Leibo At Large: Who cares about polls? The Valley has our hearts

By David Leibowitz

With all due respect to the fine journalists who toil for U.S. News and World Report, their magazine’s annual list of “Best Places to Live” once again ranks as one of the most hilarious acts of journalism committed to print this year.

Want to yuk it up? Listen to this Top Five of America’s Best Hometowns:

Ranked fifth, there’s Austin, Texas, “laidback to the point that if you’re dressing up, it must be a life event.” Fourth, Fayetteville, Arkansas, where – and I quote – “people wave and smile at each other in the street, and community events are well-attended.” Third, we have Huntsville, Alabama, which boasts “the most educated population in the state.”

The state of Alabama. Need I say more?

No. 2 goes to Raleigh and Durham, North Carolina, whose selling points include “gathering over craft beers in one of the region’s many microbreweries” and “strangers … quick to provide a friendly conversation when standing in line at the supermarket.”

I prefer Budweiser and silently bagging my groceries to get the hell out of Bashas’ as fast as possible.

The big winner for 2021: Boulder, Colorado, named America’s Best Place to Live for the second consecutive year. I’ve been to Boulder. Nice place – if you like John Denver songs, chocolate chip edibles and hemp underwear.

As U.S. News puts it, Boulder “has opportunities from forest bathing and free meditation sessions to an abundance of marijuana dispensaries, spas and alternative health care studios. The full spectrum of yoga disciplines is represented here, as well as … ‘Animal Flow’ ground-based movement classes.”

Sounds like a pulled hamstring waiting to happen. Plus, the description alone gives you the munchies. And zero desire to fire up the moving van.

The Phoenix metro area ranked 40th this year, up 13 spots from 2020 and sandwiched between Houston and Knoxville.

We scored high for having “a thriving job market, a relatively low cost of living and plenty of ways to enjoy the nice weather.”

No mention of chatty strangers in the grocery store, a thriving weed scene or ample chances to do goat yoga.

It could be worse. Tucson ranked 81st. Dead last? San Juan, Puerto Rico.

My problem with this list is my problem with all such lists: They attempt to scientifically rank something that is less science and more emotion.

U.S. News – whose brand depends entirely on ranking things like cities and colleges – has created a formula by polling 3,600 internet users, then weighting each area’s job market, housing affordability, quality of life, desirability and how many people move in and out annually.

After that, there’s a whole lot of mumbo jumbo about standard deviation and something called a Z-Score.

This seems as good a scientific method as any to rank places, but it still misses what really motivates humans to live where we live: The job that beckons us or the chance to live near those we love.

I’m sure my story is typical and illustrative. I moved to the Valley 26 years ago for work, then stayed because I laid down roots. There are people I love here, a business I built and a million little things that lift my spirit.

Like the crunch of my hiking shoes on Piestewa Peak. The sound of Al McCoy’s voice calling a Phoenix Suns basketball game. The breakfast quesadilla at Bit-zee Mama’s in Glendale. And the countless purples and oranges that drip down the sky during each night’s sunset.

So what if Boulder scores a 7.6 because it has “Tube to Work Day” and “dirtbag climbers (who) live in a van?” The Valley may only score a 6.8, but the place has our hearts.