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I really wanted a house with a porch on the cover of this year's Rating the Suburbs issue — as a symbol. A front porch is the place where you pause from tending flower beds or playing catch or cutting grass for an afternoon lemonade or summer ale. It's where you land at the end of the day for a wave and a chat with passersby, an open invitation to be neighborly.

Maybe it's a silly thing to care about a front porch. Nowadays we have outdoor rooms tucked away in our backyards with flat-screen TVs, fireplaces and full kitchens. They make a fine spot to entertain friends, watch a game or cook on the grill. But I'm not sure they're great for community.

For more than 20 years now, Cleveland Magazine has been looking at what makes a great place to live. During that time, our methods have been fairly consistent, weighing schools, safety, home values and taxes most heavily in our rankings. Along the way, we've included other factors, such as walkability, recycling programs, skate parks and senior services.

But the nature of suburbs themselves is changing. Leigh Gallagher, author of The End of the Suburbs, was in town last November arguing as much. She made the case that declining marriage and birthrates, a waning love of the automobile and the younger generation's affection for bustling cities, all mean bad things for our beloved 'burbs.

Yet, I'm not exactly ready to put a big for-sale sign on Northeast Ohio's suburbs. This year's No. 1, Richfield Village, is 20 minutes from Akron, 25 minutes from Cleveland. "We felt like we were moving out to a rural area," recalls Dolores Leffler, who's lived there for more than 40 years. "We didn't call it a suburb at that time." Now there's a housing development on the 74 acres behind her house. There's a new library and the old one has become a senior center. The mayor even hosts a weight-loss challenge.

But a look at the median home sale prices over the past year shows a strong interest in urban communities such as Cleveland Heights, Lakewood, Euclid and Parma Heights. Lakewood's created a bustling, walkable, vibrant strip along Detroit Avenue. Shaker Heights, one of America's original streetcar towns, is pedaling to be more bike friendly. Westlake's urbanist downtown, Crocker Park, is moving on to its next phase. There seems to be an energy that's focusing more toward the core, toward vibrancy and connection.

That's why I love the front porch — because how you live can be just as important as where you live.

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