Friday, September 19, 2014

The 50th best place to live in America is Westland? Seriously?

Posted By on Fri, Sep 19, 2014 at 12:16 PM


Before things get too toxic, I just want to point out that my dear Aunt Betty and Uncle Joe lived in Westland, and I grew up with plenty of visits to the western suburb as a child. They lived in a slab house on a street of slab homes, giving the neighborhood the look of an episode of The Flintstones. I'm sure they didn't mind the preponderance of ranch homes. They, like a lot of their generation, were looking for little more than a small home to raise some children in, and a bit of prosperity after war and depression. And the slab streets and slab homes of Westland did it for them.

Today, Westland is, um, a rather sleepy place. It's not Royal Oak, that's for sure. It's certainly not Detroit. In fact, out of all the suburbs, Westland may be among the most unremarkable in every way.

Perhaps that's why it wound up on a list of America's 50 best places to live, squeaking in at the bottom at No. 50.

Other Detroit suburbs to end up on the list included Troy (No. 7) and Sterling Heights (No. 41). The measures for what came out on top included statistics on the economy, crime, education, the environment, housing, leisure, and infrastructure. But statistics alone do not build a city, and the inclusion of Westland, Sterling Heights, and, to a certain extent, Troy, on this list is a definite head-scratcher.

For instance, Troy's glory days as commuter suburb seem to be nearing an end. Sterling Heights is already showing some signs of wear as Macomb County's blue-collar work force hangs on through a "jobless recovery."

But, Westland? We have made jokes about Westland for years. A friend compared it to the way "bad neighborhoods" look in better-functioning cities. We always wondered about the city motto, "The place to be." Did it indicate that the placemaking had yet to begin? That we should wait patiently for it to finish and then the city will appear?

Don't get us wrong: If you're looking for a place to own a home and an above-ground pool, while raising children in relative peace; if you love driving your car, and want nothing more than chain restaurants and swimming in Wayne's public pool; if your idea of a swinging Saturday afternoon is hitting the Dairy Dan and watching trucks drive by, Westland is for you.

OK, we're teasing a bit. Seriously, though, if more than 80,000 residents live there, it can't be all bad, of course. But is it that good? Good enough to measure on a list of America's best places to live? 

We think it suggests that something is wrong with these lists from the beginning, that they're lists of the best places to live if you're trying to quietly raise a family and concerned about taxes and just want fire, police, and garbage pickup. Or, as one commenter said on MLive's iteration of this story, "I could throw a 50 darts at a map of Michigan and randomly hit 50 better cities."

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