Picking apart the top cities for singles rankings

Rankings of the top cities for singles may not be that valid:

“It doesn’t make much difference” where millennials live in terms of their marriage prospects, Andrew Cherlin, director of Johns Hopkins’ sociology department, wrote in an email. He said most major cities now have about the same rate of millennial inhabitants…

And indeed, most of the top cities for this category were near military installations. No. 2 on Wang’s list was San Luis Obispo, which is less than an hour from Vandenberg Air Force base, the third-largest air force base in the country. No. 4, in Hanford, Calif., has a large Navy presence…

So what does predict whether you’ll get married? The reigning champ of marriage indicators is Mormonism, even for millennials. Utah towns occupy the top three slots among 18-34 year-old marriage rates (nearly 2/3rds of millennials are already spoken for in western Utah County, Utah). And the U.S.’s top-three Mormon states, Utah Wyoming and Idaho, occupy the top three slots for states.

Surprise, surprise; rankings found on the Internet may not be that great. Sometimes this has to do with methodology: what is included in the rankings and how are the different dimensions rated? This is discussed here: do you want to look at millennial composition (where Washington D.C. leads the pack) or millennial marriage rate (Washington D.C. doesn’t do as well)? One lesson might be to have more specific rankings – do you really mean it is best for singles if your data is based on the marriage rate?

Additionally, two other issues arise. One, what if the cities aren’t that different from each other? Rankings are intended to differentiate between options but mathematical differences do not necessarily equal substantive significances. Second, why are the rankings in this order? Here, what related factors – such as the proximity of military installations – might be relevant? This may be hard to pick up at times because not all the cities may be affected by the same phenomena. Thus, the researcher has to do some extra digging to try to explain the rankings rather than just simplistically report them.

Even with the argument from Richard Florida about the creative class seeking out cities with enticing culture and entertainment, how many people move where they do because of such rankings?

The American Dream and how Chicago magazine determined “Chicago’s Best Places to Live”

Chicago has a new list of the best places to live that includes 12 Chicago neighborhoods and 12 Chicago suburbs. Here are the factors the magazine used to identify these communities

First we looked at the factor that tends to be uppermost in the minds of families these days: safety. We eliminated from contention all community areas that notched violent crime rates higher than 7.0 offenses per 1,000 inhabitants last year (the city average: 9.3 per 1,000). That meant tossing out the Loop (9.9 per 1,000) and the historic South Side neighborhood of Pullman (11.2 per 1,000), for example. And we eliminated suburbs with violent crime rates above their county’s average—which removed from contention such otherwise appealing places as Evanston (2.2 per 1,000) and Oak Park (2.7 per 1,000), both in Cook County (2.1 per 1,000).

Then we turned to education. If a town or community lacks a public school whose students score above average on standardized tests, we dinged it. And because raising kids in an area that’s at least somewhat diverse is a goal of most parents, we nixed spots where more than 92 percent of residents are of any one race. (Bye-bye, Kenilworth, Western Springs, and Winnetka.)

For the places that remained, we looked at ease of transportation downtown, giving extra points to those that have several el stops and at least one Metra stop. (Places with outstanding schools and low rates of property crime also got bonus points.) And we considered how home prices in these places have fared in recent years compared with prices in neighboring areas, as well as whether buyers there can get good value for their money—which is not the same thing as paying the smallest amount. (For detailed price charts covering all Chicago suburbs and neighborhoods with at least 20 home sales in 2013, see this page with all the housing data.)

Finally, I hit the pavement to assess which spots possess those hard-to-define qualities that matter hugely when you’re looking for somewhere to live. Things like vibrancy (are there lots of bustling restaurants and shops?). Beauty (are there architecturally interesting buildings or just cookie-cutter developments?). Friendliness (does the community have a natural center that brings people together?). Is it, quite simply, a great place to call home?

So it boils down to safety, good schools, good transportation, higher than average housing values, and quality of life. Such measures are not uncommon on Best Places to Live lists.

However, it struck me upon reading this list that these traits tend to match a particular vision of a good community. If I may put it this way, it is a middle to upper-class ideal where kids are safe and nurtured and communities are protected from the difficulties of the world. It roughly matches the American Dream where people can live in small-town type places (even though most Americans do not live in such areas, they harbor the ideal of living in a tight-knit community – even if they may not want to contribute much to it) in relative comfort.

Just to take the two examples from DuPage County, Wheaton and Hinsdale, these communities partly derive their ranking from protecting this particular vision over the decades. Not everyone can move into these communities; it requires a certain amount of money as the affordable housing the communities discuss has much more to do with allowing senior citizens and recent college graduates to have somewhere to live rather than truly addressing low-income residents.

Maybe this methodology does reflect what many Americans want. The suburbs on the list are nice and the Chicago neighborhoods, while having more diversity, tend to be the more sought-after ones. At the same time, such lists could reinforce the notion that protected and wealthy places are the best ones, the ones we should all aspire to live.

Zillow back with Trick or Treat ratings for major cities

Zillow is back with its 2014 rankings of “Best Cities for Trick or Treating.” San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Chicago round out the top three. The methodology has not changed much compared to 2013:

We take data seriously here at Zillow, even when it comes to trick or treating. While wealthier neighborhoods are often known for their frightfully sweet harvest on Halloween night, we calculate the Trick-or-Treat Index using a holistic approach with four equally weighted data variables: Zillow Home Value Index, population density, Walk Score® and local crime data from Relocation Essentials. Based on these variables, the index represents cities that will provide the most candy, in the least amount of time, with the fewest safety risks.

In the era of Internet lists, this is a potentially catchy list. The factor of housing values filters out a lot of places with the top 10 dominated by coastal cities with Chicago as the only Midwestern or Southern entry.

Yet, it also seems limited to major cities, not even metropolitan regions, so its scope is limited. Many Americans live in suburbs or smaller big cities and those don’t seem to make the cut here. Perhaps Zillow doesn’t have the same availability of data in these places.

I suspect that people within these cities would not all appreciate it if people took these rankings seriously and in large numbers flocked to the highest-rated neighborhoods just to get better candy more quickly. But, it would certainly be interesting if large numbers did show up…

Naperville now at #33 of Money’s Best Places To Live

As little as a decade ago, Naperville was at the top of Money‘s Best Places to live (#2 in 2006) but it comes in at #33 in 2014. Here is the description of the community:

Naperville, a regular on MONEY’s Best Places to Live list, consistently draws families for its highly rated schools and safe neighborhoods. Yet unlike many Chicago suburbs, a vibrant downtown also gives Naperville a cosmopolitan feel. People run or stroll along the four-mile long brick Riverwalk, which hugs the DuPage River that runs through downtown. The pedestrian-friendly city center has more than 50 restaurants (pizza lovers will find both wood-fired varieties and Chicago’s signature deep-dish style on offer), as well as art galleries, boutiques and live music clubs.

Many residents do the 30-minute train commute into Chicago but local jobs are plentiful too: Naperville is located on the Illinois I-88 technology and research corridor and home to major companies like ConAgra and OfficeMax.

The big complaint around Naperville? Traffic. Rush hour can be brutal, and you can find yourself suddenly sitting in gridlock at any time of day.

What has changed?

1. The description mentions traffic. This is particularly bad going north-south in Naperville as the major highways goes east-west. You don’t want to be stuck on Route 59 on the western edge of Naperville, a road full of people traveling to Naperville as well as other burgeoning suburbs like Aurora and Plainfield.

2. Is something lost in the size of the community? Maybe, maybe not – the #1 place is McKinney, Texas which has a population around 140,000.

3. The methodology for the rankings might have changed. Here is how the found the Best Places To Live for 2014:

Next, we narrow down the list further by excluding places with a median family income of more than 210% of the state average or a median home price of $1 million or more. Then we use a proprietary formula to rank the remaining cities according to 45 factors in eight categories: Economic opportunity and jobs, housing affordability, education, crime, health, arts and leisure, ease of living, and diversity.

We give the most weight to the first four factors, and evenly represent the major regions of the country (West, Northeast, Midwest, South). That leaves us with about 100 cities…

Economic opportunity is based on purchasing power, foreclosure rate, tax burden, and state’s fiscal strength. Job opportunities is based on income growth, county employment (not seasonally adjusted), and projected job growth. Housing affordability is based on median home-price-to-income ratio and average property taxes. Education is based on test scores, educational interests and attainment, and percentage of kids in public schools. Health is based on number of doctors and hospitals in the area and health of residents. Crime is based on property and violent crime rates. Arts and leisure is based on activities in the town and area, including movie theaters, museums, green spaces, and sports venues.

If the first four factors matter more, Naperville might hampered by the state of Illinois’ fiscal strength and higher housing prices than a number of the top-ranked places. Looking further down the list, crime might be up some in Naperville.

Naperville responds to the claim it is a snobby mid-sized city

Movoto recently named Naperville the 4th snobbiest mid-sized city in America. Here is their short description of the suburb:

If this place seems like a bit of an odd man out on our list, don’t be fooled. Naperville had the second highest household income, and over 66 percent of locals had a college degree, so these are some world-wise and wealthy people. Plus, they’re able to congregate together in their seventh place country clubs, probably to sample wine and discuss recent stock market trends.

This city may not have the highest ranking in refined restaurants, but it does have a somewhat refined palate. If you don’t believe me, you can try the cuisine at Morton’s The Steakhouse and you’ll know for sure you’re in a place all about class. Just be sure to bring a well packed wallet, these savory steaks do not come cheap. Who ever said the best things in life are free? It definitely wasn’t Naperville.

And here are two responses from Naperville residents:

1. Naperville Mayor George Pradel said:

Longtime Mayor George Pradel, considered by many to be the city’s most ardent booster, took a glass-is-half-full approach to news of the city’s snob ranking.

“I’m taking a positive attitude toward that. Actually it puts Naperville on the map again,” Pradel said. “Naperville is a great city. I think we are very fortunate to have us be recognized.

“If you look at their statistics, the background, homes, income, education, one could assume that this could be a snooty area. But it’s not until you actually get out in the community when you find out that’s really not what’s happening here,” he said. “That’s just kind of looking at it on the surface. You find that this is a very, very friendly city and people care about each other.”

Pradel echoes a claim a number of city leaders have made over the years: Naperville may be large and have money but what really sets it apart is its community spirit. Often invoked is the community’s efforts to build Centennial Beach in the early 1930s and then the volunteers that started the Riverwalk in the late 1970s. In other words, Naperville still has the spirit of a small town even though it no longer looks like one.

2. A Naperville resident wrote an op-ed for the Chicago Tribune that took a different tack:

To those of us who know the real Naperville, this is character defamation. Naperville, now a bustling suburb, was filled with rows of corn and old barns just 20 years ago. I’m in my late 20s, and the Naperville I grew up in was open land peppered with old strip malls and newish subdivisions. There is now less open space and there are more McMansions, but the Naperville I know is still comparable to most Midwest suburbs — packed with minivans, soccer practices, block parties, well-manicured lawns and chain restaurants.

Naperville isn’t North Shore affluence. Many label Naperville as “new money” — and this seems at least partially true. A majority of my classmates and friends from Naperville had parents who came from humble beginnings and worked hard to achieve their place in an upper-middle-class income bracket. This sounds more like the American Dream than snobbery…

Movoto ranked only “midsized cities.” The top snob list only includes towns with populations of 120,000 to 220,000 people. That means Chicago suburbs such as Hinsdale, Winnetka, Lake Forest, Glencoe and Barrington weren’t contenders in the competition. Just saying.

Also, Movoto is on a ranking spree. The site has ranked the happiest, most exciting, safest and most creative cities in America and is now doling out these individual rankings state by state. It recently dubbed Rolling Meadows and New Lenox as the “most boring” towns in Illinois. Well, who crowned Movoto as the all-knowing king of rankings? Not fair, I say. I bet people in New Lenox have fun sometimes.

Instead of appealing to the great community, this op-ed applies a scattershot defense. First, Naperville isn’t really that different than many suburbs because it still had open land nearby several decades ago. There may be some truth to this – as late as 1980, Naperville had just 42,000 residents so much of the explosive growth has happened since then, particularly by 2000 when the suburb had over 128,000 residents. Second, Naperville isn’t like old-money snobby Chicago suburbs, whether that is small North Shore suburbs or other pockets west of the city. Third, one could question the methodology of determining whether a suburb is snobby.

All together, I would suggest Naperville is unusually large and wealthy for a suburb. Traditionally, wealthier suburbs have been small, geographically-restricted areas where residents can protect their zoning and community character. But, Naperville has both size (around 144,000 residents over 39 square miles) and wealth (median household income over $108,000), drawing upon white-collar businesses and research facilities that moved in or nearby after World War II and annexing a lot of land. But, whether all of this makes a community snobby is much harder to measure. On the ground, suburbanites have perceptions about which communities are more or less snobby and as the op-ed above suggests, Naperville residents might often look to other suburbs as more snobby.

Just to note: this isn’t the first time such claims have been made about Naperville. I remember seeing one response to similar claims a decade or so ago that asked whether it was so bad that Naperville residents just wanted the best in life and in their community.

A video goes viral with 320,000+ views in one week?

This silent newsreel of the 1919 Black Sox World Series is a great find. A news story about the video suggests it went viral with over 320,000 views in its first week online. Is this enough views to go viral?

This is an ongoing issue for stories and reports regarding online behavior. When does something go from being an online object of interest to some people to being a trend? Reporters often find Facebook groups or a few blog posts and turn that into a trend. Perhaps this is better than interviewing a few people on the street – also still done – but there are plenty of online groups, tweets, and posts.

We need some sort of metric or guidelines for making such proclamations. Unfortunately, there is little agreement about this for websites: should we count page views, unique visitors, click-throughs or something else? Should we just count the number of Twitter followers even though they can be purchased? Other mediums have agreed-upon metrics like Nielsen ratings or book sales or digital downloads.

In the meantime, I would suggest 342,000 viewers is not quite going viral.

Chicago again named #7 global city

Curbed Chicago highlights the 2014 A.T. Kearney rankings which again have Chicago at #7 in its Global Cities Index:


Chicago has recently been named the 7th most globally integrated city in the world according to management consulting firm A.T. Kearney’s latest Global Cities Index. Five North American cities made the list, including New York (1), Los Angeles (6), Washington (10) and Toronto (13).

As the article notes, Chicago has been roughly in the same position for a number of years. But, I’m not sure I agree with this:

It appears that Chicago has played it safe, maintaining a solid position over the last few years, and not making any major changes in position.

What is the evidence for this? Perhaps the important question to ask is how much a city might realistically be able to move up or down the rankings within a year or a few years. Major changes that would heavily impact the five criteria happen infrequently, some change takes quite a bit of time, and the other cities are doing things as well even as things are happening in Chicago. Also, we might ask whether it is valuable for a big city to chase such rankings versus do the things that are best for the city and its citizens.

Naperville #9 best city for new college graduates

Livability.com just named Naperville as the #9 city for college graduates. Here is the criteria they used:

To determine the best cities for recent college graduates, we analyzed factors such as the number of 25- to 34-year-olds living in each city, the availability of rental properties, unemployment rates, educational attainment levels, use of public transportation and the types of jobs these places offer. We also sought out cities that cater to a younger demographic by offering lots of recreational activities, hot nightlife and a hip vibe. What we found were places where new college graduates are likely to find jobs they’d actually want, homes they can afford and a social scene that allows them to more easily make new friends, fit in and engage with the community.

In assessing the best cities for new college grads, we took into account the top-hiring industries, which, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, are: educational services; professional, scientific and technical services; health care and social assistance; and government.

While it doesn’t say how these different factors are weighted, it seems to be a mix of job and quality of life opportunities. The list isn’t just about unemployment; it also includes cultural elements the “creative class” looks for in an exciting place to live.

And here is what they said about Naperville:

Just 30 miles west of Chicago and located along the DuPage River, Naperville, Ill., provides recent college grads with a blend of small-town charm and big-city amenities. It’s an ideal setting for young professionals who feel more comfortable in a suburban environment but want quick access to the offerings of a major metropolis.

An low unemployment rate of 5.5 percent among 25- to 34-year-olds, a high percentage of non-service industry jobs and excellent public transportation make Naperville an attractive area to start a job search. The city’s employment base includes technology firms, energy companies, retailers and factories. Citizens here are well-educated; more than 66 percent of 25- to 34-year-olds in Naperville hold bachelor’s degrees or higher. Finding an affordable place to rent won’t be difficult as nearly a quarter of residential properties in the city are rentals, many of which cost less than 30 percent of an average resident’s annual income.

The city’s picturesque Riverwalk and community parks see lots of activity from residents who exercise, play sports or just relax. Naperville’s quaint downtown includes the Theater District, which is home to the widely attended North Central College theater program. Residents can choose from more than 260 restaurants, including the Spanish-themed Meson Sabika and the award-winning Café Buonaro’s Italian restaurant.

This summary hits the high points that most profiles of Naperville:

1. Big city (over 140,000) but small-town feel. Perhaps it is the quaint but bustling downtown that sums this up well: it isn’t too big to be overwhelming but it does offer lots of shopping and dining options.

2. Thriving jobs center. Though Naperville has a large population, it is not just a bedroom community. There are numerous major companies with offices in town and this attracts an educated workforce.

3. The Riverwalk is a scenic and well-designed outside feature. Few communities have such pedestrian-friendly options so close to a vibrant downtown.

A “single lifestyle” the primary factor in making a city one of the worst for singles?

A recent list of the “10 Worst Cities for Singles” uses this criteria:

How did we come up with our list of the worst cities for singles? We started by looking for metropolitan areas with more than 125,000 people. Then we penalized places with small populations of singles, including the never-married, divorced and widowed. The share of unmarried residents in each of these bottom-ten cities is well shy of the national average.

Financial indicators didn’t boost the cities’ attractiveness. Although many of these areas boast below-average living costs, paychecks typically are way below average, too. We also factored in education level, keeping in mind that people with bachelor’s and advanced degrees are more likely to be gainfully employed. After all, you can’t exactly rock the single lifestyle without the earnings to fund it.

So there two primary factors in this analysis:

1. The number of single people. Presumably this has something to do with an exciting social scene, a la the culture and scene sought by the creative class. However, just measuring the number of single people doesn’t necessarily signal a more or less exciting cultural and entertainment scene.

2. The financial indicators are mainly about income, suggesting that single workers don’t want to be in places without high incomes. Does this mean younger workers only want higher-paying jobs? Is a high paying job the number one goal? The last line in the second paragraph above drives this point home: younger workers want a flashier “single lifestyle.”

All this seems to make some assumptions about single workers: they want high incomes, they want other singles around, and they want to “rock the single lifestyle.” While this may be the case for a number of them, it does highlight some different reasons for moving that are fairly accepted in American society today:

1. Economics. People need jobs. They should move where the jobs are. Young workers are particularly assumed to be more mobile and willing to move.

2. Finding exciting cultural centers. Places like Austin are held up as cities where one should move to enjoy life.

Are there other acceptable reasons for choosing where to live?

The “trick or treat index” for metropolitan areas and Chicago neighborhoods

In a ranking sure to bring in some Internet traffic, Zillow has put together a “trick or treat index”. The top ten cities: San Francisco, Boston, Honolulu, San Jose, Seattle, Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington D.C., Portland, and Philadelphia. You can also see the top neighborhoods for these cities. Here is what goes into the index:

Zillow takes numbers seriously, even when it comes to trick or treating. Taking the most holistic approach, the Trick-or-Treat Index is calculated using four equally weighted data variables: Zillow Home Value Index, population density, Walk Score and local crime data from Relocation Essentials. Based on these variables, the Index represents cities that will provide the most candy, with the fewest walking and safety risks.

A brief and clear explanation. The index includes four equally weighted factors: the price of homes (giving some indication of the wealth in the neighborhood), density (how many people/households are available to go to for candy), walkability (can easily walk to more candy locations), and crime rates (safety while trick-or-treating). All of this presumably adds up to identifying the best places to get candy: wealthy people are likely to give better candy, there are more households within a short walk, and it is safe. But, why don’t we get the actual ratings in these four categories for the top cities?

It is probably not worth anyone doing a serious research project on this but it would be interesting to crowdsource some data from Halloween to see how this index matches up with experiences on the ground. In other words, does this index have validity? This seems like a perfect Internet project – think GasBuddy for Halloween candy.