Grand Haven, Here We Come

May 10, 2010 4:00am

Here’s a surprise, at least for pastoralists: Well-being in the United States is highest for residents of large cities, and lowest for people who live in small towns and rural areas.

Or try another: The metro area with the nation’s worst access to basic necessities also has the highest optimism about becoming a better place to live. Welcome to McAllen, Edinburg and Mission, Texas.

Those nuggets and others come from a study being released today by the Gallup Organization examining data it collected across 2009 among more than 350,000 survey respondents nationally. With a sample that large Gallup’s able to drill down to the country’s 187 metropolitan areas.

What’s it see? Overall, Gallup says, compared to small-town and rural residents, city dwellers are more apt to evaluate their present and future lives positively, report better health and have greater access to basic needs. Example: More people in cities have health insurance and visit the dentist, and fewer smoke.

Rolling these and other measures up into a series of indices, Gallup and its survey partner, Healthways, identify the 21 cities with the nation’s highest well-being, and the bottom 20. Top of the list are Boulder, Colorado; Holland-Grand Haven, Michigan; Honolulu, Hawaii; Provo-Orem, Utah; and Santa Rosa-Petaluma, California. The bottom five, counting down, are Hagerstown-Martinsburg, Maryland-West Virginia; Fort Wayne, Indiana; Erie, Pennsylvania; Utica-Rome, New York; and Topeka, Kansas.

Within cities, Gallup says those with the greatest well-being scores have the highest high-school graduation rates, lower crime rates, robust “opportunities for learning new things,” strong workplace partnerships and low obesity.

One of Gallup’s specific indices measures “basic access,” defined as the availability of necessities in 13 individual areas, ranging from safe places to exercise to easy access to fresh fruits and vegetables to the share of residents with health insurance, a personal doctor and enough money for food, shelter and health care. This index peaks in Holland-Grand Haven, the study says, followed closely by Madison, Wisconsin, and two metro areas in Iowa, Des Moines-West Des Moines and Cedar Rapids.

Bottom of the “basic access” list is McAllen-Edinburg-Mission; not coincidentally, Gallup notes, it also has the highest unemployment rate in Texas. Remarkably, though, Gallup says “this area’s residents are the most optimistic in the country about their area getting better as a place to live.” That’s the case, it notes, “despite the current poor conditions, or perhaps because of them.”

There’s a wealth of other factlets in the Gallup data. Residents of Worcester, Massachusetts, are the most likely to have health insurance and a personal doctor. Cedar Rapids leads the nation in residents having enough money for health care, and in visiting a dentist. Holland-Grand Haven leads in safety – and Gallup notes that its Basic Access Index overall correlates with lower violent crime and property crime alike, even when separated by income categories.

Best metro area in terms of satisfaction as a place to live? That’s San Luis Obispo-Paso Robles, California, says Gallup. Worst? Flint, Michigan.

But no worries – from Flint it’s less than a two-and-a-half-hour drive to beautiful downtown Grand Haven.

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