Well, I have to say I was just bit surprised to hear that Worcester - yes, that Worcester: Wuh-stah, Wormtown, the Heart of the Commonwealth - ranked number 9 on a Forbes list of livable U.S. cities. My first thought was: what were the criteria? Clearly, availability of interesting places to shop; number of steep hills impossible to drive on during icy weather; and percentage of high school seniors who agree with the statement "I don't care where I go to college, as long as it's somewhere other than Worcester" weren't part of the statistical mix that went into this pick.
In fact, the cities were chosen by assigning ratings to:
Five-year income growth per household and cost of living from Moody's Economy.com, crime data and leisure index from Sperling's Best Places, and annual unemployment statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Here are the vitals listed for Worcester, with the rankings vis a vis the 379 cities evaluated in parentheses:
Metro Population: 787,000
Income Growth: 3.5% (No. 145 of 379)
Cost of Living Index: 106.1 (No. 147 of 379)
Culture Index: 98 (No. 7 of 379, tie)
Crime per 100,000: 2,334 (No. 29 of 379)
Unemployment: 7.8% (No. 13 of 379)
I love the "Culture Index" rating - whatever it means. Cambridge may have ranked higher than Worcester overall - it came in 7th - but Worcester had 'em beat on culture. Cambridge was number 11th in this category. Take that, Cambridge snobs! (Of which I would be one, if I lived in Cambridge. Which I would, in fact, like to do someday. Hopefully before the polar ice cap completely melts, the Atlantic Ocean rises, and the Flat of the Hill (where I live in Boston) doesn't revert back to from whence it came, reclaimed by the sea. If and when that happens, the value of our condo will plummet, and Cambridge will be oceanfront.)
As with most/all such rankings, they're wildly interesting but fundamentally arbitrary and a little dumb. Although I can't argue with Portland, Maine's landing at Number 1. This is one very nice little city, and every time I visit I'm reminded that I could live there quite nicely. Yes, Portland strikes me as very livable.
As, in fact, does Worcester. Likable, lovable, and livable.Although I don't particularly want to live there, I don't think it would be a bad place to live. And it's an excellent place to be from.
What it does have going for it is, in fact, culture. Among other things, the Worcester Art Museum is a complete gem.
It also has some beautiful neighborhoods, none of which I ever lived in, with some beautiful old houses that are a lot cheaper than equivalent beautiful old houses closer to Boston. Not that Worcester's that far from Boston: 50 miles - just a breeze down the Mass Pike.
Worcester also has great restaurants, few traffic jams, lots of colleges, and a minor league baseball team, the Tornadoes, peculiarly named after a devastating 1953 storm in which nearly 100 people were killed, including a baby that was spun out of his mother's arms as she ran for safety.
So Worcester's Number 9!
Bravo! This is so much better than being named an All American City, which Worcester seems always to be vying for. (I am such a snob: the very hokeyness of wanting to be named an All American City makes me cringe.)
So, where else besides Portland, Cambridge, and Worcester is up there in the Forbes list?
Take a look at the Top 15:
1. Portland, ME
2. Bethesda, MD
3. Des Moines, IA
4. Stamford/Bridgeport, CT
5. Tulsa, OK
6. Oklahoma City, OK
7. Cambridge, MA
8. Baltimore, MD
9. Worcester, MA
10. Pittsburgh, PA
11. Denver, CO
12. Harrisburg, PA
13. Madison, WI
14. Peabody, MA
15. Little Rock, AR
What immediately stands out, of course, is the striking absence of places in the sun. The only southern city is Little Rock, and there's nary a choice from the West Coast. (Modesto, California, by the way, figured dead last.)
I'm sure that commenters on Forbes are all in a flap about this, but I say: to hell with them. Maybe this is just a make-up call for all those great places lists populated solely by cities south of the Mason-Dixon line and/or built in the desert. These lists are obviously based on criteria as arbitrary as the ones used by Forbes, and likely include measures like number of days when you could play golf, average driving distance to a Wal-Mart, and frequency with which a complete stranger gets in your face with a smile and a big hearty 'how are ya?'
Anyway, I haven't been every place on the list, but I must say that Tulsa has never sounded appealing to me. I always imagine it smells like oil. And I am surprised to see Bridgeport on the list, given that every time I travel through it on Amtrak on the way to NYC, I always think a) how weird that they have a jai-alai fronton, and b) what a dump. I guess Stamford must have swung more than its weight on this pick.
Peabody, Massachusetts is a very nice little city, but I really don't think of it as being a metro of its own: it's a suburb on Boston. (I suppose that you could make the same claim about Cambridge, but Cambridge just seems like more of an autonomous stand-alone.)
I like the Midwest picks on the list. I've never been to Madison, but it does seem like a very nice city. And, call me deluded, but I've been to Des Moines a couple of times on business, and I really liked it. My main problem with Des Moines, other than the screw-driver-in-the-ear Midwest accent, is that it's too damned flat.
But I still can't get over that Worcester's Number 9!
If I know my homeys, there's a spring in the steps being taken these days on Main Street, more than a few "how about that?"'s being exchanged when the after-Mass crowd goes out for coffee and danish, and a toast or two being made at Breen's to the good old Heart of the Commonwealth.