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My Response to MONEY Magazine’s Auto-Centric Best Places to Live 2006 List

MONEY Magazine released its list for Best Places to Live in 2006, and I was not very impressed. Most of you will probably not be impressed, either. Here is their top ten:

1. Fort Collins, CO
2. Naperville, IL
3. Sugar Land, TX
4. Columbia/Ellicott City, MD
5. Cary, NC
6. Overland Park, KS
7. Scottsdale, AZ
8. Boise, ID
9. Fairfield, CT
10. Eden Prairie, MN

Most of these cities have one thing in common: they are all sprawling – some very bad. The data they use obviously cannot take quality of life into account, because in many of these cities you have to drive to everything and you will be stuck in massive traffic jams along the way. Does not sound like fun to me. Especially when, on a Sunday afternoon, I could lay out in the middle of the streets of Downtown Sacramento practically and not be bothered by cars. On weekends, bikes and peds rule. On weekdays, commuting suburbanites increase Sacramento’s population by over 100,000.

Here is the response I posted on their blog regarding their list: “Too many of these cities on the list are auto-centric sprawling suburban cities that you must have a car to get around to anything. What will happen to these cities if gas prices reach $6/gallon? Or a large percentage of the baby boomer generation is unable to drive? They will be forced to stay in their little retirement communities, totally dependent on others for everything. It is time to get over the fascination of sprawling suburbs with huge cookie-cutter homes, large yards, massive roads, and massive congestion problems. We need to start building and promoting denser, walkable neighborhoods, otherwise there will be no scenic, undeveloped land left in this beautiful country.”

Some of the comments posted on the blog are very insightful. I agree with one of the readers that suggested MONEY develop a list with several different categories. Obviously, people like cities for all sorts of reasons and what some like about one place, someone else hates it for that reason. Better categories could help make the list more useful.

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{ 3 comments… add one }

  • John July 18, 2006, 9:10 am

    For a magazine like MONEY to appreciate walkable neighborhoods, those places need to reflect the magazines focus: $$. Maybe that’s just a matter of time as gas prices rise more and more and the effects of peak oil and other unsustainable practices permeates our economy. Until then, the same old-same old is unfortunately where the money is, as well as the luxuries and amenities that people seem to cherish these days.

  • Eric July 18, 2006, 12:46 pm

    Yes, you make a good point. If you look at the cost of home prices in walkable neighborhoods, and the salaries that people earn that live in them, I’m sure it’s much higher than suburban and rural places. However, the shear numbers of people live in the suburbs. Maybe if the herd of people moving to walkable places continues, we’ll see an evolution change. By the way, I love your site. I forgot to link it when I came across it. Keep up the good work. Also, this article somewhat outraged me, what do you think?

  • John July 18, 2006, 2:11 pm

    Regarding the Beechwood article, I think the author’s gripes are warranted though definitely exaggerated. The early master plan by SOM was well-composed, in the sense that it was a classical garden scheme, echoing Grant Park and other axial landscapes. But as it evolved over time into a contemporary park, the master plan was really just divied up for the different pieces (bandshell, fountain, skating rink, lurie garden, etc) without a reshaping of it overall. This resulted in an almost disparity of these pieces which can be sensed as you move around the park.

    Also, it’s definitely a tourist-oriented place, meant to lure people and their wallets. Luckily for residents, the bandshell has expanded its concert series to embrace music beyond classical. And it’s actually a great place to walk around, sit down, watch people, etc. The author’s critiques of the bandshell and the fountain tended towards personal taste, so as much as he rationalized them not everybody feels the same way. I don’t agree about the look of the bandshell (it’s “backside” and other views hold interest) nor the fountain (it activates that corner of Michigan Avenue to an amazing degree I can’t imagine it elsewhere), but I would criticize the park for the way it meets the city at its borders. Its surrounded by three busy and wide streets with limited access. The solution isn’t necessarily more bridges (though one is coming with the Art Institute) but maybe even something underground, or even special paving combined with timing of the lights to make movement across Michigan Avenue especially better.

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