Another survey of “best” cities fixes the outcome by selection of what they think is important for the good life

The latest mass media survey of the best cities in which to live again fixes the results by putting bias into the criteria by which it measures things.  The fix is always in favor of an automobile, mall and chain store-based existence, even when considering city life.   This time, it’s a Bloomberg Business Week study of the “best cities” appearing earlier this week that uses its list to communicate the ideological imperative of  American consumerism.  

At first, Bloomberg teases us with the idea that it will be judging cities on what have traditionally been the virtues of cities (except for mass transit): “What if you could live in a city that offered a wealth of culture, entertainment, good schools, low crime and plenty of green space? Many people might opt for the obvious choices, such as New York or San Francisco, but, great as they are, data reveals there are other cities that are even better.”

But when it gets down to actual evaluation, Bloomberg relies on very few attributes of that define traditional urban life:  “We looked at a range of positive metrics around quality of life, counted up restaurants, evaluated school scores, and considered the number of colleges and pro sports teams.”

Here’s what they forgot:

  • Mass transit
  • Number of locally-owned non-chain restaurants (they only count the absolute number of restaurants)
  • Museums/monuments and architectural marvels (they only list pro sports teams)
  • Diversity
  • Average environmental footprint per resident
  • Public space, which includes more than parks, and does not include malls, which are private spaces
  • Access to the highest quality health care

Here is Bloomberg Business Week’s list of “Best Cities” for those who want the suburban experience and don’t mind driving a lot and eating at a lot of chain restaurants:

  1. Raleigh, North Carolina
  2. Arlington, Virginia
  3. Honolulu, Hawaii
  4. Scottsdale, Arizona
  5. Irvine, California
  6. Washington, DC
  7. San Diego, California
  8. Virginia Beach, Virginia
  9. San Francisco, California
  10. Anchorage, Alaska

The Bloomberg list includes San Francisco, Irvine and Honolulu and thus does not measure cost of living.  It also includes a number of places that aren’t really cities, but suburbs that depend on their proximity to cities for some of their high rating, e.g., Arlington, Scottsdale and Irvine. The only city not in the South or West is in Alaska. Only two have decent mass transit, Washington and San Francisco; and except for these two and parts of San Diego and Raleigh, all of these cities look like and lay out like car-loving suburbs.

Now I’d like to present my alternative list of America’s “Best Cities” for living, based on the bulleted items, adding good schools, universities and secondary schools and entertainment from the Bloomberg list.  Note that I am talking about cities in which you live within the city limit: or can walk (not take the car) to a train (not a bus) to the city.  Also note that the high cost cities on the list also tend to offer higher salaries and that the few cities with mediocre mass transit demand only very short car trips and have a lot of walkable neighborhoods. 

OpEdge American Best Cities

  1. New York, New York
  2. Boston, Massachusetts
  3. Washington, DC
  4. Chicago, Illinois
  5. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  6. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  7. San Francisco, California
  8. Seattle, Washington
  9. Milwaukee, Wisconsin
  10. Portland, Oregon

I didn’t mean it for it to happen this way, but note that every city on my list is located in the bluest of blue states.  By contrast, with the exception of Honolulu and Washington the Bloomberg cities are located in red states or the red state part of California. As the French poet Baudelaire once put it, “To everyone, his (or her) illusion.”


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