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What if you had a magic wand—or maybe a magic menu—and could create a recipe for the best place to live in America? What would the ingredients be? Low taxes, of course. Affordable homes. Also great schools, top hospitals, and plenty of good jobs nearby. Wait—how about culture and recreation facilities and … ?

Money's annual "Best Places to Live" list incorporates all those categories and many more. This year’s list focuses on communities with populations from 50,000 to 300,000, analyzing and ranking them on about 60 factors, from median home prices to the median high temperature and graduation rates to crime rates. With the national economy seeming to run in slow motion, Money also gave extra weight to places that scored well on a handful of key financial factors: the job market, economic opportunity, and housing affordability. The reasoning, Money editors explained, is was simple: Because it’s not enough to live in a nice place. You want to be able to live well.