City Ranking Lists Are Utter Nonsense

Cities' best qualities can't be quantified: Will Doig
By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 5, 2011 1:56 PM CST

(Newser) – Captivated by a list of America’s most romantic cities? How about its dirtiest, or smartest? Such lists may be "click-bait," but there’s not much truth to them, writes Will Doig in Salon. How, for example, can Memphis be both the sixth-happiest place to work in ... and third-saddest city to live in? The fact is, "you simply can’t quantify happiness," says an expert—and judging a place by things that are quantifiable (in the case of Memphis' latter honor, the suicide and unemployment rates, and antidepressant use) misses the part that really does affect us: the "essence" of a city.

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Indeed, "cities are experiences as much as they are physical locations," which is why you can't get an accurate read on a place by just looking at how many Starbucks or Apple stores it has, Doig writes. Case in point: A survey of 43,000 people discovered that what mattered to city-dwellers wasn’t job availability or school quality so much as "more ephemeral aspects, like openness, social offerings, and aesthetics." After all, "New York and Los Angeles, with their epic congestion and high rents, would quickly depopulate" if all that mattered to us were quantifiable elements. "Instead," writes Doig, "these are the places that the best and brightest dream of moving to." Click to read Doig's full column. (Read more lists stories.)

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