most expensive homes in the county ($890,210 is the average cost of a Bronxville home) and the highest property tax rate in the county. And as for diversity? Fewer than 9 percent of its residents are minority.

[10] New Castle

Diversity: 3 / Housing Costs: 3 / Parks & Recreation: 8
Property Tax: 3 / Proximity to NYC: 3 / Safety: 10 / Schools: 10
Proximity to Water: 8 / Nightlife: 5 / Shopping: 8 / Downtown: 7

This town, home to the hamlets of Chappaqua and Millwood, did especially well when it came to schools (Horace Greeley High School is a nationally revered high school) and safety, scored nicely for parks and recreation (14 percent of New Castle is reserved for parks and recreation). It’s home to our former first family, Reader’s Digest’s ultra-green campus (a proposal to turn it into condos is before the planning board), and lots of rolling hills and beautiful countryside. But it’s not as diverse as many other towns (less than 10 percent of its residents are minority), housing costs are high (the fifth most expensive real estate values in the county), and property taxes are significant (on average $17,619 a year).

[11] Mount Pleasant

Diversity: 7 / Housing Costs: 7 / Parks & Recreation: 8
Property Tax: 8 / Proximity to NYC: 5 / Safety: 10 / Schools: 4
Proximity to Water: 10 / Nightlife: 7 / Shopping: 4 / Downtown: 5

Located in central Westchester, the town of Mount Pleasant includes the incorporated villages of Pleasantville, Sleepy Hollow, and a small portion of Briarcliff Manor. The remaining area of the town is unincorporated (i.e., not part of any other municipality) and includes the hamlets of Hawthorne, Thornwood, Valhalla, and Pocantico Hills (home to Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture). Eleventh on the livability list, it has a near non-existent crime rate, is filled with parks and playgrounds, and its housing costs are not prohibitive. However, Mount Pleasant (especially its villages of Valhalla, Thornwood, and Hawthorne), doesn’t have much of a nightlife scene or great dining or shopping options.

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