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'We're No. 1!' Sez who?

Portland, Ore., is the best US city in which to raise children. No - Burlington, Vt., is. Wait, maybe it's Overland, Kan. Actually, according to the organization Zero Population Growth (ZPG), each rates an A+ for being kid-friendly (see top-10 list, page 20).

But where there are rankings, someone has to be on the bottom. ZPG's lowest grade (C-) went to Baltimore, Detroit, Bakersfield, Calif., Orlando, Fla., and a handful of other cities.

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I'm always suspicious of attempts to rank communities according to someone's idea of what everyone should want in a place to live. Does it really matter to a low- or middle-income resident, for instance, whether a city abounds in cultural opportunities if attendance at an opera or symphony performance costs as much as a week's worth of groceries?

On Monday, the Monitor reported that big cities are increasingly becoming childless. In San Francisco, which earned an A- for child-friendliness from ZPG, only 14.5 percent of the residents are under 18. How many families can afford to live there?

In Boston (also rated A-), I've noticed that as soon as neighbors are expecting a child, they begin reading suburban real-estate ads.

In reality, Boston, San Francisco, Orlando, and Baltimore are No. 1 in the hearts of millions of residents. But not because some group decided that these cities have ample park acreage or teen access to family-planning clinics.

My own criteria would start with plenty of street trees, pleasant neighbors, and no trash on the sidewalks. What you look for would, no doubt, be different. But, please, stop the official rankings - let us decide for ourselves.

E-mail the Homefront at home@csps.com.