Today I'm quoting at length from an article in the Utica Daily News, because surveys and news such as this are fairly frequent and one of the reasons a blog focused on Utica interested me.
What is it about this place? That is my question. How do we always place so low? Even if common sense tells us such surveys can't be entirely accurate, the consistency of the results carries its own accuracy. I ask again, what is it about this city? What have our elected officials and leading citizens done over the years to create such a terrible score?
When I see articles like the one I am quoting below, I feel shame. They are shaming. Family members and friends living out of state, or out of Utica anyway, don't even laugh anymore; they smile patiently. It's like, d'uh. And clearly, the mayor and other officials feel shame because they immediately go around telling everybody that it isn't true, we are a great city, look at the Boilermaker, etc.
The Boilermaker does not a great, or even a good, city make!
Over half of the news and events that I have been posting about on this blog are good. Of course, there are wonderful, creative people living and working in Utica. But overall, we are behind the times, struggling to keep up. Anyone who travels to other cities and towns, whether they be close by like Syracuse, or further away--Boston, Hartford, Stockbridge, Keene, Portland--is immediately struck by the wealth of choices in restaurants, shops, parks, walkways, businesses, etc. Not to mention beauty. Who isn't drawn to a beautiful building or a pretty street? Who would want to stroll down much of Genesee Street, look in the empty or third rate shop windows, or nod hello to our citizens as they pass by in their t-shirts, uncombed hair and jeans?
The answer is always the same, especially in these economic times. No one knows how to bring the brains, the money, the ideas, the business into this city. No one knows how to replace what was torn down by short-sighted common council members, such as the old city hall. Our leaders only seem to know how to put up exaggerated signs declaring our greatness and towers pointing to nothing.
UTICA-ROME, March 21, 2011 -- Utica finds itself in the negative national spotlight once again as it’s rated one of the top 10 saddest cities in the county.
According to a Gallup survey conducted recently, in a list of 188 cities, Utica- Rome ranked 179, the bottom end of the happy-city spectrum. Nationally, CBS Money Watch took a look into the list.
“This is a ridiculous survey,” said Utica Mayor David Roefaro Monday afternoon after reading the report. “I don’t know who they polled, but they must have been some sad people. Utica was just rated one of the top cities to buy a house in, because Utica is doing so well. And to be ranked 179 out of 188 cities, well, we’re not doing so bad, are we?”
Results are based on telephone interviews conducted as part of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index survey, with a random sample of 245,817 adults, aged 18 and older, living in reportable metropolitan statistical areas in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, selected using random-digit-dial sampling.
Top 10 overall well-being:
The bottom ten lowest-rated were (Utica being 179, Huntington being 188):
The survey used six categories to divvy up its questions to those who chose to participate in the interviews: life evaluation, physical health, healthy behavior, emotional, work, and basic access.
"Based upon what they’ve evaluated the way they’ve asked the questions, it looks like a very valid process, so you can’t discredit that,” said Frank Elias, president of the Mohawk Valley Chamber of Commerce. “But in looking at some of those things you can see why as a whole the greater Utica area came out ranking where it did. That’s not to say there are not bright spots or people who would answer these questions very differently. I think I would answer them much differently than the people who were asked to part in the survey. But my circumstances are probably different than theirs.”
Elias said while he agreed with the survey’s stats based on the questions asked, he didn’t wholly agree with the survey itself.
“Each of us as citizens are responsible for our own health, well-being, behavior and work circumstances,” he said. “So for someone to say, Life sucks here and I’m not happy; I say, Look in the mirror, because that seems to be your own issue. I’m sorry to be insensitive, but … if you’re not happy, go out and get an education, if you’re not healthy, go join the gym. That’s my choice -- I did it, and I’m not subjugated to someone telling me my day should be bad. Not me!”
Elias said questions about things like someone’s personal life evaluation, emotions, or their content or discontent with work, aim low – at the possible root of some people’s overall happiness. And those are conscious decisions that don’t completely have to do with the city you’re in, he said.
“Choose to make your own happiness,” Elias said, “and don’t have it subjugated upon you.”
Elias also said the survey looked at things like weather and access to activities – kind of another unfair jab at the small cities of Central New York.
“If I was on the island of Owahu in Hawaii, yeah, the weather’s really nice and I could see where it ranks number one (in the categories of life evaluation and emotional),” he said. “And isn’t Boulder, Colorado, the home of the U.S. Olympic Center, and known for being very physically healthy city? I see why it’s there at number one (for physical health).”
This isn’t the first time that the greater Utica area fell in negative spotlight. In May of 2010, Forbes magazine proclaimed Utica one of the worst cities in America to do business in.
“Upstate can be especially tough,” said Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente at the time. “There are things we can do and are doing to make strides, but I don't think it's fair to single-out Utica when the whole region has been struggling.”
Utica ranked high with a low cost of living and a low crime rate, but got poor marks in most other categories, scoring lowest in projected economic and job growth.
Rome Mayor James Brown said the survey couldn't have come at a worse time for Central New
York. Not only did he feel it was a low blow to the area, given the small sampling of nationwide cities, but during a time of economic struggle, surveys like this at a national level could easily deter businesses, tourists and potential homeowners from bringing money to the community.
"That survey right now is not fair to this region. Gas prices across the country… food prices going up and even the cost of cotton -- we have a situation that could be applied right across the United States. This is unacceptable to me and it does nothing for us."
When a similar survey came out several years ago by the Brookings Institution, Brown said he wrote a letter of complaint. He's considering yet another, given Gallup's survey results.
"It's something we don’t need right now in our region," he said. "We're trying to come back. I have a problem with it -- the harm these things do is hard to quantify because so many people read about it. How are we going to go out and market and bring businesses in here when we have negative press like that?"