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The Good, the Bad and the So-So

October 28, 1989

Pity Seattle? Or pity Pine Bluff, Ark.? The new edition of Places Rated Almanac lists Seattle as the most livable city in America, No. 1 out of 333 American metropolitan areas surveyed. Pine Bluff is No. 333, after ranking third from the bottom in 1981 and second from last in 1985.

Seattle folk are not so sure that being No. 1 is all that terrific. The city has been touted in a number of surveys in recent years as a wonderful place to live. Thousands of people have been flocking there, more than a few of them from California. Now, Seattle has slow-growth groups trying to control congestion and development and discourage more newcomers.

No one wants to be last, including Yuba City, Calif., which ranked at the bottom of the first edition of Places Rated Almanac, published by Rand McNally. Yuba City has recovered to No. 330. Pine Bluff, at least, ranked well for its attractive cost of housing.

Such ratings are quite subjective, of course, and overlook intangible benefits that can make a city attractive to some people and not to others. The Places Rated Almanac relies heavily on the proximity of education facilities and on health care, climate, transportation, the arts, the crime rate, cost of living and recreation. While Seattle always has ranked well and Pine Bluff poorly, there is considerable fluctuation from edition to edition. Why would Raleigh, N.C., plummet from 3rd in 1985 to 23rd now? Or St. Louis from 7th to 29th?

And what has happened to Orange County in the past four years to justify a rise from 48th to 8th place? Or Los Angeles from 38th to 15th, Oakland from 68th to 19th and Sacramento from 113th to 47th? Most of the news out of California cities in recent years has been about more traffic, more pollution and more problems. Will the higher rankings just attract more people and make things worse? And what about Portland, Ore., considered by many surveys to be one of the most attractive American cities by any measure. Portland could do no better than 24th.

Those who are wary of extremes might look to Fresno and Des Moines. They ranked 166th and 167th, right in the middle.

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