I either live in the worst city in America, or the second-best place on Earth to visit.
The “worst” classification comes from Wallethub, a finance website. The “second best” comes from Lonely Planet, the largest travel guide publisher in the world.
Both rankings of Detroit were published this year. Both were announced within the last three months. Hmm. Maybe one of them came when it was raining?
But wait. Earlier this year, U.S. News and World Report ranked Detroit in its top 100 places to live. Pretty good, right?
Then, a few months later, we were ranked “worst American city to live in” by 24/7 Wall Street.
Whatever that is.
Adding to my confusion is Niche.com (described as a “ranking and review” company) which listed Detroit near the bottom in healthiest places to live, but fairly high in lowest cost of living.
So what’s our motto?
”Detroit: Live Cheap, Get Fat”?
Hang on. What about safety? The FBI claimed Detroit was the most violent big city in the country. World Atlas said Detroit is the second most dangerous. Neighborhood Scout has us eighth. But Safewise.com doesn’t even list us in the top 30.
Quick. Everyone subscribe to Safewise.
Wallethub also named Detroit the nation’s most unhealthy city. On the other hand, last year we were ranked the No. 2 “sexiest city” in America by Pure Romance.
Hey. Casanova didn’t use a StairMaster.
The point is, these days you can find a list to serve pretty much any purpose. It feels like there’s a different one out every week, and we in Detroit breathlessly report on them — especially if we’re on the top or bottom.
But how significant are these lists? How reflective are their methodologies? Oh, they’re fine if you think best and worst can be determined by picking a handful of categories, running stats through a computer program and coming up with rankings.
But I wonder how many of these cities the researchers even visit. A city is a sum of all its parts, not a crunching of its numbers.
Which is why we can apparently be fat, unhealthy, unsafe, not very diverse (another distinction made by Niche.com) and still outrank every city in the world except Seville, Spain, as the must-see city on Earth to visit.
At least according to Lonely Planet.
”(Detroit has) been on our travel experts’ radar for years now,” the managing editor, Alex Howard, told the media. “The momentum we’ve seen has really put Detroit firmly on the map as a travel destination.”
Take that, Wallethub.
As a general rule, I’ve always disliked lists. Whenever Rolling Stone decides to tell us the 25 greatest bands, the 50 greatest guitarists or the 100 most important rock songs, I cringe. Ranking art is a self-conflicting exercise.
But if you scan the web, you’ll see that lists, Top 10 this or Top 10 that, are all over the place. Why the sudden proliferation in ranking things? Do we have a newfound obsession with knowing what’s No. 1 and what’s No. 100?
Or could it be that when you go to these sites, you often have to click from one page to the next in order to find out who ranks behind whom? And each time you click, you see a new set of ads. You can spend a week sifting through the top 20 celebrities who don’t look like they used to, the top 30 athletes who lost their fortunes, the 25 most beautiful TV journalists, or the 20 richest people you never heard of. Most of these are just attention grabbers to get you to click and click again, scroll through to new ads, or, jackpot, accidentally click on an ad when you thought you were advancing the page.
What’s really best or worst doesn’t matter.
So I’m declaring a moratorium on rankings — at least of the city I live and work in. The people of Detroit can tell you what’s safe and what isn’t, what’s fattening and what isn’t, what’s a good price for a house and what is not.
Besides, unless you’re at that point in your life when you’re choosing a city in which to settle down, what difference does it make if Dallas or Portland has more playgrounds?
On the other hand, all those people who read Lonely Planet and believe Detroit is ahead of Paris, Lisbon, Beijing or Tahiti as a must-see place?
They’re absolutely right.
Mitch Albom is a columnist for the Detroit Free Press. Readers may write to him at: Detroit Free Press, 600 West Fort Street, Detroit, Mich. 48226, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.