The Lesser of Lists

Did you know that Akron, Ohio is America’s best place to celebrate Thanksgiving? Vincent Valk looks into the voodoo that magazines use to rank America’s cities — and the companies (Pepto!) that sponsor the “research.”

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In my piece on what could be called the urban ranking phenomenon in Next American City magazine’s winter issue, I focused mostly on the substantive matters of such rankings – but many, if not most, of the city lists you’ll find are entirely frivolous.

Some, such as Forbes’ annual “America’s Most Stressful Cities” list that I discussed in the piece, are frivolity given a thin veneer of substance. I contacted Forbes to ask some questions about their lists, but they refused to talk (strangely, they cited being a private company as a reason why they would not discuss their lists – perhaps if they were public, they’d need to disclose the secret sauce to the SEC, for the sake of investors).

However, the grandaddy of frivolous urban ranking has to be Sperling’s Best Places. Sperling’s website has a number of tools to comapre and contrast places, including a variety of demographic and economic data. It is also a veritable factory of strange lists, typically unabashed PR stunts on behalf of various companies, that rank America’s cities according to various random minutae. For example, did you know that:

Akron, Ohio is America’s best place to celebrate Thanksgiving, followed by West Palm Beach, Florida. This according to a Sperling “study” sponsored by Pepto-Bismol, which accounted for not just local turkey consumption (not sure how they’d go about calculating that, what with all the leftovers), but, of course, Pepto-Bismol sales.

Atlanta and Houston are America’s most “irritation-prone” cities. The Deep South is generally “irritation-prone,” apparently, because its hot and its big cities have a lot of traffic. The study was sponsored by Edge, whose shaving cream I use and who has “a commitment to helping men find relief from life’s everyday irrtiations.” This begs the question: should I spray shaving cream on my neighbor with an annoying habit of blasting music on Saturday mornings? What else could Edge do about that everyday irritation on behalf of this man?

And, of course, what maker of frivolous lists would ignore relationships? In that vein, Sperling has sated the curiosity of traveling singles throughout the country by identifying the “best airports to make a connection.” No, not a flight a connection. Sponsored by – who else? – Axe, the makers of the infamous Axe body spray, the “study” basically ranks airports in terms of delayes and amenities. The more delays and the more amenities, the higher a ranking. In 2009 (sadly for this year’s travelers, a newer list has yet to be released), the top two airports were Newark Liberty and JFK, both in New York, where I live. I’d write more but I should probably slap on some Axe body spray, pop my collar and hit the scene at EWR.

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Tags: new york cityatlantahouston

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