The state of New Jersey has been the butt of many a joke in the United States, and not without reason. If you drive along the New Jersey Turnpike, which runs north-to-south through the state, you will pass smelly swamplands, oil refineries, factories, and strip malls.
This year, though, Money Magazine picked a town in New Jersey as its "Best Place to Live" in America.
Moorestown, New Jersey, is a quiet place, located just a few kilometers away from the Delaware River, the border between the states of New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Like nearby Philadelphia, where about half of Moorestown's residents work, Moorestown was founded in the 17th century by English Quakers. Many of the houses constructed by those Quakers still exist, and you will not find any factories or strip malls in Moorestown, because the residents have worked too hard to maintain the area's "early American" character.
Kevin Aberant is a transplanted New Yorker who moved here 9 years ago and now serves as the town's mayor. "Moorestown is a great place to live," he says. "We have tremendous diversity in terms of our people, our religions, our housing type[s]. We have wonderful volunteers in town. It's something that I have not seen in any place that I have ever lived [before]."
That spirit of volunteerism is one of the reasons Money Magazine's editors considered Moorestown when putting together their annual list of the "Best Places to Live" in America. This is the 15th year Money has taken a serious look at the nation's towns and suburbs. Executive editor Craig Matters says the magazine looked at towns that have good schools, low crime rates, active arts and leisure programs, and better-than-average income levels. "This list in particular was aimed at places where our readers who are raising families would want to live," he notes. "It seemed to us [that] the requirements for that are 'I can have a good job in a place like that. The streets are safe for my kids, and the schools are good. And there's a lot to do.'"
There certainly does seem to be a lot to do in Moorestown. There is a lake that families can picnic along, a softball league, a hockey league, and an annual summer musical, which this year is the Rogers and Hammerstein classic, Oklahoma! Mayor Kevin Aberant is playing the role of The Marshal.
There is even a community sculpture project. Thirty replicas of the "Nipper Dog," which was the trademark for the Victor Talking Machine Company - later RCA - have been painted and placed at various spots around town. For many years, Victor was the leading producer of records and record players in the United States, and founder Eldridge Johnson lived in Moorestown.
"There's a 'Superman' Nipper, there's a 'Newsprint' Nipper," Kevin Aberant says. "There's a 'Voices of Nipper' that has photographs of people who would have sung back in the '20s and '30s and may have had their voices on a Victor Talking Machine. It's a great project."
And it is one of the reasons people who have grown up in the town say they feel invested here. Mayor Kevin Aberant's wife grew up in the area and insisted on returning to Moorestown after she got married. At Michele's Kitchen, a popular hang-out for Moorestown locals, Katie Bruno, 18, says she would like to raise a family in the area some day. Ms. Bruno spent the first 14 years of her life in Moorestown, and even though she now lives in Florida, she comes back often to visit family members.
"I'm a town person," she says. "I don't like the city. I like visiting the city, but I don't like living there. So definitely a town like this, because it's a small town, really secure. You know, I knew everybody, and I had a great set of friends, and stuff like that."
Katie Bruno may be looking to return, but Mayor Kevin Aberant does not expect his community's population to increase, in spite of Moorestown's new "Number One" status. He says most people do not just read a magazine article and decide to move. But he says Money Magazine's evaluation of the community certainly has given Moorestown residents some bragging rights.