10 Safest Towns for Children to Play OutsideBy - 04/20/2016
As the thermometer ticks up and nature begins to reassert its greener side, many American parents may start hearing a familiar sound. No, it’s not the chirping of the birds returning after escaping the biting cold of winter, nor is it the bees slapping mindlessly against windowpanes in a frantic race to gather the sweet nectar of early spring flowers. It’s the ever-increasing drone of children, pulling vehemently at the pant legs and dress hems of their fathers and mothers, begging more and more to go outside and play. We can’t blame them. The trees are getting greener by the day, flowers are blooming left and right. Despite Winter’s jealousy, Spring is here. It’s hard for even a crusty adult to resist the urge to break Jack Frost’s shut-in funk and play outside in the newly warm weather. For children, it’s a siren song of Odyssean strength.
But this may lead you to wonder, yet again, as you do every year, whether or not it’s safe to let your children play outside. The evening news usually does more to encourage our fears than dissuade them. “Is it safe?” you ask yourself. And it’s a fair question as some places are safer than others. To figure out which towns are best for free-range kids, we decided to do hefty bit of research. We chose several criteria in order to determine which 10 towns in the United States are the safest for children who want to play outside. We looked at data pertaining to:
- Violent crime
- Aggravated assault
- Rape (both revised and legacy definitions)
- Sex offenders in the area (both total number and as a percentage of the total population)
- Average annual temperature
- Average annual precipitation
- Total number of parks
Our Top 10 Winners
- Uwchlan Township, Pennsylvania
- Tenafly, New Jersey
- Scarsdale, New York
- Cedarburg, Wisconsin
- Lewisboro, New York
- Sharon, Massachusetts
- Brecksville, Ohio
- Mamaroneck, New York
- Readington Township, New Jersey
- Pinehurst, North Carolina
1st Place: Uwchlan Township, Pennsylvania
Beautiful Uwchlan Township came in first on our list by a wide margin. While it doesn’t have the most parks, or even the best overall climate, it is number one in every other category. Uwchlan families enjoy 14 lovely parks of various types, hiking trails and excellent, well-kept neighborhoods. With a population of over 18,000, it is large enough that you can get lost in the crowd, but small enough that you can still enjoy “small-town” life.
In a town this size, it’s easy to get to know your neighbors. And this is a good thing if you’re going to let your children play outside. Uwchlan holds a “Community Day” every July and many other smaller events throughout the year. Also, thirty percent of the population is under 18, making Uwchlan the type of place where kids are likely to make a lot of friends.
2nd Place: Tenafly, New Jersey
Right along the Hudson River and across the way from Yonkers, New York, Tenafly makes a name for itself by tying for 2nd place on our list. Tenafly distinguishes itself by having a large number of parks (14), and easy access to the Hudson. Taking up only 4.4 square miles with a population of around 15,000, Tenafly is certainly one of the more densely populated towns to make our list. But, nearly a third of the population is under the age of 18. Your children will certainly have more than a few friends to play with in this dynamic borough.
2nd Place: Scarsdale, New York
Also tying for second place is Scarsdale. This sweet village is located not too far from another New York town on our list (Mamaroneck) and also fairly close to our two New Jersey winners.
Scarsdale has a wide range of community events for children and families, as well as a fairly large number of parks (12 in all). With over 17,000 people squeezed into 6.6 square miles, it is a densely populated place. Considering that more than 32% of the population is under the age of 18, this is definitely going to be a boon for kids. Scarsdale also has a large number of community events, making it a great place for both kids and parents alike.
2nd Place: Cedarburg, Wisconsin
Cedarburg rounds off our three-way tie for second place. One of only two Midwestern cities on our list, it is quite possibly the best place for parents of kids who love the outdoors. Despite coming in 2nd place on our list, Cedarburg has more parks than any other city in the top 10 — by a wide margin. The city makes claim to 33 (yes, you read that number right!) parks spotted across its 4.8 square miles. With a population of over 11,000 people and a large percentage of children under the age of 18 (30%), Cedarburg is a great city for kids who want to play outside. To top it all off, the city hosts a large number of community events, especially in the summer.
5th Place: Lewisboro, New York
One of the more interesting entries on our list is Lewisboro. Why interesting, you ask? Lewisboro has one of the smallest population densities of any town on our list. At 29 square miles and with only around 12,000 residents, it is a pretty rural place, but surprisingly close to the Big Apple. Lewisboro has a fairly large percentage of children under the age of 18 (30%), so your kids will likely have a few friends around to play with. It also has 9 large and unique parks to explore with your kids, and a good amount of community events to keep them happy.
6th Place: Sharon, Massachusetts
Sharon has the distinct honor of making our list for all the right reasons, but still lost out on some of the criteria we’ve deemed as important. The town only has 4 parks for its more than 17,000 residents. It makes up for this by having a lower population density than most of our entries. At 24.2 square miles, kids here enjoy a lot more yard space than their New Jersey counterparts. Sharon also enjoys some of the lowest crime rates of any town on this list, making it one of the safest places for children and one of the best places for parents seeking some peace of mind.
7th Place: Brecksville, Ohio
Little known Brecksville sits in 5th place on our list simply for the fact that it was slightly beat out in many of the categories. However, Brecksville is no less gorgeous than its competitors and is a great place for those who love the outdoors and love to send their kids outside to mix it up with nature.
Brecksville has a fairly small population density, at around 19 square miles shared by around 14,000 people. All of that space really just means more opportunity to play in the noticeably larger yards in this city, which is the primary source of play for children here. The city has only four parks to call its own. Nonetheless, kids will be able to collect quite a few friends. Over 30% of the population is under the age of 18, placing Brecksville right up there with other entries for being fairly kid-populated.
8th Place: Mamaroneck, New York
Our second New York entry is, like Lewisboro, a stunning example of the wild and wonderful nature that makes up the majority of New York State. Located about 30 miles outside the hustle and bustle of NYC, Mamaroneck is an old town with a lot of history — and a fairly large population. With around 20,000 residents calling Mamaroneck home, this town is the largest one to make our list, while still maintaining a low crime rate. That larger population means the population density is much higher here. So despite encompassing 14 square miles, the town’s residents are packed in, allowing children to live — and play — in relatively close quarters. Mamaroneck distinguishes itself on our list by having the second highest number of parks: 14 in all. Considering the town also has the smallest percentage of children under 18 on our list (just over 26%), the higher population density and large number of parks should help parents who are looking for a few other families to play with, and a nice, safe area to play in.
9th Place: Readington Township, New Jersey
Don’t let Readington Township’s 9th place position fool you. If you remove the fact that the town’s police are still using the legacy rape definition and the fact that it has snowier and rainier days than any other city on our list, Readington would easily find itself sitting higher up in rankings. The town makes claim to 8 gorgeously designed parks stretched across a large 48 square mile area. Indeed, Readington Township is both the largest city on our list for physical size, with the smallest population density: only 337 people per square mile. The roughly 16,000 residents enjoy one of the most rural settings in all of New Jersey. The community is active and tight-knit, but with only around 25% of the population being under 18, kids may find it a bit difficult to locate more than a handful of friends to play with.
10th Place: Pinehurst, North Carolina
Pinehurst has the distinction of being our only Southern state to make the list. This wonderful southern town has everything a parent should be looking for. The village topped our list for average annual temperature and was among the best for annual precipitation. This means kids in Pinehurst enjoy more days free of rain or snow and more opportunities to get out and enjoy deliciously warm weather. While the village bottomed out our list with a small number of parks (only 4 in all), it has a relatively good population density. Around 14,000 residents call Pinehurst home, sprinkled across the village’s 14 square miles. Unfortunately, Pinehurst has the smallest percentage of children under the age of 18 among the cities on our list. Only around 12% of the village’s residents are children.
You may be wondering why our list appears to favor the Northeastern states. Keep in mind, of course, that our list only takes a look at a few different factors. The U.S. is filled with wonderful places to live and great cities where parents can rest easy knowing their children are safe. And while our metrics resulted in a list that heavily favors a few Northeastern states, the West, Midwest and South have cities of all shapes and sizes full of children enjoying countless outdoor activities. Don’t let our list stop you from letting your children have fun in the sun! Every city is different. Your favorite town is likely a great place to live!
Methodology Behind the List
We began our list by identifying only cities with a population above 10,000 (if your city fell below 10,000, we’re sorry you were left off!). Next, we used the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report data from 2014 to gather data on violent crime, aggravated assaults and rape. We only looked at the types of crime that might impact children who play outside. Things such as robberies and burglaries were left out. The top 10 list came from the cities with populations above 10,000 people that also had a smaller number of reported crimes in the three focus areas. We then looked up the number of sex offenders registered in each city in the list of 10, and only identified the number of offenders who had committed crimes against or with children. We then used data from USA.com to identify the average annual temperature and average annual precipitation numbers for each of the cities on our list. Finally, for each city, we identified the total number of parks, ignoring certain parks that weren’t designed for playing and exploring by children or families (such as nature sanctuaries). Now, we know what you’re thinking regarding parks. “Why not the total park space?” Surprisingly, most cities don’t identify the actual size of their park space. Some did. Most did not. The total number of parks was the most reliable number use for our purposes.
To determine the positions on our list, cities were then given a ranking based on who had the best and worst numbers in each of the categories. Only the crime data was done differently. Here, we started all cities off at 30 points, and subtracted 5 points for each incident reported in the Uniform Crime Report under the criteria we used. We also subtracted 5 points from any city that was still using the “legacy” definition of rape, as this definition results in underreporting of actual incidents. For all other categories, cities were ranked out of 10, best to worst, depending on whether a high or low number in that category would be a good thing. For example, a lower precipitation amount was considered good, while a high precipitation amount was considered bad. After adding all of the points in all categories together, we reshuffled the list to get our final ranking.
United States Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation. (September 2015). Crime in the United States, 2014. Retrieved (April 10, 2015), from (https://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/crime-in-the-u.s/2014/crime-in-the-u.s.-2014/cius-home).
USA Location Information – USA.com. (2016). Retrieved April 10, 2016, from http://www.usa.com/
Sex Offender Registries:
Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction Offender Search. (2016). Retrieved April 10, 2016, from http://www.drc.ohio.gov/offendersearch/search.aspx
Wisconsin Sex Offender Registry. (2016). Retrieved April 10, 2016, from http://doc.wi.gov/community-resources/wi-sex-offender-registry
New Jersey Sex Offender Internet Registry. (2016). Retrieved April 10, 2016, from http://www.njsp.org/sex-offender-registry/index.shtml
North Carolina Offender Registry. (2016). Retrieved April 10, 2016, from http://sexoffender.ncsbi.gov/
The Official New York State Sex Offender Registry. (2016). Retrieved April 10, 2016, from http://www.criminaljustice.ny.gov/nsor/
Megan’s Law Public. (2016). Retrieved April 10, 2016, from https://www.pameganslaw.state.pa.us/
Massachusetts Sex Offender Registry Board (SORB). (2016). Retrieved April 10, 2016, from http://www.mass.gov/eopss/agencies/sorb/