When will media stop trying to sell us on a car- and mall-dependent suburban life?

It’s really hilarious how often it is that some organization or another comes up with a study that concludes that the best place to live or raise a family is a distant suburb in which all there is to do is visit the chain stores in the mall, take drugs and get into trouble.  A suburb, where the cultural highlights of the year are the church choir Easter concert and whatever is playing at the Cineplex on Black Friday, where children under the age of 16 are prisoners of drivers and those over 16 are helping to clog up the roadways. A suburb, each of which may have a little ethnic diversity, but all of which will be regimentally uniform in economic background and life goals of the inhabitants.

The latest to create a bunch of pseudo criteria for quality of life and then declare that suburbs meet them better than cities do is BusinessWeek.com. In a survey that Yahoo! and other portals have blasted out to us over the past few days like a pro-communist song over the loudspeakers in the meeting hall of a Chinese village, BusinessWeek.com names the top five places to raise a family. 

First the criteria, which might serve as a good guide if BusinessWeek.com actually understood what they mean:  “We evaluated educational factors (such as school scores, the number of public and private schools, and colleges), economic factors (including median family income, expenses, job growth, and unemployment), crime, amenities (such as child day-care centers, zoos, aquariums, museums, theaters, recreation centers, green space), air quality, and ethnic diversity. School performance, expenditures, and income were given the most weight.” 

BusinessWeek.com biases the study from the start by only focusing on places with populations between 1,000 and 50,000 people, and median family income within 20 percent of the state median.  So New York, Pittsburgh, Seattle, Boston and any place big enough for a vibrant urban life is eliminated right from the start. In fact, the closest cities to four out of five of the winners are all on the small side, with relatively few of the amenities of urban life. The underlying assumption is that the best place to raise a family must be in a small community.

The article about the study claims that the researchers looked only at cities in which the crime index was less than 10% above the national average. But I don’t imagine that crime played all that big a role in the final decision, since the number one city turned out to be Blacksburg, Virginia,  home of one of the worst mass murder in American history, the killing of 32 students on the Virginia Tech campus less than five years ago. In fact, it’s a bit creepy to read that Blacksburg finishes on top in a study of the best places to raise a family.

The study gave no points for mass transit, probably because there is no real mass transit in any of the more than 4,000 small municipalities that qualified for consideration. And although the survey criteria include ethnic diversity, museums and theatre, I don’t think the authors really took a close look at these factors, seeing that only one of the five is situated near anyplace with decent theatre and museums or any kind of ethnic diversity to speak of.

The winners, with name of closest large city in parentheses):

  1. Blacksburg, VA (40 miles from Roanoke)
  2. Arlington, NE (35 miles from Omaha)
  3. Morton Grove, IL (15 miles from Chicago)
  4. St. Henry, OH (60 miles from Dayton)
  5. Spring Arbor, MI (8 miles from Jackson)

Living in any of these “five best places to raise a child” would have bored my son to tears—and his parents as well. In all five of them, all I see is a relatively constrained and unimaginative childhood, devoid of regular opportunities to expand horizons.

I’m wondering if BusinessWeek.com was really trying to figure out what were the worst upscale places to raise a child.

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