Reason only gets you so far. I haven’t chosen to live in the downtown of my hometown because, by an incredible stroke of luck, the most livable place in the world just happens to be the place where I was born. I said in conversation this week that I would probably feel the same way about the city of my birth if I had been born in Boise, Idaho, though I’m not sure that’s true. I’m enough of a contrarian that perhaps if I had been born in a trendy place I’d have moved to Spokane or Tacoma.
The “rational” in Rational Urbanism isn’t a claim that my city, any city, or cities in general, should be preferred in an objective and quantifiable way. It is that a few of the primary reasons given for not living in a number of cities don’t pencil out in an objective way.
With all that as a preface, there are some things about my home state, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, that simply don’t add up to me even given the subjective nature of preferences. Massachusetts is first, best, number 1 or thereabouts in so many measurements of quality of life, and yet it’s a place of much “out-migration” and a place, Boston apart, that rarely seems to resonate with the same pride of place as other states and regions.
Massachusetts at the top:
Or near to it:
And much better than average:
I would never point to rankings such as these and claim in some unequivocal manner that they represent objective fact, but they certainly imply that Massachusetts isn’t the worst place to be in the United States. Then, why do so many people hate it here? Understand, I don’t hate it, but the passionate, intense dislike of the state has been a palpable part of my life since I was a very young child. So many people I knew in my neighborhood, in church, in school, especially if they came from somewhere else, were down on the Bay State. When I went to college in Utah all of the guys on my floor in the dormitory (BYU’s dorms are still separated by gender) were gathered together by our local ecclesiastical leader to be welcomed to “The Y”. He asked every single freshman where they were from and, in response, added some comment of approval of some positive experience or knowledge of whatever place, from Wyoming to North Carolina…and then I said I was from Massachusetts. His response? “I suppose I can forgive you for that.” And on to the next. While I was living in Spain I met two Massachusetts natives; both were clearly disappointed that I was proud of it and that I had no desire to engage in a Mass bashing colloquium.
I understand that our life decisions are sometimes non-rational and in some cases it seems that irrationality can actually lead to better outcomes: romantic love for example. What I find unfathomable is the total disconnect between measurements of things which relate to quality of life and the lived perception of quality of life. My hypothesis is that it’s due mostly to the inertia of shared belief. How do places suffering from such low self esteem break the cycle? Can it be “done” or is it simply about waiting for changes in the zeitgeist? The solution most likely rests somewhere in the middle.
(BTW, “weather” may be a driving factor in some out-migration, but not all cold weather places are losing in the migration game)