The methodology of place rating is flawed. As someone who lives in a community which frequently finds itself at the bottom of such rankings it isn’t that I don’t know that my hometown is struggling, it’s that those struggles are magnified by the aforementioned flawed methodology which then adds to that burden the weight of erroneous perception.
At the heart of these flaws are two concepts: first that what we call a city is so different from region to region in the United States; and second a misunderstanding of which effects are linked to place causally and which are not.
Most place rating studies include analyses of crime, the economy, the quality of public education, cultural amenities, and weather. All but the last of these are impacted by the two aforementioned concepts in such a way that cities in the north and east are negatively effected. Issues like sustainability, disease, social justice, traffic mortality, suicide rates, and drug use which do seem to have a geographical component are almost always avoided.
This series will address each component separately in some detail beginning with the most ridiculous:
I wouldn’t argue that our society hasn’t shown a general preference for hot-dry climates since the advent of ubiquitous air conditioning. Treating that general preference as though it were universal enough to be used as a metric however, would be like extrapolating the general tendency in American society to view skinny women as more attractive than their more voluptuous counterparts as meaning that BMI should be used as a metric in assessing beauty.
Or if you prefer:
Obviously different individuals will weigh(ahem), say precipitation, differently, but it certainly should not pretend to be an objective input.
Along with this, the south and west have grown economically at a faster pace than the northern tier giving them a patina of prosperity which has become associated with their climate. Think of light and dark skin color having reversed as to their association with wealth. In times past light skin indicated wealth in northern climes as it was indicative of avoiding field work just as dark skin was connected to poverty, thus make up was used to lighten complexion. In today’s world a tan in the northern tier is indicative of the ability to travel south in winter and so tanning or skin products are used to give skin “a healthy glow”. Is dark skin or light skin truly, in any objective sense, “more beautiful”? In fact my pale skin benefits me here in the north to more easily process sunlight to create vitamin D, while in sunnier climes darker skin protects against harmful levels of solar radiation.
The trend toward a preference for hotter climates and a hatred for snow is fairly recent. The Moors of North Africa and their Arab partners in the invasion and colonization of Spain sang the praises of Granada in al-Andalus because of its frequent rains and snows in contrast to their desert homelands. In “El burlador de Sevilla y el convidado de piedra”, the first “Don Juan” story, Catalinón, don Juan’s lackey, asks a visitor from the other world if his land has snow, and upon hearing that it does responds: “Buen país“!
Jim Kunstler points out that there was not a single city south of the Mason-Dixon with a greater population than Buffalo, New York before 1950…the start of the age of A/C.
Certainly native populations showed no preference for hot climates, and if anything an overwhelming preference for wet rather than dry regions.
In spite of the energy demands which heating places on the northern tier, energy use is actually greater in the south and southwest. Arguing that hot and dry are objectively preferable to cool and wet because huge energy and technology inputs make them bearable (at the present) is to confuse fad with sustainability.
What these weather studies ignore, along with the sustainability which comes with precipitation, is catastrophic weather and seismic activity. Certainly “livability” should include living as opposed to dying. Even if one survives a catastrophe, certainly the potential enormous financial devastation and societal dislocation should be taken into account. As it stands, Massachusetts sucks because I need to wear a hat and gloves for a few months, but the Gulf Coast has great weather because it’s warmer…as you remove the 8 inches of contaminated muck from the floor of your house following yet another hurricane.
Furthermore, San Francisco is better than Saint Paul because its cool summers will make digging out your kids from under the rubble of your home “comfy” when the inevitable big one occurs.
People know what their own preferences are for climate. People who crave four seasons are not going to prioritize Florida, those who hate the heat will avoid Arizona, as those who despise the cold will eschew Maine, and those who loathe rain will not opt for Seattle. Place rating websites would do better to avoid these totally subjective preferences and prioritize instead differences in catastrophic weather.
Wildfires, also connected to climate, not ever part of the data set in place rating:
Sorry, but I DO think this:
Is MORE beautiful than this: