City can take some cheer in magazine’s yearly ratings

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 1

It may not have the ring of “We’re No. 1!,” but “We’re not No. 274!” isn’t bad, either.

Money magazine has published its annual survey of which of America’s 300 largest cities are the “Best Places To Live,” and Toledo does not appear in its usual position near the bottom of the list.

Unfortunately, that’s not necessarily because Toledo has improved: it’s because Money stopped ranking the cities overall.

“We thought it would be better to change the way we present our information, and stop listing them one to 300,” said Diane Milton, a spokeswoman for the magazine.

Instead of just one ranking, Money has ranked the cities in 15 categories, from the quality of its air to average commuting time. Toledo finishes in the top half of the rankings in six of those 15.

The city’s strongest performance came from the increasing value of its houses. In the last year, houses in the Toledo metropolitan area have jumped 11.18 per cent in value, more than twice the national average, according to the magazine. That ranks the city ninth out of 300.

Toledo ranked 37th in air quality, although its water quality came in a less impressive 242nd. The city finished above average in arts and culture (95th); lack of violent crime (144th); and average commute time (115th).

Among the sore spots: ranking 235th in property crime, 210th in unemployment rate, 231st in projected job growth over the next decade, and 276th in utility costs.

But some of Money’s data appeared questionable. For instance, the magazine reported that Toledo ranked 55th in job growth since 1998 – at the same time it said that the area lost more jobs than it gained during that period.

“That certainly seems off,” Ms. Milton said.

And Money reported that the median three-bedroom house in metro Toledo is worth $165,490, a figure that local Realtor Patrick Leahy called “way off the charts.” Mr. Leahy, of Sylvania-based Cavalear Realty, estimated a more accurate number would be about $97,000.

The median value appears to be too high for Lucas County, Jerry German, director of the real estate division of the Lucas County auditor’s office, said last night.

A review of sales reports for three-bedroom houses puts the median at about $63,000 in 1996, about $65,000 in 1997 and into early 1998, and will probably range between $65,000 and $70,000 this year, Mr. German said.

He said he did not know the source of the information for the Money report. Some statistics carry values of only new housing, for example.

In the remaining categories, Toledo ranked 173rd in cost of living, 214th in municipal bond rating, and 151st in sports attractions.

Over the years, Money has been accused of subtly changing its ranking methods – which were always kept secret – in order to create new winners each year. U.S. News & World Report has faced similar charges in its annual college rankings.

As part of this year’s change, Money has posted a program on its web site that allows anyone to enter his or her own criteria on what to look for in a city. For instance, someone who wants to stay far away from hurricanes and earthquakes but doesn’t mind the occasional tornado would be pointed toward Toledo.

Money’s annual rankings are important because they provide information to thousands of people every year looking to relocate. In doing so, they shape the national conscience about cities and offer a perspective on a community’s suitability for economic development.

Don Jakeway, president of the Regional Growth Partnership, said last night the area’s low ranking on water has to be in error if water quantity and its availability are both taken into account.

“An article like that seems to feed off the stereotypes of what the community was like at one time,” he said.

He doesn’t believe the rankings count for much among companies weighing business location decisions. Readers turn to the magazine for financial advice, not site selection issues, he said.

“There is no measurement for the friendliness here, the community, family feel,” said Mr. Jakeway, who moved here from Columbus two years ago. “It is a big, small town. It has amenities. I don’t think it hurts me and the job I do to sell the Toledo area.”

In the 11 years that Money ranked the cities one to 300, Toledo broke out of the bottom third only once, in 1988, when it ranked 150th. Otherwise, Toledo never ranked higher than 214th (1989), and was as low as 293rd (1994).

In 1998, the magazine took a step toward taking the stigma out of the ranking process by dividing the nation into 12 sectors: small, medium, and large cities in each of four geographic regions. Toledo finished 12th out of the 24 midwestern medium cities that year.

This year, Money only announced the best large and small cities, along with runners-up in each category. San Francisco was named the best large city, followed by New York and Austin, Tex. Rochester, Minn., won the small-city crown, with Boulder, Colo., and Columbia, Mo., following.

The mayors of a few midwestern cities are probably breathing a little easier as a result of Money’s change, knowing that they won’t be tagged No. 300, the worst city in America.

In the past, that unfortunate title has often fallen to depressed midwestern burgs like Gary, Ind., and Flint and Jackson, Mich., towns that usually didn’t appreciate being kicked while they were down. Some Flint residents held public magazine burnings when their city hit No. 300 in the late 1980s.