Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Dey took er jerbs!

Through a series of Wikipedia-like random link clicks, I managed to land over at Widgerson Library & Pub, where I read a post by Deb Jordahl addressing Madison's recent fall from Money Magazine's "Top Places to Live" good graces.

We're still in the top 100, which is good, but we've fallen from our #1 slot in 1996 to #53 two years ago, and now, all the way to #89. Certainly, there are some interesting statistics cited by the magazine that point to problems in the city: lower math and reading tests scores than the national average, higher property taxes, and an increase in personal and property crime. These are all troubling statistics, and things of which I think/hope most Madisonians are aware.

As pointed out in the Wisconsin State Journal's op-ed about the ranking, though, it's important to be willing to take a hard look at our city and its various problems. It's also important, as they go on to note, not to place too much stock in the ever-changing qualifications for the rankings in the magazine. Madison may have dropped from its lofty heights on the list, but it's still in the top 100 out of tens of thousands of cities in the country.

Over at the Library & Pub, however, a much more dire picture is being painted, one where Madison is slipping into a dark abyss. The blame for this perceived state of affairs is placed squarely on the shoulders of "liberal policies" and "illegal immigrants," which is nothing particularly new. What's interesting is that this line of reasoning remains so persistent, even though 1) Madison still made the top 100, 2) the causes of slips in testing scores, employment opportunities, crime levels, and property taxes are many, varied and complex, and 3) there are pretty much no solid statistics or studies to back up their claims.

Do some immigrants sometimes commit crimes? Yes. Do some citizens also sometimes commit crimes? Yes. Will blanket anti-immigrant policies solve the crime problem? No, and they would likely just create a climate of fear and xenophobic nationalism, which is about as un-American as you can get.

The fact is that Madison has grown substantially in population and area over the last ten years, and coupled with the current national economic downturn, that's logically going to bring growing pains. We can't afford to ignore the problems, but we also can't afford to give knee-jerk responses to them. Pointing accusatory fingers at immigrants or liberals (or conservatives) isn't going to solve much of anything. We need to work together, and especially with those communities and populations most effected by the changes, to come up with comprehensive strategies that address not only the symptoms, but, more importantly, the root causes of the problems.

A larger gap between the wealthy and the working and middle classes, higher food and fuel costs, larger populations straining educational systems, less funding for school and community programs, and even pollution can all contribute to the things listed in the rankings. We need creative, compassionate, intelligent, and no-nonsense approaches to dealing with these various factors--not name calling, entitlement, resentment, selfishness or feelings of superiority.


Physical Original said...

I wasn't aware of how low we had dropped. Yikes!

John A said...

I'd be real interested to see stats on how cities that rank #1 fare 5 or 10 years out. I'd imagine that across the board, they drop significantly.

I won't go as far as to say it's unavoidable, but it's not far from it. Rochester, MN has seen a MAJOR decline since hitting #1 on the list in 1993.

And for pretty straightforward reasons. When a city ranks high on the list, people say "I want to move there", and they do. Not just illegals, but anyone looking to move. I was one of them, even if it was 10 years after the fact. (I'm not commiting any crimes, but I am driving up property taxes.)

New people bring congestion, pollution and a change in the character of the town. The existing infrastructure can't handle them, so school performance declines due to overpopulation, prices go up due to scarcity of housing initially, and then a subsequent housing expansion. And higher population almost always equals more poverty and more crime.

Just about every factor on the list traces back to a rising population, and we're slated to almost double in another 30 years or so.

Madison has issues that, if left unchecked, will continue to grow. But, like you point out, with the right leadership, we'll make it through ok.

I'm sure streetcars are what we really need to bring us back. :)

apc said...

The cities mostly seem to be the suburbs of large cities, at least the ones in Texas anyway. Austin usually places pretty high on these kind of lists, and it's not on this one at all. Round Rock, one of its suburbs, however, is on the list.

I wouldn't worry about it, at least going by the Texas cities that made the list. Euless, Sugar Land, and the rest? Trust me. You don't want to live in any of them.

Oh, and you're getting hammered over at b&s for having a conscience.

Emily said...

John - Mo' people mo' problems, and all that.

apc - Good point. Aside from Austin (and maybe parts of Dallas), I wouldn't want to live in Texas just now. That has more to do with scorching heat than anything, to be fair, though.

And as for B&S, I wouldn't expect anything less (sadly).

illusory tenant said...

As long as you don't become an item on B&K.

apc said...

We'd be glad to have you here in Austin any time. It is hotter than the hinges of hell in the summertime, though, you got that right.

Emily said...

IT - More kittens, less boots!

apc - I may actually be visiting a friend in Austin come spring. I'm also told I'll need to see a lady about some cupcakes while I'm there.

The CDP. said...


I saw The Machine Girl DVD at Borders yesterday and thought of you.

Emily said...

Hah, the CDP for the reference-getting save!

Didn't know the movie was available...might have to go check it out now. :)

apc said...

Absolutely. Come on down.

capper said...


apc said...

I didn't make up the name for the website, and I'm not techno-savvy enough to convert it into a link in this format. However, I speak from personal experience in saying that the cupcakes from that little converted Airstream trailer on South Congress Avenue are mighty damn tasty.

You should come down here some time, Capper. Texas really isn't the monolithic citadel of hate you seem to think it is. ;)

Emily said...

Only the best cupcakes in the land, man.

The Lost Albatross