Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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July 14, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

WE'RE #4!....Even though I live in Irvine, I don't really have any special opinion about whether it's one of the best places to live in America. Depends on what you like, I suppose. But what I'm really curious about is how Money magazine's list can change so dramatically from year to year. I mean, last year we weren't even in the top 100, and suddenly this year we're #4? What happened?

Kevin Drum 11:56 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (40)

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I looked at the top 25, New Jersey entries.

I am familiar with the burgs listed.

I am convinced the selections were NOT made by a blindfolded person throwing darts at a map. The blindfolded darter would have made better choices.

Posted by: hexatron on July 15, 2008 at 12:09 AM | PERMALINK

Nothing happened. If they ran the same list every year, no one would buy the magazine. It's the nature of glossy magazines that sell the "good life" to make up stuff. The question itself is bogus since how do objectively assess something like "best"?

There should be a pantheon of "best places" that are no longer eligible for these kind of honors. Does anyone need to be reminded that Boulder is a nice place? Or Austin? Really, this is the lifestyle equivalent of "killer abs in 15 minutes". It's not only repetitive and banal, it's fluff pretending to be journalism.

Posted by: walt on July 15, 2008 at 12:15 AM | PERMALINK

The best place to live is where you are happy being.

American junk-culture includes it's magazines.

Everybody just wants to make a buck, you know. That's what its all about.

Posted by: jixter on July 15, 2008 at 12:20 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin Drum >"...What happened?"

Bribery ?

Well, it IS Money magazine...

"Against stupidity, the very gods themselves must contend in vain." - Friedrich von Shille

Posted by: daCascadian on July 15, 2008 at 12:24 AM | PERMALINK

I've never been to Irvine, but these kinds of lists tend to assume that your greatest goal in life is to not be a crime victim. If your murder rate "doubles" from 1 person per year to two people per year, you might very well fall off the list.

Places that are mostly rich people, with few poor people, low crime rates and good weather usually top the lists. In other words, they favors cities with that kind of creepy, airbrushed, theme-parkish feel.

Actual quality of life, on the other hand, depends much more on personal things like whether you can live there and pursue a career you enjoy without a soul-crushing commute, whether your neighbors are people you can relate to, or whether there's actually anything interesting to do. Y'know, things that magazines have trouble measuring.

Posted by: Connor on July 15, 2008 at 12:30 AM | PERMALINK

Those things are so subjective.

You like hotter or colder weather? Drier or more humid?

Is the symphony or hiking in the mountains more important?

And the payoffs? Smog, traffic jams, etc.

Etc., etc.

Kevin, the bright side is, at least a place in the Southland ranked in the Top 5, so a bunch of yahoo Californios don't have to leave their own back yards to "discover" some place.

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on July 15, 2008 at 12:49 AM | PERMALINK

"Places that are mostly rich people, with few poor people, low crime rates and good weather usually top the lists. In other words, they favors cities with that kind of creepy, airbrushed, theme-parkish feel."

That's pretty much described Irvine since the day it was incorporated, which is what makes this so weird. Nothing much has changed in the creepy, airbrushed, theme-park category.

Posted by: Kevin Drum on July 15, 2008 at 12:54 AM | PERMALINK

"What happened?"

Well, housing prices have become more affordable in the past year.... ;-)

Seriously though, I agree with the earlier poster who noted that the criteria for the rankings are all the kind of things that can be easily measured and may be interesting to talk about about are the kind of things that really don't count very much towards the perceived livability of a place. I live in San Diego and I've been to Irvine often enough to know that I have no desire to live there.

Posted by: Denny on July 15, 2008 at 12:55 AM | PERMALINK

Grand Prairie, Texas, in the top 100? Give me an effing break. Yes, you can watch the ponies at Lone Star Park and go to concerts at Nokia, but, it's got its fair share of problems.

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on July 15, 2008 at 12:57 AM | PERMALINK

I'd say something critical about Irvine, but I whenever I'm down there, I *literally* can't tell whether I'm in Anaheim, Irvine, Costa Mesa, Santa Ana, Tustin...so how could I be critical?

Posted by: Robert Earle on July 15, 2008 at 1:01 AM | PERMALINK

My hometown was number 7 on this list several years ago. it's since lost a great deal of its hominess and gained a glut of yuppies, malls, half-empty suburbs, giant buildings that choked a once-quaint downtown, and a severly overworked infrastructure. thanks!

Posted by: Urk on July 15, 2008 at 1:25 AM | PERMALINK

SocraticGadfly, my reaction precisely. There are several other entries from fabulous DFW metroplex. Garland? Euless? I guess if you like IHOP and every other franchise restaurant chain and big box retailers. Absolutely no character. Carollton but not Austin???? McKinney? I know these places. I left them to live in Seattle and Honolulu and can't imagine ever going back.

Posted by: DevilDog on July 15, 2008 at 1:33 AM | PERMALINK

Yes, surveys like these are highly subjective, but Jeebus H. Christ, including anywhere in Texas (other than Austin), Kansas or Oklahoma? Who would want to live in Overland Park, KS who doesn't already live there? "Twister's a comin', Ma."

Blahview, WA? Bellevue, which is probably the second whitest suburb in America, may have a population of less than 120K, but it's twenty minutes from downtown Seattle. Greater Seattle is about 3 million total.

Any place other than Boulder in Colorado? What about Duragano? Much better recreation that Ft. Collins or Longmont.

Why not Bend, Oregon?

What about Bozeman?

Naperville, Illinois?

Fargo? I guess they forgot about the movie.

Peoria, AZ rather than Flagstaff? A suburb of Phoenix named after a suburb of Chicago?

Weird. Just weird.

Posted by: Jeff II on July 15, 2008 at 1:58 AM | PERMALINK

Even though I live in Irvine, I don't really have any special opinion about whether it's one of the best places to live in America. Depends on what you like, I suppose. But what I'm really curious about is how Money magazine's list can change so dramatically from year to year. I mean, last year we weren't even in the top 100, and suddenly this year we're #4? What happened?

Perhaps areas with a lot of Republicans have become more attractive in the eyes of Money magazine (kind of like how the media decided to treat Russert like a Pope)?

Posted by: Swan on July 15, 2008 at 2:01 AM | PERMALINK

I be kinda crackin, though.

(that use of Black English was satire of racism against Black people, in case you didn't notice)

Posted by: Swan on July 15, 2008 at 2:05 AM | PERMALINK

What happened? I thought everyone knew this.

Money doesn't use the same criteria every year. They start with an assessment of what some imagined audience might want that year in a best place to live.

So one year, schools might be the big issue, the next year weather might be the big issue, or access to medical care, or lifelong learning.

Then they create a weighted list of criteria and go through the batch of cities. The only thing the same about the list is the name. It's really a silly way to do this, but that's how it works. It would be more accurately called "The Money Magazines Best Places to Live Based on What We Believe Our Readers are Looking for In a Hometown this Year" list, which would probably not fit on the cover.


Posted by: Christopher on July 15, 2008 at 7:19 AM | PERMALINK

I grew up near Naperville and now live near Irvine. They're both similar communities--upper-middle class to upper class, white, manicured. If that's what you're after, then sure, go for either.

I'd much rather live in a variety of other places (e.g. Berkeley, Madison, Austin).

Posted by: MattD on July 15, 2008 at 7:23 AM | PERMALINK

Average family income in these places is over $90,000! I just checked around the South, excluding Florida, Virginia, and Texas, and only three places qualified: Cary and Chapel Hill in NC [Research Triangle] and Franklin [ritzy Nashville suburb]. I think what most actual people look for in "best places" is modest cost of living; these places don't have it.

Posted by: David in Nashville on July 15, 2008 at 9:14 AM | PERMALINK

Peoria, AZ rather than Flagstaff? A suburb of Phoenix named after a suburb of Chicago?

Peoria, IL's not a suburb of Chicago. You're correct, though, to smack Naperville, which is.

Posted by: shortstop on July 15, 2008 at 9:38 AM | PERMALINK

As a resident of Northern VA, I find it amusing that the 2 local "cities" in the Top 25 are apparently census divisions that aren't actual communities. I doubt that the residents of "Hunter Mill" (between Reston and Tysons Corner??), and "Sully" (near Chantilly I guess) are even aware they live in these supposed "cities". I have never heard them mentioned as communities in maps, postal addresses, or casual conversation.

Posted by: drs on July 15, 2008 at 9:45 AM | PERMALINK

We were #4 last year. No big whoop.

Posted by: Deb-TUD on July 15, 2008 at 9:51 AM | PERMALINK

Best definition of Irvine:

". . .squeaky clean, master-planned, dull as a bowl of bran. . ."

I can't remember who said it.

I do remember Maureen Dowd describing "the soul-less landscape of Orange County. . ."

Yep.

Posted by: lina on July 15, 2008 at 10:16 AM | PERMALINK

Another thing to keep in mind that this is "Money" magazine. Presumably its target audience is well heeled businessmen and corporate drones. These are the same type of people who live in Irvine and Overland Park, and like it.

Imagine if a magazine called "Ghetto" published its annual list of top place to live, and Detroit and East St. Louis placed highly, well DC fell by several notches since the last survey. No one would take this seriously as a list of what most people would consider to be top places to live. The Money magazine survey should be seen in the same light.

Posted by: Ed on July 15, 2008 at 10:16 AM | PERMALINK

I live in one of the New Jersey towns in the top 25. And its a decent place to live, in that there is no crime, its affluent (with totally decent busing options around town for old people), and virtually everything you need is within a few miles.

But its boring - there is no night life, and there is no city center. Its just a bunch of ugly shopping complexes along the state highway. I can't say I love the place, I just live here because its close to work.

These lists really are "best places to live if you are a stereotypical upper middle class American family with 2.3 kids, a dog, and a gas guzzling SUV". This list is worthless to everyone who does not apply.

Posted by: what on July 15, 2008 at 10:44 AM | PERMALINK

What happened? - Kevin

I'll tell you what happened. Inkblot started to run in the democratic primary. That's what has made Irvine nooch up the list. Now that some folks know that Inkblot lives in Irvine, they all want to move there.

Just imagine, Kevin, what would have happened if you had REALLY gotten behind your pet and Inky's campaign took off. Most likely your house would be first on the "Star's Homes" tour.

Posted by: optical weenie on July 15, 2008 at 11:24 AM | PERMALINK

They create the list, people read the list, people move to places on the list, and then the places on the list become not so great of a place to live because of the list. Next year a new list and it all starts over again.

Posted by: working on July 15, 2008 at 11:27 AM | PERMALINK


Overland Park could be located anywhere. It's just a big frickin suburb with lots of bland suburbany architecture and the same chain stores available anywhere. Lots of well-to-do corporate drones, their spouses and rugrats live there. I'm sure they like it because it's interchangeable with the last place they lived, and the next place. Feh.

Posted by: Bat of Moon on July 15, 2008 at 11:34 AM | PERMALINK

Naperville?! Sure, if you are a Stepford wife looking for a pristine suburban subdivision where your neighbors don't speak to each other and if you like commuting on a construction-addled highway filled with Hummers and Expeditions. Yeah, it's heaven on earth.

Posted by: goethean on July 15, 2008 at 12:03 PM | PERMALINK

Check the books of the Irvine Chamber of Commerce for any suspicious expenses?

Posted by: scarshapedstar on July 15, 2008 at 12:14 PM | PERMALINK

Isn't Irvine #4 for bankurpt mortgage corporations?

Posted by: Brojo on July 15, 2008 at 12:50 PM | PERMALINK

There's a good idea for a Washington Monthly piece -- along the lines of the Best Service-Oriented colleges (or whatever you call it), how about a Best Places for a progressive to Live?

Posted by: scott_m on July 15, 2008 at 1:08 PM | PERMALINK

Jeff II: Those yahoo Californios have already "discovered" Durango (assuming that's what you meant).

My one brother and family live in Farmington, N.M., just south; Durango housing prices are going through the roof.

Lina: Takes a soulless person to know a soulless city.

Scott, I'm wondering if MotherJones or somebody doesn't already have such a list?

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on July 15, 2008 at 1:51 PM | PERMALINK

Ed, East St. Louis is almost never likely to be dethroned.

Posted by: WatchaTalkingAbout, Willis? on July 15, 2008 at 1:53 PM | PERMALINK

WatchaTalkingAbout, Willis?

WTF? That (crappy) show took place in Manhattan, so what exactly does your sig offer other than a lame attempt at racial humor?

Posted by: shortstop on July 15, 2008 at 2:02 PM | PERMALINK

Jeff II: Those yahoo Californios have already "discovered" Durango (assuming that's what you meant). Posted by: SocraticGadfly

Yes. It was late. Discovered or otherwise, it's a better place than 90% of that list, including the three from Colorado.

Posted by: Jeff II on July 15, 2008 at 2:10 PM | PERMALINK

Way to go, Irvine, for spending 6.67% of what other best places spend, in state funding per capita, on the arts. Oh, right, Kevin has mentioned that it's a heavily Republican area.

Posted by: RSA on July 15, 2008 at 2:19 PM | PERMALINK

What happened?"

I'm with you Kevin -- my town, #2-rated Fort Collins, Colorado, was ranked #1 last year by Money Mag. And this year we plummet to #2?! WTF?!!!

Posted by: Howard on July 15, 2008 at 5:59 PM | PERMALINK

Irony of the day --- Money magazine's "great places to live" have the highest foreclosure rates.

Posted by: goethean on July 15, 2008 at 6:16 PM | PERMALINK

I'm with you Kevin -- my town, #2-rated Fort Collins, Colorado, was ranked #1 last year by Money Mag. And this year we plummet to #2?! WTF?!!! Posted by: Howard

#2? How the hell did Fort Collins even get into the top 25? As I said above, it's not even the best city along the Front Range.

Posted by: Jeff II on July 15, 2008 at 7:17 PM | PERMALINK

The latest issue of Outside magazine has DC as the #1 "Best Town in America". And here "DC" is not a euphemism for "Alexandria". They actually mean the city proper.

Posted by: ibc on July 16, 2008 at 7:15 PM | PERMALINK
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