Electric Square, Menominee, MI (JML photo)
When we were young, my father always claimed that Menominee and the U.P. were the best places to live. Our house was out in the country, and my parents loved nature. The scenery was beautiful, the air was clear, sunsets beautiful, the forest and the river were right outside our door, and we spent much of our leisure time swimming, boating, and camping. My mom gardened, my dad painted wildflowers, our dogs ran free. The town itself was right on Green Bay, the epitome of Michigan’s Water Wonderland. People in our small town were friendly, honest, helpful, and non- pretentious. When my dad would run across a news report that the population of the U.P. was declining, he’d respond that people were foolish and the more people that left, the better it would be for the rest of us. We may not have been as totally convinced as my dad, but we all agreed that Menominee was a special place.
Downtown Yellow Springs, OH
At eighteen I left home for Antioch College in Yellow Springs, a little college town of 3500 in southwestern Ohio. At first Yellow Springs seemed pretty rinky-dink. It had a two-block business district, one gas station, one drugstore, one grocery store, one hardware store, and one traffic light. It didn’t take long, however, to discover how idyllic the Yellow Springs village was. Antioch had a strong “beatnik” culture which gave the whole community an avante garde atmosphere. The town was home to numerous artists and writers. The Little Art Theater had a reputation as the best foreign film cinema in the Midwest, and Com’s Tavern and the Highway 68 Drive-in soon became late-night havens for my friends and myself. By the time I was approaching graduation, Yellow Springs had become home and the prospect of leaving was traumatic. Menominee had been good, but I’d concluded that Yellow Springs was the best.
Liberty St., Ann Arbor, MI
Katja and I married and moved to Ann Arbor for graduate school. I was heartbroken and wary. I was skeptical about going to a Big Ten school, and I was sure that, as dedicated Antiochians, we would never feel at home in a collegiate place like Ann Arbor. All of those worries vanished within weeks. The University of Michigan was an awesome institution, and the city of Ann Arbor was remarkable. The streets surrounding campus were full of bookstores, cafes, movie theaters, and elegant shops like Artisans and John Leidy’s. Katja and I became U of M football fans, and we decided that life in Ann Arbor was wonderful. Menominee and Yellow Springs had been good, but Ann Arbor was the ultimate.
In 1966 I took a faculty position in Cincinnati, and we were distraught about leaving Ann Arbor, our first married home. Cincinnati’s campus area business district couldn’t hold a candle to Ann Arbor’s, and the local rightwing media turned us off. All of our angst turned out to be temporary, however. Compared to Ann Arbor, which now seemed like a small college town, Cincinnati was truly a big city -- far more complex, diverse, and interesting. We discovered Cincinnati’s panoply of fine restaurants, including world-class establishments like the Maisonette and Pigall’s. Cincinnati is one of the premiere cultural centers of the Midwest because of its symphony, opera, ballet, chamber music, and theater. It has fine art museums; one of the nation’s best zoos; professional and college sports; seven hills, interesting architecture, and desirable neighborhoods. After a while we came to realize that living in a big metropolis was much more exciting than anywhere we’d lived before. Menominee, Yellow Springs, and Ann Arbor had been excellent in their own ways, but Cincinnati topped them all.
When I thought about all this recently, I got confused. It dawned on me that, wherever we happened to be currently living, I’d thought that that place was the greatest. How can one ever find the truth? Luckily I ran across a website called “City-Data.com” that offers an amazing amount of information about all the towns and cities in the U.S. I used it to look up facts about Menominee, Yellow Springs, Ann Arbor, and Cincinnati. I compared the four places by geography, climate, population characteristics, economy, and various amenities. Which place, I wondered, would objectively turn out the best? A scientific approach would surely give the answer.
The detailed results from City-Data.com are in the appendix below. I wasn’t surprised to find that each of these desirable places ranked number one on various dimensions. In fact, there was a three-way tie between Yellow Springs, Ann Arbor, and Cincinnati. Each was ranked number one on three different dimensions. Here’s where these three places get their top rankings,
Yellow Springs: #1 on per capita income, % of residents married, and estimated % of lesbian and gay households.
Ann Arbor: #1 on educational level of residents, lowest unemployment, international diversity (% foreign-born).
Cincinnati: #1 on county population growth, restaurants per capita, and low adult obesity.
Well, what about Menominee, you ask? As my dad would have predicted many years ago, it pretty much sweeps the awards. It winds up #1 on 16 of the 25 dimensions I looked at: Low population density, low commuting time, low poverty rate, low cost of living. Greatest water area, highest air quality, coolest summer temperatures, lowest rainfall, fewest natural disasters. More Swedes, more Lutherans, more religious affiliation, more bars per capita, more pastie shops, more deer, fewest violent crimes.
Green Bay shoreline and Menominee Marina
Admittedly, not all of these Menominee attributes translate directly into quality of life. Like Garrison Keillor on Prairie Home Companion, we have a certain affinity for Scandinavians, Lutherans, and pasties, so we tossed those into the mix. Deer population might seem low in relevance, but when you’re from the U.P. it’s a major priority. Menominee’s number one ranking on both religion and bars may be puzzling at first, but when you’re familiar with Menominee culture it makes perfect sense. It appears that my dad was right after all. Statistics don’t lie -- Menominee is practically the best place there can be. It just goes to show – those early impressions often turn out to be the most accurate.
P.S. If you want to see why Seattle, Santa Cruz, New Orleans, Philadelphia, East Lansing, Princeton, Rochester, New York City, Charlotte, or your home town are great places, just go to www.city-data.com. You’ll be pleasantly
APPENDIX (Rank order of four cities and their scores on 25 dimensions):
Low population density (per sq. mi.): Menom (1582), YSprgs (1725), AnnArb (4178), Cincy (4271)
County pop. change (2000-10): Cincy (+0.5%), AnnAr (-1.0%), Menom (-10.3%), YSprgs (-12.9%)
% Water area (vs. land): Menom (5%), AnnArb (.03%), Cincy (.003%), YSprgs (0.0%)
Travel time to work: Menom (9 mins), AnnArb (19 mins), Cincy (20 mins), YSprgs (21 min)
Per capita income: YSprgs ($32K), AnnArb ($27K), Cincy ($24K), Menom ($21K)
Low poverty rate: Menom (15%): YSprgs (18%); AnnArb (21%): Cincy (26%)
Unemployment rate: AnnArb (7.5%), Cincy (8.6%), YSprgs (8.9%)(, Menom (9.0%)
Cost of living (US Ave = 100): Menom (77), Cincy (90), Yellow Springs (92), AnnArb (92)
% Married: YSprgs (53%), Menom (51%), Cincy (34%), AnnArb (34%)
% BA degrees or higher: AnnArb (69%), YSprgs (59%), Cincy (27%), Menom (13%)
Diversity (% foreign-born): AnnArb (17%), YSprgs (3.8%), Cincy (3.8%), Menom (0.8%)
Swedish ancestry: Menom (10%), AnnArb (>2%), Yellow Springs (>2%), Cincy (>2%)
Lutherans: Menom (22%), YSprgs (5.3%), AnnArb (5.2%), Cincy (>2%)
Lesbian & gay couples (est.): YSprgs (2.4%), AnnArb (0.9%), Cincy (0.6%), Menom (0.2%)
Affiliated w/religious congregation: Menom (69%), Cincy (49%), YSprgs (34%), AnnArb (33%)
Violent crimes (per 10K residents): Menom (11.7), YSprgs (13.9), AnnArb (18.6), Cincy (44.9)
Adult obesity rate: Cincy (26.6%), AnnArb (27%), YSprgs (28.6%), Menom (28.8%)
Temperature (highest monthly ave.): Menom (81), AnnArb (83), YSprgs (84), Cincy (87)
Rainfall (highest monthly ave.): Menom (3.6”), AnnArb (3.7”), YSprgs (4.4”) Cincy (5.1”)
Air Quality Index (low = better): Menom (9), AnnArb (32),YSprgs (39), Cincy (42)
Natural disasters (e.g., floods): Menom (4), AnnArb (8), YSprgs (9), Cincy (12)
Restaurants (per 10K residents): Cincy (7.5), AnnArb (7.2), Menom (7.0), YSprgs (5.6)
Bars (per 1000 residents): Menom (1.1), YSprgs (0.6), AnnArb (0.3), Cincy (0.2)
Pastie Shops: Menominee (3), Ann Arbor (0), Yellow Springs (0), Cincinnati (0)
County deer population: Menominee (46K), Ann Arbor (26K), Cincinnati (8K), YSprgs (6K)
-Mary B (3-25): You got me going on this one, because I'd said my entire adult life I'd never live in Florida; then family circumstances brought me to Gainesville in 2000. My sister-in-law reassured me with that year's #1 ranking of Gainesville. Over the years that hasn't always been true, but in 2007 we were again ranked #1 by Sander and Sperling on economy, cost of living, climate, education, health, crime, transportation, leisure, and arts and culture; more specifically, "the presence of 'college town amenities' such as athletics and museums." Looking for more recent data, I discovered we were ranked on March 17, 2011 among the Ten Happiest Cities! I'm glad my personal experience is matched by statistics. I've grown to love all those things about Gainesville. Yet... I still miss Cincinnati. Thanks for the memories.
-Jennifer M (3-25): the website you refer to is crazy! what a lot of information!