Houston – The Place to Go?

Houston, TX

The New York Times announces “The 46 Places to Go in 2013

Now this is not just a list of interesting spots.  Oh, no.  This is a list of “THE” places you must visit, and because the places have been precisely and lovingly vetted and curated, there are exactly 46 of them.

Not 50 places, because any hack can throw together a list with a nice round number like that.  By choosing 46 locations, it lends an air of precision and perfection to the crafting of the list.

So check this out… At #7, out of all the places in the world, is Houston (yes, that Houston… Texas.)  Right after Rio, Marseille, Nicaragua, Accra (Ghana), Bhutan, and Amsterdam.  (“What’s in Houston?  Culture and food.”)

And the reason that their choice of Houston is interesting is that it was #1 in our list of the top 20 Coolest Cities in the U.S., which we did with Forbes in July 2012.

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Nice State, Mean State

One explanation why different states think the way they do

I’ve looked for explanations why there are geographic pockets of behavior or thinking.  I’ve looked for reasons to explain why some attributes, conditions, traits, behaviors, qualities and characteristics seem to cluster in certain areas, while residents of other places tend towards the opposite.

Why do certain states reliably vote in predictable patterns?  Why is the South especially prone to violent crime?  I’ve performed regression analyses and searched for correlations between certain variables such as income, education, climate, occupations, geography, housing, recreation, cost of living and crime.

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I’m Sorry

Forbes has released a new slideshow, “America’s 20 Dirtiest Cities“, which is based mostly on data readily available on our Sperling’s BestPlaces website (www.bestplaces.net).

The Forbes list and the story is pretty straightforward; a callout of the large U.S. metro areas with the worst scores for air and water quality, plus measures of toxic releases and Superfund sites.

And It’s a fairly accurate list.  All the places named have issues, but I’ve got to say that I’m not proud of being associated with stories like this.

Stories like this focus on the negative, and have titles guaranteed to be irresistable to the casual web browser – America’s Dirtiest Cities, Miserable Cities, Worst Cities to Live, Depressing Cities, Dangerous Cities, Dying Cities, Drunkest Cities, Fattest Cities, Worst Schools, and Dumbest Cities.

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Factual Errors in Bloom’s Attack on Iowa

I was reminded that I promised to do a follow-up to my blog post about Stephen Bloom’s article in The Atlantic, which lambasted his home state of Iowa, its residents and its way of life.  If it sounds like I’m exaggerating, read the original article here.

Mr. Bloom justifies his criticism variously as “unspeakable truths,” “opinions,” and “satire and parody.” If he seems confused about the focus of his piece, it has gotten him a lot of attention (with over 2,000 comments on the magazine’s web site, and even an interview on NBC’s Rock Center) which is perhaps what he wanted all along.  Tellingly, he is quite vocal about the responses to his article, citing a death threat, anti-Semitism, and being forced into “hiding in an undisclosed location.”

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“Millionaire Flight” theory – Don’t fall for it

a world war one or two plane crashes

There have been a number of news stories over the last two years about how the wealthy are fleeing states which have increased taxes on the highest tax brackets.

I’ll show you this line of thinking is not borne out by the facts, and is irrational to boot.

Here’s an example; a new story from the Wall Street Journal  – titled “Millionaires Fleeing Taxes” (August 7, 2012).

The description of the video interview with the reporter (Arden Dale) states “When states raise taxes millionaires move out.”  And the interviewer starts the piece by declaring, “Millionaires are fleeing from taxes!”

Wow, that sounds serious, and certainly very definitive.  Let’s learn more.

Interviewer – “So tell us, where are the millionaires going?”

Ms. Dale – “People don’t want to be taxed… but when we looked the actual numbers, the actual studies of whether ‘Millionaire Flight’ occurs, what we found was that there is no really great statistical data that shows that it does.” (Note: while this is being said, a banner on the screen reads “Millionaires moving to avoid taxes.”)

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Natural Disaster Risk

You’ve seen the news – Dallas, Texas has been hit hard by major tornado activity.

I can’t say I’m surprised, because about this time last year the New York Times published my rankings of Natural Disaster Risk.

And my top pick of the 379 metros areas in the United States?  Yes, Dallas.

Check out the link to the story.  The New York Times creates beautiful and insightful infographics.

(Click map to expand in new window)

I hope this all this tornado activity and unseasonably warm weather isn’t a precursor to a summer of extreme weather.  Meanwhile, I’ll hunker down here in the soggy Northwest, and feel lucky that the most we usually suffer from are unrelenting gray days and drizzle.

Positive U.S. Education

Asian children in a classroom working

I use a lot of metrics to measure and rate the quality of life in different cities and towns.  I haven’t seen anyone else use this particular measure but I think it provides a good insight into the sociological health of a place.

So, I was heartened to read about a trend in New York City.

Where the cost of living (and private schooling) is amongst the highest in the world, some of the wealthy are opting to send their kids to public schools.  There’s a twist as well – it’s foreigners who are leading this charge.

Why do they do it?

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A Cost of Growth

In the study of cities, getting bigger is usually seen as desirable if not inevitible.  So interesting issues are raised when growth starts to bring with it some questionable effects.

image: http://williamlitchfield.wordpress.com/

Austin, Texas has been a sanctuary for pickers, singers and painters for generations.  The problem is, the creative class is starting to get squeezed out.

People move to Austin because it’s so cool and hip, but the influx has pushed the cost of living UP and the artists OUT.

Now Austin is the priciest place to live in Texas.  The fancy $500,000 condos must be the target of the famous “Keep Austin Weird” slogan on the back of every VW van down there.

It’s a tricky chicken-and-egg situation when prosperity rides into town with unaffordability as its sidekick.  Austin is stepping up admirably, though – the city has spent $55 million on affordable housing in the past five years.

There’s an article all about it on the NPR site:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/therecord/2011/12/23/143725019/austin-the-brooklyn-of-the-south?ps=mh_frhdl1

“Military Retirement” study garners major media coverage

Our Best Cities for Military Retirement and Second Careers study is a making a big splash in the media.  The team at Fleishman-Hillard PR orchestrated a great campaign for our USAA-sponsored study.

A big front-page above-the-fold feature in USA Today:  Job-Seeking Veterans.

Forbes.com featured a two-page story and a slide show, and the American Morning show on CNN spent over four minutes discussing our results.

Articles on news sites across the country:

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