Thursday, May 03, 2007

America's Favorite City Survey Ignores Our Favorite

Our hearts swelled when we saw the ad in this month’s edition of Travel + Leisure.

It exulted: Vote Now! America’s Favorite Cities Survey.

The ad promised that we should log in right now to vote for our “favorite cities for shopping, dining, nightlife, culture, and more.” It even laid out some sample questions that caught our attention:

• What city has the most attractive residents?

• Where is the best place for a romantic escape?

• What is the top city for shopping?

• Which American city has the best barbecue?

• Which city has the friendliest people?

Barbecuing Our City

We logged on to cast our votes with great anticipation, because it seemed to us that we should win at least the last two of the questions. But our burgeoning civic pride was quickly quashed.

With the America’s Favorite Cities Survey, Travel + Leisure and CNN joined hands to preordain the 25 cities that we could select from. Memphis was nowhere to be found.

And they say they really want to find the friendliest people and the best barbecue. Puh-lease.

Some Like It Hot

The website called these “25 of America’s hottest cities.” Haven’t they ever been in Memphis in August?

OK, we admit that the list contains the usual suspects – many of which we frequently spotlight on this blog – Austin, Boston, Charleston, Chicago, Denver, Honolulu, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis/St. Paul, New Orleans, New York, Orlando, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Portland, San Antonio, San Diego, San Francisco, Santa Fe, Seattle and Washington.

We’ll concede most of them, although we’d argue that as far as great places to visit, Memphis surprisingly whips Denver convincingly. Denver has mountains, but those are miles and miles out of town, and the city itself just leaves us flat.

Bad Taste

Maybe it’s just sour grapes.

But we think, surely, Travel + Leisure and CNN have engaged in exhaustive research to come up with their list of hot cities. However, as far as we can tell, there’s no hint on how they compiled their list.

Without too much civic pride blinding our objectivity, we just can’t see how Memphis isn’t on a list that also manages to include Nashville and Dallas. We’ve never been able to claim any kind of authentic experience there except varying shades of dull. In fact, we’d probably make the same claim about Atlanta, which generally feels like a city made for conventioneers and drained of any hint of authenticity.

Gritty City

Of course, these are only our personal opinions, but then again, that’s what this survey was supposed to let us express. But, how can we give our opinions when the magazine and TV network eliminated our options going in?

The website also features the results of the 2004 American’s Favorite Cities and broke the votes down in categories like on foot, activities, family trips, holidays and seasons, romance, sightseeing, quality of life, people and getting around, and generally the cities hitting the target most often were New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Twin Cities, Orlando, Los Angeles, San Diego, Miami, San Antonio and Honolulu.

We admit that we have our concerns about Memphis. They find their way here many days, but it all comes from a deep love for this gritty, frustrating and endlessly interesting city.

May In Memphis

Even the most jaded Memphian can feel a burst of civic pride right now. Downtown is filled with a steady stream of music fans, and soon, the fragrance of barbecue will fill the air.

While we have pointed out that we have the unhealthy habit of being hypnotized by our own hyperbole, it’s easy to get caught up in a bit of overstatement about ourselves right now. There’s nothing like springtime to cast Memphis in a whole new light, and to kick that off with a month-long of Memphis in May International Festival just makes us think that Travel + Leisure and CNN just totally missed the boat on this one.

We admit that Memphis’ regular omission from these kinds of lists gets our goat, and we hope that this problem attracts the attention of the organizations whose missions are to marketing Memphis positively on the national stage.

Fire Back

If things have sunk so low that the options for cities with great barbecue and friendly people don’t include Memphis, we need to get someone’s attention as soon as we can. So, if you want to join us in emailing Travel + Leisure, click here and fire off a message telling the magazine that its list is clearly one city short.


Anonymous said...

I'm with on Atlanta; the City That Ate The South. About as much character as white rice.

Anonymous said...

I couldn't disagree more with your assessment of Denver. Downtown Denver is vastly more happening than Downtown Memphis -- more residents in the downtown core, more nightlife, cleaner, less crime, more coffee houses, more microbreweries, and more quaint neighborhoods surrounding it. Most Memphians I know agree. Outside of central Denver... well, suburbs are about the same everywhere, but at least Denver suburbs have sidewalks.

I'm a native Mid-Southerner who has spent quite a bit of time in Downtown Memphis, Midtown, and other Memphis areas, and who has lived in Downtown Denver for several years. I'm impressed with the progress that Memphis has made over the last ten years, but it's no Denver yet.

A. said...

Atlanta is a hellhole. It starts at the Alabama line and stretches to half way to Augusta. It is so bland and cookie cutter it chills my soul. I feel less cosmopolitan and cultured everytime I leave there.

Dallas - see Atlanta.

Denver - well, not my idea of a destination. I can get coffee houses and microbrews in Seattle. (They have mountains AND the ocean.) No offense, Denver's just a little white bread for my taste.

Now New Orleans - there's a city. I actually see a lot of similiarities between Memphis and NOLA, aside from the river. And the food. And the history. And the cool things to see and do. And the interesting flora and fauna.

I think Memphis is underated and underappreciated. I love it here - sure, I'd love to see more shopping downtown and a new funding mechanism for the public schools and less emphasis on race, but no place is perfect. The only places I would ever consider living, other than Memphis, are New Orleans, D.C. and rural Ireland.

BTW, Memphis suburbs have sidewalks, too.

David said...

Sure, some Memphis suburbs have sidewalks. I wouldn't be surprised to see sidewalks in places like central Germantown or perhaps Collierville. I was mainly drawing a comparison to cities where sidewalks can be expected pretty much everywhere in the conterminously urbanized region, even in unincorporated (but developed) areas. Try walking down Dexter Road in Cordova between Germantown Parkway and Raleigh-Lagrange sometime. ;)

I'm not out to make a pest of myself with nit-picking, or to put down Memphis. I grew up in the Memphis area, and I would love to see it thrive. But as someone who enjoys walking, the presence or absence of sidewalks is the first thing I notice when I visit a place.

A. said...

Interesting - the only place I can think of that does not have sidewalks is that stretch - I think that is because of the railroad and the rapid (and virtually unregulated) growth in the 90s. There are sidewalks down much of Germantown Pkwy. Bartlett has sidewalks, as does Germantown and Collierville. I'm sure Millington does as well.

One reason Memphis is not more of a non-car friendly city is when it expereinced the bulk it's growth - post WWII was the heyday of the car - everything was designed for the car, not the pedestrian or bike rider. Retro fitting is slow and expensive. Not that it shouldn't happen, but I think fixing the public schools, both city and county, trumps sidewalk retrofits.

Smart City Consulting said...

We have friends who are city-savvy and they swear that Denver is a happening place. We just haven't seen that side of the city, and according to 2000 statistics, Memphis had more residents downtown, more owner-occupied housing units, etc. That said, overall, we think Denver is healthier across the broad range of indicators. We just can't make it a favorite city, although a couple of hours away from the city, the mountains are spectacular.

David said...

Downtown Memphis may have a higher percentage of MSA residents than downtown Denver, but I really don't think it has more in absolute numbers. I don't know about the 2000 census or how the census bureau defines downtown boundaries, but fairly recent numbers from the respective cities' downtown associations indicate that Memphis has about 28,000 residents in a 6.5 square mile downtown area, and Denver has about 60,000 residents in a roughly 9 square mile downtown area. Just to set the record straight. :)

It is good to see more people moving into downtown Memphis. I stayed with some friends on South Main a while back, and had a blast.

Anonymous said...

If you want to see a pedestrian unfriendly city, go to Nashville. You think Memphis has a dearth of sidewalks?? Now on most everything else, Nashville's got us beat. Except for the quality of local music, God I how I hate that corporate schlock Nashville puts out.

Anonymous said...

The Atlanta Metro regions sucks, for sure, but the city itself is great. It's about as diverse a city I've seen in the south my entire life. Consider the neighborhoods of Little Five Points, Candler Park, Virginia Highlands, Midtown, Piedmont Park, Castleberry Hill and the village of Decatur and you'll see what I mean. Yeah, the traffic there is awful and it's not a wholly unique place like Memphis or New Orleans, but it has an amazing array of great restaurants, museums, shops (yeah, I know, it's shallow but don't diss the curb appeal of high end boutiques and legitimate vintage stores, also known as small business owners) live music venues (though not as much as I would like) and well-educated people.

Dallas, on the other hand, I agree.

Anonymous said...

All of us like to praise Cooper Young, and that's great. I love it there, but seriously folks, Atlanta has like 10 neighborhoods like that.

Smart City Consulting said...

David: In total numbers, the Memphis CBD has more residents than Denver. Don't believe the Center City Commission propaganda about 28,000 people living downtown because they go all the way to the medical district to get to that number. Denver's number is equally stretching the point. We're talking about the population of the central city only. But you make good points and this feels more like a digression for your primary points. Thanks for the comments.

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