No. 1 at PR and BS

Detroit’s the city people just love to kick when it’s down. As if our financial crisis and mayor’s questionable activities aren’t enough, it seems the rest of the nation is gleefully proclaiming Detroit the worst in — everything. Did you know that, of all the cities in the country, Detroit is:

The worst place to sleep.

The worst place for nursing home care.

The worst city for kids.

The city with the highest incidence of heart disease.

The second most dangerous city (down from a three-year run at No. 1).

The third fattest city (again, down from No. 1. Woo hoo!).

The fourth worst place for dating.

The city with the fourth highest incidence for erectile dysfunction.

And of 101 cities ranked on intelligence Detroit came in at 78 — which makes us the 24th stupidest. So, apparently we Detroiters are a bunch of fat, stupid, single, child-hating insomniac criminals who can’t get it up. Oh, almost forgot — we’re dull and uninventive, as the 11th least creative city.

Says who?

That’s a good question, and one that, surprisingly enough, people just aren’t asking.

The media (and I hate to use that generalized term, but in this case it fits) have leaped upon this trend of best/worst city lists, and are taking the results as cold, hard fact. But, the true, cold, hard fact of the matter is that most of these lists are based on unscientific methodology and are assembled by private, for-profit companies looking for a PR blitz. Not to mention, they’re trying to measure such subjective, arbitrary characteristics as happiness and creativity. And while many studies do utilize data from the U.S. Census and the Centers for Disease Control, they combine it with erratically gathered or just plain strange statistics.

When the magazine Men’s Health deemed which cities are “stupid,” its criteria included the number of Nobel Prize winners from an area; the same magazine also rated Detroit No. 5 for flabbiest abs, based in part on the number of weightlifters and NBA and WNBA draft picks in the area.

Recently, Sperling’s Best Places (, a veritable library of best/worst city lists) named Detroit the country’s worst place to sleep. But in 2003, the National Sleep Foundation named Detroit the “Healthy Sleep Capital” of the country. Also, considering Detroit’s teetering on the brink of financial disaster, isn’t it kind of funny that out of 50 cities, Sperling listed Detroit as the 22nd most “fiscally fit” — which was defined by investment, life insurance coverage and quality of life. In case you’re curious, Detroit ranked better than San Francisco, Denver and New York City — and the study was sponsored by State Farm Insurance. Furthermore, does this stuff offer any real, civic purpose? Or is it just a reason for the Minneapolis dailies to print a “We’re No. 1 at sleeping!” story?

Let’s revisit some of our earlier stats: The creativity ranking comes from Richard Florida, a flashy economist who’s made a goddamn fortune touring the country, lecturing and pushing his book, The Rise of the Creative Class. Bert Sperling, of Sperling’s Best Places, also has a book to tout, Cities Ranked and Rated — buy it now on Amazon for just $24.99. And fattest and fittest awards come from Men’s Fitness. The magazine has managed to get its study noticed by CNN, Reuters, state and government offices across the country, and just about every media outlet around — all in its noble, altruistic quest to obliterate obesity in our country.

Or, could this possibly be a big, fat PR coup, a cold-blooded scheme to get Men’s Fitness to sell more copies? Ever think of that, tubby?

The magazines creates its annual list (2005 was its seventh edition) by combining numerous factors, among them, behavioral study results from the CDC, and the number of gyms, bars and fast-food joints (per the Yellow Pages).

“We’re the first ones to say, this is not a scientific study,” says Men’s Fitness editor-in-chief Neil Boulton, who’s currently visiting the most corpulent cities and encourages their lard-assed residents to get fit. “We study indicators and trends. This is a common-sense survey.”

In case you’re curious, Houston is back at No. 1 on the fatty list — and they’re not amused. After the 2005 list was released, the Houston Chronicle published an editorial questioning the methodology of the magazine’s results; the skepticism was mirrored by one of the city’s council members, residents and the mayor, who proclaimed the study was “calculated with voodoo and fraud.”

But when Detroit took the big fat prize last year, did we stop to question the validity of the study? No, we gobbled it down as gospel, as though it were a big chili-cheese coney. In fact, we’re just damn smug that we’re no longer No. 1. When Boulton commended Detroit for dropping two spots, The Freep lapped up his praise like a homeless puppy; reporter John Masson wrote: “We may have improved a couple of notches over last year, but the magazine says our eating habits — despite having fewer per-capita fast-food restaurants — are still the worst in the nation.”

And if Men’s Fitness told us our city’s sewers were overrun by roving packs of oompa loompahs, would we so eagerly sound the alarm bells? Look, it’s no secret that Americans are fat, and Detroiters are no exception. But did we ever bother to consider the source? Are we so used to being ranked as the crappiest city in America that we now simply take lists like these at face value? That’s just stupid — but then again, what can you expect from the 24th stupidest city in America?

C’mon Detroit — we’re smarter than that.

Sarah Klein is culture editor of Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]
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