by Dennis Burnside
“When it comes to a place to live and raise a family, most Americans want two things: the opportunity for themselves and their children to prosper, and a quality of life that lets them enjoy the fruits of their labor.” How can anyone argue with that statement as being a worthwhile goal in life? I don’t know anyone who does not wish to live somewhere that provides them those opportunities.
Money Magazine has just released its annual “America ‘s Best Place to Live” issue, and of course I was anxious to see where my current home town of Shaker Heights , Ohio , was ranked. The fact that Shaker Heights did not make the top ten was disappointing, but not a huge surprise. When I further reviewed the rankings of the top 90 cities, I was shocked that Shaker Heights had not even cracked that threshold. In spite of being emotionally devastated, I read the entire article anyway, as I usually do.
My knee-jerk reaction to these annual rankings is a mixture of amusement, annoyance, introspection, and a dismissive, “what do those idiots know” pout.
I am amused because of the use of subjective methodology; this is nothing more than a meaningless exercise. It probably helps sell copies of the magazine in parts of the country where Money needs better numbers. I am certain it allows chosen Chambers of Commerce to feel good about themselves. But my guess is that the excitement or the ire that is raised by the results evaporates quickly.
But I inevitably get annoyed because the place where my wife and I have chosen to call home is not on the list. Am I annoyed at our mayor and city council, the school system, my neighbors, the transit authority, the real estate investment community, and the retailers, or am I annoyed at my wife for wanting to live where we live?
I become introspective (read guilt-ridden) because maybe I don’t do enough or become more involved within the city to make a difference in how we are perceived. I become even more morose when I accept that I live where I live because I am not as bright or visionary as those who have chosen to live in communities such as Sugar Land, Texas (#3), Cary , N.C. (#5), Sterling Heights, Mich. (#37), Lincoln, Neb. (#60), or Fayetteville, Ark (#90).
I decide to dismiss the rankings as meaningless and those who put together the study as a bunch of idiots who probably have never been to the towns that they are ranking and will move on to their next writing assignment with no appreciation of the devastating blow they have dealt my psyche.
Don’t get me wrong. I believe that competition is healthy. I further believe that there is value to comparing the relative strengths and weaknesses of various communities. What I caution against is the conclusion that the “Top 90” communities in Money or other ranking communications paint the picture that these are stand-alone, self-sufficient pods of commerce, culture, education, entertainment and life experiences. Each of the rated cities is in fact a subset of, and dependent on, larger metropolitan areas or other institutions such as colleges and universities.
Finally, and this is the most important point, every community is what it is because of the people who live within the community, and what they decide they want that community to be. Through activism, investment, engagement, hard work and commitment, each and every community could qualify for someone’s “Best Place to Live.”
In the meantime, congratulations to the residents of Fort Collins, Colorado. I have never been to your fine city, but I am certain it’s a great place to live–as are Shaker Heights, Ohio; Birmingham, Michigan; and Oakmont, Pennsylvania; cities where I have spent the last 27 years of my life.