Westerville's parks, public events, charitable giving and community engagement have earned the city a new title: Fifth Friendliest Town in America.
The recognition comes in a new report by Forbes and Nextdoor.com, a social-networking site for neighborhoods.
"That came as a total surprise," Mayor Kathy Cocuzzi said. "It's very exciting. We're the only city or town in Ohio."
Forbes and Nextdoor assessed 500 towns nationwide and named Westerville fifth friendliest. Fifteen towns were recognized in the Dec. 19 Forbes story. Sammamish, Wash., earned the top spot, and Orinda, Calif.; Fishers, Ind.; and Seal Beach, Calif., also placed ahead of Westerville.
In recognizing Westerville, Forbes noted the city's high number of parks and the Westerville Community Center, 4th Friday celebrations, the activeness of Otterbein University in the community and the Westerville Are Resource Ministry.
Also a positive was Westerville's nearly "nonexistent" crime that can be attributed to community engagement in neighborhood block watches and National Night Out, the article said.
Cocuzzi said it was exciting to see two national groups recognize aspects of the city that officials and residents already are proud of.
"It kind of agrees with what we talk about: Westerville being a family-friendly and -oriented kind of a town. It just demonstrated that other people noted it," Cocuzzi said. "I think it was wonderful."
In determining America's friendliest towns, Nextdoor.com first looked at more than 1,000 towns across the country and narrowed that to 500, based on its own neighborhood engagement index, which considers the number of active website members and the amount of content posted by members.
The list was further narrowed to towns with populations of less than 150,000 -- Westerville's is 36,665 -- and a point system based on percentage of college graduates, percentage of owner-occupied homes and charitable contributions.
Nextdoor.com conducted qualitative research on the top 50 cities, considering community-centric activities, availability of parks, volunteer groups, community events, parades, holiday activities and other neighborly activities.