You can't buy happiness, we're told. The same, I suspect, holds true for optimism and satisfaction.
The article lists the cities where residents are most and least satisfied with their communities, and most or least optimistic that their towns are getting better. The standings won't make Midwesterners feel either satisfied or optimistic.
Gallup ranked the top ten cities where residents feel life is getting better. Of the ten, only one Midwestern metro, Des Moines, made the list: seventy-three percent of Des Moines residents agreed that life is looking up. (This is yet one more indication that Des Moines deserves a lot more attention than it usually gets. Not so long along, the Iowa capital was frankly pretty dull. These days, visitors come back raving about the new restaurants, the river walk, the entertainment, the refurbishing of downtown: no wonder folks there are optimistic.)
But the list of least optimistic cities -- the places with the lowest percentage of people who feel their city is improving -- was dominated by cities in the Midwest or on its fringe in upstate New York or Pennsylvania. Flint, Michigan, ranked second in these gloomy sweepstakes: only 34% of its people are optimistic about the future. Rockford, Illinois, was third.
Youngstown, Ohio, was fourth, which is surprising because that once-moribund old steel town has picked itself up in recent years, polished its downtown and embarked on a "shrinking city" campaign to make itself smaller but better. The news of this turnaround is getting national attention but, if Gallup is to be believed, doesn't seem to have penetrated Youngstown itself.
The rest of the gloom list was dominated by towns along the Scranton-Binghampton-Syracuse belt in Pennsylvania and New York. Reno and Las Vegas, both clobbered by the recession, rounded out the standings, a caution to towns who think that casinos buy happiness.
Two Wisconsin cities, Appleton and Madison, joined Des Moines on the list of towns where most people (93 to 94%) are satisfied with their city. Like most other cities on this list, both are college towns, which are usually lively and progressive places to be.
Flint topped the list of cities with the lowest percentage (70.2%) of satisfied residents, followed by Rockford (72%), with South Bend, Ind., ranking seventh (77.6%.) Oddly, in these low-ranking cities, the percentage of satisfied residents mostly doubled the percentage of optimistic ones, an indication that many people are content to stay where they are, even if they despair that things will improve.
Gallup concluded that the determining factors in civic satisfaction and optimism include available entertainment, good places to meet, a welcoming community and physical beauty. Florida said good schools and "economic security" also count.
I'd say this mostly misses the point. Both charts show that the difference between good and bad places to live is simply jobs -- good jobs, with the hope of better ones to come. I bet Reno and Las Vegas both had happier citizens before the recession hit, the housing market collapsed and high-rollers stopped coming. Flint, Rockford, South Bend, Syracuse -- these are all economically depressed towns.
It's hard to be both unemployed and optimistic, worried about your job and satisfied. With all respect for the Des Moines River valley, Youngstown is more scenic than Des Moines, but this beauty doesn't seem to have raised many spirits there. Des Moines has more good jobs than Youngstown.
Incidentally, the #10 city on the most-optimistic list was McAllen, Texas, even though it has an 11% unemployment rate and the highest obesity rate in the country. Maybe everybody there is on a diet and is optimistic about losing weight. Or perhaps it's just that the food is good.