Condé Nast Traveler and its readers weigh in on America’s friendliest and unfriendliest cities.

The usual suspects … and a few surprises as well?

cntPeople say there’s wisdom in crowds.

If that’s the case, then the ~128,000 people who participated in the Condé Nast Traveler Readers’ Choice Awards survey in 2015 must count for something when it comes to which cities are America’s friendliest.

… And the survey results show that if you want to find America’s friendliest folks, head south and west.

That is correct: Of the ten cities rated the most friendly, just one is located in the Northeast … and absolutely none are in the Midwest.

For the record, here are the ten friendliest American cities based on the Condé Nast survey:C

  • #1 Charleston, SC America’s friendliest city
  • #2 Park City, UT
  • #3 Savannah, GA
  • #4 Nashville, TN
  • #5 Austin, TX
  • #6 Santa Fe, NM
  • #7 Asheville, NC
  • #8 Jackson (Jackson Hole), WY
  • #9 New Orleans, LA
  • #10 Burlington, VT

Of course, there are also the ten unfriendliest cities as determined from the same survey — no doubt the subject of just as much curiosity.

Those seem to be just as clustered — but elsewhere — primarily in the Northeast, but also a few in California.  And Detroit, too:n

  • #1 Newark, NJ America’s unfriendliest city
  • #2 Oakland, CA
  • #3 Atlantic City, NJ
  • #4 Detroit, MI
  • #5 Hartford, CT
  • #6 New Haven, CT
  • #7 Dover, DE
  • #8 Wilmington, DE
  • #9 Los Angeles, CA
  • #10 Baltimore, MD

I have no earthly idea if these rankings are accurate or not; it’s actually well-nigh impossible to have a definitive listing based on a ranking criterion that’s so subjective.

But having lived in both Nashville and Baltimore — and having visited 13 of the other 18 cities — I do get a sense of where the Condé Nast survey respondents are coming from.

How about you? Do you think that any of these cities are unfairly ranked?  And what other cities do you think should have made it on either list?  Like New York City or Philadelphia, for instance?

Incidentally, the 2016 Readers’ Choice Survey results are currently being tabulated and are due to be published in October.  It will be interesting to see if there are any big changes in the listings …

Pew Chronicles the Public’s Knowledge of Current Events: A Mile Wide and an Inch Deep

NewsIQ Research from the Pew Research CenterAll right, folks. Are you prepared to be depressed?

The Pew Research Center for People and the Press has just published the results of its annual News IQ survey in which it asks members of the U.S. public a baker’s dozen questions about current events.

A total of ~1,000 people were surveyed by the Pew Research Center in mid-November. The multiple choice survey covered a mix of political, economic and business issues and included the questions shown below. (The percentages refer to how many answered each multiple choice question correctly).

 The company running the oil well that exploded in the Gulf of Mexico (BP) … 88% answered correctly
 The U.S. deficit compared to the 1990s (larger) … 77% correct
 The political party that won the 2010 midterm elections (Republicans) … 75% correct
 The international trade balance (U.S. buys more than it sells) … 64% correct
 The current U.S. unemployment rate (10%) … 53% correct

 The political party that will control the House of Representatives in 2011 (Republicans) … 46% correct
 The state of Indian/Pakistani relations (unfriendly) … 41% correct
 The category on which the U.S. Government spends the most dollars (defense) … 39% correct
 The name of the new Speaker of the House (John Boehner) … 38% correct
 The name of Google’s mobile phone software (Android) … 26% correct

 The amount of TARP loans repaid (more than 50%) … 16% correct
 The name of the new Prime Minister of Great Britain (David Cameron) … 15% correct
 The current U.S. annual inflation rate (1%) … 14% correct

The percentage of respondents who answered all questions correctly was … fewer than 1%. Ten questions? … just 6% answered correctly. Eight of the questions? … only 22%.

On average, respondents answered just five of the 13 questions correctly. Even college graduates scored relatively weak, with an average of just seven questions answered correctly.

The public appears to be best informed on basic economic issues such as the unemployment rate and the budget deficit, while nine in ten respondents correctly identified BP as the corporate culprit in the Gulf of Mexico oil spill event. Not surprisingly, these were among the biggest news stories of the past several quarterly news cycles.

The worst scores were recorded on the TARP program and the current inflation rate, which fewer than one in five respondents answered correctly (about the same as the David Cameron/UK question which people could be forgiven for answering incorrectly).

You can view detailed results from the survey, including breakouts by age, gender, race and political party affiliation. Not wishing to step into a thicket by editorializing on these differences, I’ll leave it to you to see for yourself by clicking through to the Pew findings on your own.

Pew concludes that while Americans are aware of “basic facts” regarding current events, they struggle with getting a good handle on the specifics.

Might this be a byproduct of how people are consuming news these days? After all, there’s far less reliance on newspapers or news magazine articles … and more emphasis on “headline news” and short sound bites.

That’s the sort of recipe that results in people knowing the gist of a story without gaining any particular depth of understanding beyond the headlines.

Now that you’ve seen the correct answers to the questions, you won’t be able to test yourself against the public at large, so I’ve kind of spoiled the fun. But a little honesty here: how well do you think you would have scored?

China overtakes Japan … and who’s surprised?

Chinese + Japanese FlagsThe somewhat breathless headlines earlier this week reporting that China had nudged past Japan to become the world’s second largest economy behind the United States, didn’t particularly grab me.

In fact, it seems almost anticlimactic that Japan has finally been overtaken. Hasn’t Japan’s economy been in the doldrums for years?

In some sense, it seems like Japan has hardly mattered now for the better part of 20 years. By contrast, economies like those in Brazil, India and the Far Eastern countries have been the ones shining brightly and getting most of the business coverage.

Actually, I’m old enough to remember a time, back in the 1980s, when the rise of Japan’s economy was of huge concern to American and European manufacturing and banking organizations. “Japan, Inc.” was a continuing topic in the pages of BusinessWeek and Fortune magazines. Japanese managerial styles and its participatory worker groups were the focus of many a management seminar and how-to business book.

What happened? During the 1980s, Japan’s economic miracle turned into a massive real estate bubble before imploding in the early 1990s. What came next was a “lost decade” – a stagnant economy from which the country has never really recovered.

And today, demographics and other factors are catching up with the country. Things like low population growth (and an aging population to boot), weak domestic demand for goods, slow growth in exports, a strong currency and even deflationary pricing forces … these are the characteristics most observers assign to the Japanese economy.

Some economic miracle, huh?

Meanwhile, China keeps chugging away, charting 10%+ annual growth rates even as the average Chinese citizen continues to earn just one-tenth of what American and Japanese workers make.

But if we look a little more closely at Japan’s experience, there may be lessons for us here in the U.S. In fact, some characteristics are uncanny in their similarity. More ominously, some economists believe that China is on course to overtake the U.S. and become the world’s biggest economy inside of ten years.

That seems startling on the face of it. But when you consider the symbiotic relationship between the U.S. and Chinese economies – we’re China’s largest export customer and they hold a ton of our dollars – it becomes easier realize just how much our two countries need one another.

“Accidental allies,” it turns out.

Joel Kotkin: America’s Best Years Are Still Ahead

The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050 by Joel KotkinIn the study of demographics – a field that has had its share of doomsayers over the years – the irrepressible Joel Kotkin has been a continuing voice of optimism. The Distinguished Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and an authority on economic, political and social trends as well as demographics, Kotkin has also been one to defend suburbia as one of the key ingredients of successful urban development.

It’s been interesting to watch how these views have played out in relation to the predilection of many in the American elite to denigrate anything pertaining to the suburban lifestyle. In their characterization, “suburbia” is synonymous with faceless neighborhoods punctuated by numbingly similar commercial strip developments featuring cookie-cutter national chain stores and restaurants. The only difference between suburban Los Angeles and suburban Chicago is the palm trees.

The suburban mindset has also been maligned by many as being obsessed with material pursuits and economic upward mobility … and possessing little if any thinking that’s “progressive.”

As an example of this side of the debate, the publication of Richard Florida’s book The Rise of the Creative Class – with its claims that metropolitan areas with high concentrations of high-tech employees, artists, musicians and gay people correlate to a higher level of economic development – articulates a theory that has been far better received by the news media and other members of the American intelligentsia.

Now, along comes Kotkin’s newest book … and with it his latest intriguing predictions. In The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050, Kotkin argues that the coming 40 years will witness a resurgent America, even as the population swells by another 100 million souls. Comparing the birth rates of America to all other developed nations, along with the continued in-migration of people from other countries – particular Asian and Latin American – Kotkin contends that no other country anywhere will enjoy such ethnic diversity. And to Kotkin, youth and diversity equate with strength.

By contrast, Kotkin maintains that “most of the developed countries in both Europe and Asia will become veritable old-age homes.” Many of these nations, with their generous social safety nets, will face huge pension obligations without having younger workers to help shoulder the costs.

Kotkin’s bottom-line prediction is that Europe and Asia will decline even as America thrives. And not just economically but also culturally: “The most affluent, culturally rich and successful nation in human history.”

Kotkin also believes that the large new numbers of Americans will flock to – where else – the suburbs, which he characterizes as “the best, most practical choice for raising their families and enjoying the benefits of community.”

No doubt, there will be those who question Mr. Kotkin’s conclusions and predictions. What about the rise of China? How will illegal versus legal immigration affect social and economic trends? How about the widening gulf between the earning power of “technocrats” and the rest of the population? Not to mention the collapse of the family unit which has rendered so much of the fabric of “inner-urban” America dysfunctional at best … hopeless at worst?

Either way, this book is very interesting and helps us reappraise some of the “big trends” in social demography. The theories of Richard Florida’s “creative class” ring decidedly less compelling today, barely six or seven years on. It’s time now to consider Joel Kotkin’s interesting theories — with the same critical eye, of course.