A F%@$ing Break: Give me one, Please

It seems like every couple of weeks there's another city ranking list, and the extremely flawed methodology of each one is ever more extremely flawed than that of the list before it. Add to the pile: Forbes' recently-vomited-up list of America's Most Stressful Cities.

Obviously, I'm being melodramatic. And obviously, this means that I have some emotional stake in the results. So let's be done with it: Chicago topped the list. Which...I'm sorry, I have to laugh at that. Hard. Just last week, I was talking to a close friend about my growing desire to head out East, because Chicago has such a relaxed atmosphere. It's very casual here, and thus harder to get things done. A bit of procrastination is built into the way of life. Thus, working on more than a couple of projects at once gets more difficult. You feel almost pressured, in a weird way, to do less.

The merits and problems associated with this way of life are fodder for another discussion, but help to frame my reaction to Forbes' list. How, I wondered upon reading the article this morning, could this possibly be? And then, there it was, in the list of reasons Chicago placed so highly: "rising unemployment rate, expensive gas, high population density and relatively poor air quality."

I'll give them the rising unemployment. I'll even toss in an E for Effort on the air quality, even though it's really not that terrible. Wind blows a lot of our air pollution up to my good ole' hometown to the north, Milwaukee, giving the metro of only 1.7 million some of the worst air quality for a city in its size range. Milwaukee, in turn, dumps sewage into Lake Michigan, which then floats down to Chicago and closes our beaches (though this has been happening a lot less in recent years thanks to the Deep Tunnel project...but again, I digress).

Rising gas prices I had to roll my eyes at, because crowding issues on the CTA and Metra have been evidence of the fact that people are taking advantage of alternate options here. If anything, transit ridership should have been taken into account for determining stress in Chicago. Though it appears that these are metro area rankings (something Forbes is continually foggy about with its lists), so whatever.

But density?? This is a negative factor in determining stress? For my official position on this criterion, please refer to the title of this post.

I will grant -- as any pro-density advocate worth their salt will -- that there is such a thing as an unhealthy level of density. Chicago, my friends, comes nowhere near that level. There are plenty of residential high rises springing up around town, but it's hardly anything that you can compare to, say, the high-rise blocks of Hong Kong. Chicago has wide streets, many of them lined with trees. There is plenty of parkland, much of it well-maintained and relatively safe. As a friend once noted when visiting from New York, "My God, you can actually see the sky here."

Forbes' list is blatantly skewed toward older, more densely-populated cities (more commonly referred to by those with sense as "real cities"). Chicago is followed by New York, Detroit, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, with San Diego, Cleveland, Salt Lake City, Providence (yes, seriously), and Philadelphia finishing things out. Only one of these cities, you'll note, is not located in the older, more highly-urbanized Northeastern and California Coast regions.

Density wasn't the only thing to play a part, but it had a noticeable effect on the outcome. At any rate, this seems to be a better indicator of stress levels. I'll take living in a high-rise over living on the freeway any day of the week. Now excuse me, I have to o relax.


Anonymous said...

Amen. Not only was I amazed at how dumb the article was, I was pissed at how much uncritical coverage it got today.

The use of density and gas price as indicators just made me want to break things.

More interesting factors that I'd consider if I was trying this: noise, crime, commute time, area covered by public transportation, amount and spread of parkland, food deserts, etc.

Brendan Crain said...

And Amen back at all of that. I suppose the argument could be made that density increases problems regarding noise, but I would also say (from experience) that it's a lot easier to feel friendly toward someone that you live closer to. Just personal observation.

Food deserts, hell yeah. "Can I get food within a twenty minute radius of my house" is much more important a question, I'd think, than "Do I have to take the train because it's too expensive to drive my emeffing SUV to work every day?"

Anonymous said...

I grew up in Hong Kong, and currently live in Boston. While it's not a densely populated city, it is a large metro area, yet comparatively it feels like a quaint town compare to H.K.