We can all think of places we’ve visited and thought, “I wouldn’t live here if you paid me.” Toronto-based AreaVibes, a website designed to help people find the best place to live, has compiled a list of the Top 10 Worst Cities to Live (in the United States) in 2013. And the people of Springfield, Massachusetts are not impressed.
The cities of Hartford, Connecticut and Detroit (!) came ever so close, with 67 points respectively, but Springfield topped them (or bottomed them, in this case) with a score of 66 points for liveability.
Finding the worst place to live in America isn’t AreaVibes’ raison-d’être, though. It also ranks the best places, according to its livability score (Plano, Texas, apparently, with 88 points).
In a detailed rebuttal, the Mass Live website attempts to debunk at least a few aspects of AreaVibes’ ranking system, but then gives the game away immediately by writing, “It goes without saying that the third-largest city in Massachusetts has a reputation problem…” It’s likely that Springfield’s “reputation problem” fell more under the category of “open secret” than something that “goes without saying” before reading that intro.
Springfield mayor Domenic Sarno seems torn about how to respond for fear of giving AreaVibes’ report additional oxygen. “I was reluctant to even give this random blog any credence but when the gauntlet is thrown down, I’m going to hit back. I’m not going to say this city is perfect, we have our challenges, but there are an awful lot of great things happening here. But in this age of reality TV, the more negative something is the more attention it gets.”
He’s got a point there. The funny thing about reviewing places or things (and driving traffic to your website) is that people aren’t much interested in good reviews. But rate something badly, or trash someone online, and reaction spikes dramatically. Kind of like how people always say they’re turned off by attack ads, but political parties keep using them anyway because it turns out that they’re actually very effective.
How did AreaVibes arrive at their judgement that Springfield is the worst place in America? They’ve developed an algorithm, grabbing data from the U.S. Census, Google Places, the FBI Uniform Crimes Report among other sources, that ranks addresses, zip codes, neighbourhoods, or cities according to several criteria: amenities, cost of living, crime rates, education, employment, housing and weather.
Dig deeper and you’ll uncover a wealth of more detailed metrics like population, male to female ratio, languages spoken, racial breakdown, and a housing overview, among other things, that compares the city being rated against statewide and nationwide metrics. All of which might come in handy if you were ever offered a job in Springfield, or any other American city.
Among the metrics AreaVibes used to rate Springfield, crime was a factor. “The chance of being a victim of a crime in Springfield is 1 in 18.” Also dragging Springfield down is its high unemployment rate.
Chamber of Commerce President Jeff Cuiffreda feels that AreaVibes’ methodology is missing a nuance or two. “The unemployment rate here does stand out as high but we have a strong manufacturing base in employers like Smith and Wesson and a growing health care sector. And what the rate doesn’t address is that we have a skills gap we are fighting against. We have to do more work to give the people looking for jobs the skills that the employers need.”
On education, AreaVibes gives Springfield a below average grade. PR consultant Paul Robbins, of Paul Robbins Associates, defends his city. “I’m sure this type of ranking doesn’t acknowledge that two years ago the city was honored by the National League of Cities with the All America Award for grade level reading.”
Meanwhile, the local Fox affiliate weighed in on the AreaVibes ranking by admitting that it might just have a point regarding those education numbers. “It also calls the school system poor and sites the graduation rate. In 2012, 27 percent of students dropped out.”