By Daniel J. McGraw
The news media likes lists these days. They have even given them a trendy name: listicles. While the media portends that these lists are a great way to get important information to the public, they are really more of an easy way to create content and inflate page views on their websites (a list of 20 can get 20 page views if you put each of the 20 on their own page).
And ranking cities on lists is the easiest way to do that. Big data can rank cities on who has the most bed bugs and which ones are the most affordable to live in and which ones are the most dangerous. Or which ones are great or bad places for young adults to live, which cities are the best run and which ones are the worst, most bike lanes, most obese people, alcohol consumption, etc.
But when you get down to the nuts and bolts of these lists, most are pretty much meaningless. Stats are assembled and quickly assigned some meaning. Vague paragraphs with three or four sentences for each city are written. And an omnipotent (and sometime scary) headline is popped on top of it all. Look what we found, they declare, and you are not nearly as bad (or you are much worse) than you thought.
So when Fortune magazine recently had a short list of which cities will be the next Brooklyn, N.Y., and my hometown of Cleveland showed up on that list, I didn’t think much of it.
Cleveland and Louisville and Chattanooga and Newark, N.J., were seen as up and coming Brooklyns. Woonsocket, R.I., Fresno Calif., Gary, Ind., and Atlantic City, N.J. were seen to be circling down the Detroit drain.Even when the local media trotted out how wonderful this is and it must be highly significant as the big media thinks we could one day be as hip and trendy as those people in New York City!!! Maybe because I don’t know what hip and trendy really is and I probably wouldn’t find it highly significant even if I did.
It’s easy to take the cynical view, however. Fortune was trying to be comical by picking cities that would be the next Brooklyns and the next Detroits. One list rising, the other falling. Cleveland and Louisville and Chattanooga and Newark, N.J., were seen as up and coming Brooklyns. Woonsocket, R.I., Fresno Calif., Gary, Ind., and Atlantic City, N.J. were seen to be circling down the Detroit drain. As part of the whimsical nature of these two lists, Detroit was placed in the up-and-coming group that could be the next Brooklyn (them Fortune guys are real funny).
Fortune said those cities on the upside could possibly get the spoils of Brooklyn’s “rocketing real estate prices, hip-luxe condos, and freshly foraged food stores.” A recent USA Today story on the newly revitalized Brooklyn mentioned its NBA team, rooftop farms, artisanal pickles, home-made granola, vegans who ride bicycles and bearded Hassidic Jews in long coats. USA Today also praised Brooklyn for “haircuts, eyeglasses, hats, and body piercings so chic that even Parisians would utter, ‘Tre Brooklyn.’ “
One could get lost in the discussion of what this haircut/eyeglasses/hats/body piercings deal really is, whether we want or don’t want whatever Brooklyn has, and if that fits in with some identity quotient that Cleveland may have dreamed up on its own. Some in Cleveland would scowl over such a notion that we are the next Brooklyn, seriously maintaining that we are too “real and unpretentious” to care about being hip and trendy, all while discussing the wonderful bitter aftertaste of their $7 craft beer.
What the 30-word blurb does is get some people thinking that Cleveland has not fallen off the cliff completely.But the dude-bros would likely high-five each other and mention it’s about time we got our respect and the girls with them would woo-hoo away as they want to do for every occasion.
Where these lists have some significance is in perception, which can have some importance. Fortune mentions a downtown revival in Cleveland, and the three “Williamsburg-esque” neighborhoods of Tremont, Ohio City and Gordon Square. What the 30-word blurb does is get some people thinking that Cleveland has not fallen off the cliff completely, that maybe the people who live there are not complete rubes, and that living there might not be as bad as the east coast elite usually thinks of places between the Hudson River and Pacific Ocean. Nothing more, nothing less.
Perception is never based solely upon fact. I’ve lived at various times in these three Williamsburg-esque neighborhoods, and while sometimes they have that hip and trendy artisanal pickle vibe that we are often instructed is important, they are decidedly more about being more diverse and inclusional that the suburban sprawl areas never had. But the point is that these urban neighborhoods are a key to this city reviving itself in so many different ways, and the fact that some outside of the Cleveland bubble see what is happening here is not a bad thing. Even if it is just part of a list.
But one must remember that in this world of listicles, one is only as good (or bad for that matter) as the last list. Remember that Forbes magazine named Cleveland as the “most miserable city to live in” in 2010. In the 2013 list, Cleveland has now moved down to being the 17th most miserable (woo-hoo), less miserable than New York City, which is #10 in miserableness.
Which leads to me to the most vexing question in terms of the Cleveland-possibly-being-the-next-Brooklyn discussion. If Cleveland is less miserable than New York, and Brooklyn is part of New York, why would Cleveland want to be the next Brooklyn? I think the answer may possibly lie in creating a list that somehow ranks cities based on their combined numbers of vegans who ride bicycles, bearded Hassidic Jews and drunken woo-hoo girls. I think that list would be highly significant. For a few weeks anyway.