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Nation

Philadelphia suburb tops most-livable list

| Tuesday, July 12, 2005

MOORESTOWN, N.J. -- In this tree-lined suburb of Philadelphia, the schools are considered top-notch, police dutifully caution motorists who don't yield to pedestrians and, each winter, they make a big deal out of something called Random Acts of Kindness Week.

If you think that makes Moorestown sound idyllic, you're not alone. In an issue being sent to subscribers this week, Money magazine proclaims it the nation's best place to live.

Money looked at towns with at least 14,000 people and crunched the numbers on population, property value, school quality, recreation, safety and other factors. Magazine reporters were dispatched to the 12 top towns to decide which had the most community spirit.

After Moorestown, the top towns were Bainbridge Island, Wash.; Naperville, Ill.; Vienna, Va.; and Louisville, Colo. Three other New Jersey towns were in the top 100: Chatham, 9; Princeton, 15; and Hackettstown, 72.

Craig Matters, a senior editor at Money, said the list will likely have more of an effect on bragging rights than on anything like real estate prices. The magazine publishes annual lists of other best places to live, focusing in past years on small towns and coastal communities.

"It's a point of civic pride. It ends up on all their stationery, on all their Web sites," Matters said. "It's not like these places have inferiority complexes to begin with."

In Michel's Kitchen, a couple of tables full of mostly retired men gather each morning for pancakes, coffee, jokes and complaints about their town's rising taxes, worsening traffic and the swath of homes that has replaced farmland over the last 15 years or so.

So, what about the title from Money?

No complaints.

"Everything you'd want in a nice small hometown America is right here in Moorestown," said Joseph Wujcik, 72, who grew up in Moorestown, ran his pharmacy and raised six children here before retiring to a smaller house in nearby Mount Laurel.

Moorestown, with a hair under 20,000 people, was settled in 1682. By the 1920s, it was a desirable address for the captains of industry in Camden and Philadelphia. The town's roots in Quakerism -- a practice that values simplicity -- helped bring it a reputation for not flaunting its wealth.

The old-timers at breakfast say that's one thing that has changed in zip code 08057. "They want you to know," said Alex McGugan, 74, a retired golf pro. "That's why they move into town."

Plenty of executives still inhabit its 15 square miles. But the best-known citizens these days are a number of Philadelphia Eagles players, including star quarterback Donovan McNabb.

There are century-old mansions in one part of town, newer "McMansions" in another and neighborhoods of postwar suburban-style homes that help account for the $375,000 median price tag on a single-family home. There's a buzzing downtown full of law offices, antique shops and independent shops such as the beloved Peter Pan Bakery and Happy Hippo toys. A large mall sits near the border.

Moorestown is still a place where the community musical production (this summer, it's "Oklahoma!") is one of the biggest events of the year. And each February, the town takes a week to celebrate being nice. This year, child "kindness ambassadors" met with the mayor to talk about passing along civility.

It's a town where streets this summer are lined with 30 painted statues of Nipper, the Victor Talking Machine Co.'s iconic mascot, in honor of company founder and native son Eldridge Johnson.

It's a place where moms like Maura Rafferty let their children walk downtown by themselves for ice cream or pretzels. "They do old-fashioned stuff," said the mother of three, who moved to town from another suburb four years ago.

And the children don't forget.

"We raised five children here," said Pat Miller, whose husband is a former mayor. "All of them want to come back."

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