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Cleveland is No. 1

One year after Forbes called us miserable, science proves otherwise

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It's been almost a year now since Forbes gave us the finger. In February, the business magazine with a fetish for lists revealed the results of its "Misery Index," a comparison of cities across the country designed ostensibly to ensure another generation of ill-targeted Mistake on the Lake jokes.

Their rating system encompassed nine criteria: unemployment, income taxes, sales taxes, commute times, violent crime, weather, pollution, public corruption, and success of sports teams. (Inexplicably absent: Number of restaurants serving Polish boys.)

Yes, we all knew where this one was headed.

"This year Cleveland takes the top spot in our third-annual ranking of America's Most Miserable Cities," the thoroughly unthorough analysis revealed. "Cleveland secured the position thanks to its high unemployment, high taxes, lousy weather, corruption by public officials, and crummy sports teams (Cavaliers of the NBA excepted)."

Update: Cavaliers of the NBA included.

Never mind that they ignored the entertainment value of our public corruption fiascoes, and our preternatural ability to take pride in historically abysmal achievement on our fields of play. They also blew off the notion that maybe, just maybe, we like having the snow around to remind us that not every day should feel like August in Houston. In fact, they ignored just about every arena we dominate.

Reaction among Cleveland's ever-reasonable populace, and PD columnist Regina Brett, was unremittingly apoplectic.

Forbes, after all, was ranking mere conditions, not our resilient citizenry's reaction to those conditions. And their methodology was far from comprehensive. Of course, Forbes is hardly alone in dumping on the North Coast; plenty of others have dry-humped the rankings trend, reaching similar conclusions through similarly specious sampling. It's just that maybe nobody had ever put so fine a point on it as Forbes did. Cleveland: Your one-stop shop for misery.

It stung. Still does. And we haven't forgotten.

In the months that have followed in misery's wake, we dutifully took note of each statistical accolade that's made the rounds through cyberspace — genuine facts of science that we all can hold up high as irrefutable proof that Cleveland is a land of good and virtue, and is still way better than Detroit.

We weighed the evidence. We crunched the numbers. We drank numerous cans of Four Loko.. And we arrived at one unmistakable conclusion: Cleveland is the Number 1 City of All Time.

The numbers don't lie:

1st Place, Eco-Friendly Laundry

According to a study conducted by Nalgene — a plastics company that not so long ago had a problem with toxic bottles but has never been questioned in terms of its statistical potency — Cleveland ranks first in the nation for "hanging out clothes to dry when possible." And it should be no surprise: Cleveland has been going green since way before Al Gore made the world safe for treehugging. Hell, he probably learned it from us, though he'd also probably claim he invented it.

1st Place, Masculine Hunks of Beef

Cleveland is not just the birthplace of Midwestern ruggedness — it's the bona fide home of the hottest single man in America. Earlier this year, Cosmopolitan magazine named Ryan "Mickey" McLean, a chef at Cleveland restaurants Flying Fig and Umami, its Bachelor of the Year. This represents not merely a sash and crown for Mickey, but a jolt of confidence for every male who walks this promised land — even the humble, questionably hunky weekly newspaper journalists of Polish descent among us. For example:

Polish Journalist: Ever heard of Cosmo?

Charming Lass: Do you write for them?

Polish Journalist: No, but have you heard about their bachelor of the year? He's from Cleveland?

Charming Lass: Is that you?

Polish Journalist: No, but I blogged about it for Scene.

Boom. E-mail's at the end of the article, ladies. Don't be shy.

1st Place, Amorous Relationships

It can get lonely and cold in the heart of the Midwest, and we're a damned resourceful lot. Citizens with certain needs are adept at seeking warmth and comfort from whatever source necessary. That surely explains why Ohio tops the nation in growth on AshleyMadison.com, a dating site that's devoted to helping people develop relationships with persons other than their significant others.

"There has never been a better place for us anywhere [in the world or elsewhere] than Ohio," the company's founder and CEO, Noel Biderman, recently proclaimed. And who are we to disagree?

1st Place, Clam Bakes Not Thrown In New England

Yes, clam bakes are the natural domain of New England, what with its ocean-fresh bounty conveniently located a bivalve's throw away. Problem is, clam bakes there invariably are served with a roomful of incessant New Englanders. But there's good news: Cleveland, land of pierogi and all other things starchy and fat and wholesome, ranks second on the list. So say the good people at Maholo.com, a self-described "human-powered search engine," which surely must be painful work.

2nd Place, Best Place Not to Be Killed by Mother Nature

Among the countless key distinctions overlooked by the pencilnecks at Forbes is the ironclad safety of Cleveland's geography, which cannot be compromised even by jinxes such as ironclad proclamations. Earthquakes, floods, typhoons, hurricanes, tsunamis — these are mere Weather Channel entertainments on our shores.

And don't think SustainLane's most recent U.S. City Rankings didn't take notice. The online green resource conglomerate christened Cleveland the second-least-likely city in America to suffer from a natural disaster.

Allegedly tying for first place were Mesa, Arizona — which has rattlesnakes and no water — and Milwaukee, Wisconsin, whose populace boasts a blood-alcohol content of 26 percent, making it a dangerous place to do anything.

2nd Place, Growing Things Ourselves

Our ever-expanding world of farmers' markets and produce co-ops and urban farms tell you all you need to know here: Cleveland was named the nation's second-best place for bringing the abundant goodness of our fertile fields straight to our plates — and that ranking from SustainLane surfaced before the great urban farm boom of summer 2010. (To wit: The folks behind the new six-acre farm in Ohio City declare it to be the largest urban farm in America, and so it is.)

Minneapolis took home first place because they do not yet have grocery stores in their area.

1st Place, Access to Fresh Water

Fun fact: The Great Lakes hold 20 percent of the world's fresh water. Fun fact 2: Arizona and other Third World nations are just now learning what we in Ohio already know — that water is a preferable component of staying alive. While the rest of America rations its supply, we'll be merrily dashing through the sprinkler of sustainability. So says the same analysis from SustainLane, which quite possibly is receiving monthly checks from Positively Cleveland.

Between our thriving agriculture and our plentiful fresh water, Cleveland will be Club Med for the coming apocalypse. Call us miserable one more time and see if you get an invite.

1st Place, Driving Made Simple

Cleveland is America's top city for metro-area street congestion, in that we don't have any. SustainLane declares it to be true, and thus it is.

Not surprising really, given that 95 percent of trips within Cuyahoga County can be made in less time than it takes to withstand a Michael Stanley Band twin spin on WNCX. The rare exception are those excursions that require driving across the entire county; but those trips are both rare and unnecessary thanks to Cleveland's happy tradition of East/West segregation and the existence of two extremely similar shopping malls at each boundary of the county.

2nd Place, Highway Courtesy

If there's no traffic, there's no reason to be angry. So we learn from the results of AutoVantage.com's mellifluously named "In the Driver's Seat Road Rage Survey." The one-stop discount car service club reveals that Cleveland motorists are the second-most-courteous drivers in the nation, which means that we smile and wave politely as we remind you to fuck yourself. First place goes to Portland, Oregon, where travelers are too busy clutching their bicycle handlebars and skim lattes to safely extend the finger.

5th Place, Best Place for Young Professionals

For all the talk about Northeast Ohio's problem with brain drain and the ever-present notion that every college graduate from here can't wait to get the hell out of town, CNN reports stark evidence to the contrary: Cleveland, besides being home to a handful of fabulous universities, is among the top five cities for those new graduates to settle.

And they crunched the numbers: "The list is based on the ranking of the top U.S. cities with the highest concentration of young adults (age 20-24) from the U.S. Census Bureau (2006), inventory of jobs requiring less than one year of experience from CBcampus.com (2009), and the average cost of rent for a one bedroom apartment from Apartments.com (2009)."

They don't say whether those entry-level jobs include milkshake associate at Rally's, but we've got no plans to press them on it.

1st Place, Civic Responsibility

We Clevelanders are all about pitching in for the greater good. It's why we rated in the top five among politically active cities in a Men's Health study, and why the national political magazine The New Republic declared us the most supportive in census participation (as measured by our willingness to withhold judgment, scorn, and violence when cheerful strangers knock on our doors).

Cleveland's census participation rate clocked in at over 80 percent, a classification reserved for those who wear the fuzzy pajamas of democracy, equality, and fair representation. On the other hand, the national average came in at 74 percent, just a few slippery digits shy of "Communist Agitator" on the ol' Patriotism meter.

1st Place, Political Influence

From our governor to our senators to the guy who puts the platinum rims on the wheels of Jimmy Dimora's outdoor grill, no publicly elected position gets decided without Cleveland.

Nielsen has the numbers to back it up. The media barometer claims Cleveland was the most saturated market for political ads last election season, with 23.4 percent of all commercials lambasting or supporting some cause or candidate.

What does this prove? First, that we're very important people, not unlike Sarah Palin's friends in the Dancing With the Stars voting bloc. Second, that we would way rather see politicians on our televisions than at our front door.

15th Place, Manliness

When you desire reliable data, you don't head to Forbes — you head to Mars Chocolate's "America's Manliest Cities" study, presented by Combos pretzel snacks. Here you'll learn that Cleveland ranked as the 15th manliest among the 50 largest cities. Note also that we achieved this ranking without even asking Combos about it, thus clearing the way for sissy towns like Nashville (home to skinny-jean-wearing indie alt-country rockers) and Charlotte (NASCAR country) to feel better about their pansy-ass pursuits.

Top 10 Coolest Suburb

Travel + Leisure magazine, that recognized arbiter of exotic locales you will never see, deemed Lakewood worthy of inclusion on its list of top ten cool suburbs across America.

"Set along the cliffs of Lake Erie, this inner-ring suburb of Cleveland has been on the radar of the young and urbane for some time," they wrote. "It has a well-established (and thriving) nightlife and gastronomic scene along Detroit Avenue, as well as a sizable gay and lesbian community." Plus, it's second to none when it comes to getting piss-drunk for six dollars.

1st Place, Most Affordable Getaway

Travel + Leisure kept the North Coast on speed dial this year, also naming our humble burg the "Most Affordable Getaway" in America. Respondents to the survey gave high marks not only for affordable travel, but for our world-renowned classical music and thriving arts scene.

(Full disclosure: They gave us low marks for "Attractiveness" and "Stylishness." To each his own, we suppose, though if you can't love a chubby, unshaven guy drinking a PBR tall boy in a "Deadliest Catch" T-shirt, you probably don't belong here anyway.)

1st Place, Affordable Housing

RealtyTrac, an online database of foreclosed and bank-owned properties, determined that Cleveland is the most affordable U.S. city when it comes to snapping up foreclosed properties — at an average cost of $79,762. Realty giant Coldwell Banker notes that Cleveland is also second-best in the realm of cheap housing: $87,240 on average for a four-bedroom, two-bathroom home.

Rick Sharga, RealtyTrac's vice president of pithy quotes, notes that the general state of disrepair and dilapidation of foreclosed properties in Ohio is a leading cause of the rock-bottom pricing — which also makes us No. 1 for handyman specials and realtors skilled at using vaguely truthful but upbeat synonyms for "crummy."

1st Place, Big Trees

You may not know what a cucumber magnolia tree is, but rest assured you can tell the rest of the country that you have the girthiest one on the continental block. The National Register of Big Trees (and there is such a thing) brought good news to Ohio when it unleashed the long-awaited 2010 version of its list of biggest trees, which is helpfully broken down by species. Measuring 79 feet tall and 24 feet in girth, a 430-year-old cucumber magnolia in North Canton was declared the mightiest in America.

But that's not all: Ohio also took home honors for biggest trees in the following species: American sycamore, eastern cottonwood, American elm, shingle oak, Kentucky coffeetree, Atlantic white-cedar, Oriental arborvitae, hortulan plum, and downy hawthorne. In short, we win. So the next time someone says, "You had the largest population drop among any big city in America," there's really no more appropriate retort than "My Oriental arborvitae is bigger than yours."

1st Place, Bank ATM Gouging

The next time you pry 20 bucks plus convenience fees from your ATM, thank the banking gods who deemed your sensible town the best place in America when it comes to low ATM surcharges. According to Bankrate.com, area ATMs gouge us for an average of $1.83 per visit, compared to the national average of $2.33. And that extra 50 cents goes a long way here.

1st Place, People Who Read

Both coasts will forever tout their intellectual superiority and fine newspaper establishments, but Cleveland — not L.A. or New York, mind you — serves up the most-engaged readership in all this fine land. According to a study by the Scarborough Research company, Cleveland and Akron boast the top combined print and web readership nationwide, with 84.7 percent of the population claiming they read the news on a regular basis. Whether they're looking for Family Circus or a deal on an '87 Taurus, we're not asking.

1st Place, Winter

If there's one thing we are really frickin' good at, it's cold. And so it was that Forbes — you remember Forbes — ranked Cleveland as the worst winter weather city in the country. And it's a frostbitten badge of honor we'll gladly snap up. Other cities see a dusting of snow and shut down till May; Clevelanders smile at three feet of freshly fallen powder and we go about our business, perhaps with bare-chested push-ups in the backyard. It's just one of those cases of worst meaning best, like when describing a spectacular mustache.

Send feedback to vgrzegorek@clevescene.com.

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