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City edges out California locales in latest survey

by Tom Kelly, Inman News

SeattleTwenty-five years ago, when high technology was first introduced into real estate, a Portland, Ore.-based researcher developed a software program that allowed consumers to enter personal preferences to help them locate “their own best place.”

I have been following Bert Sperling’s work ever since, mainly because his “best places” concept caught the eye of officials in cities and counties across the country, helping them understand where they stand in the eye of the consumer. Sperling has offered in-depth analysis of crime, climate, local economy and jobs, cost of living, education, transportation, leisure, arts and culture, and quality of life.

When I heard his company had a new study coming out, I was intrigued, as were many writers who pass on new wrinkles in property data to their readers. His latest work, sponsored by Ritz Crackers and released just in time for summer, is all about the best places to have fun. The big winner in the “Ritz Cracker FUNomenal Places” survey was Greater Seattle and the Puget Sound region, which beat out Minneapolis, San Francisco, Chicago and Washington, D.C., for the top spot.

Seattle? The Puget Sound? Was climate an important factor?

“No. Climate was not directly considered, since it would be unfair to downgrade a place if it was cold or damp much of the year,” Sperling said. “Residents in those places make accommodations and even embrace the change of seasons to have different kinds of fun throughout the year.”

When pressed, Sperling said that climate probably played a part in the fun rankings.

“It’s difficult to engage in outdoor fun in hot sticky summer weather found in parts of the southern U.S., when the temperature can ready reach 120 degrees, or one can break a sweat by reading a book on the porch,” Sperling said. “In these places, less fun events or resources may be available since less people would be likely to use them. As an example, it’s a widely reported phenomenon that residents of Phoenix descend upon San Diego each summer to seek relief from their city’s blistering heat.”

The study evaluated 50 of the largest metro areas in the United States, and identified the “most fun cities” using a variety of data, including outdoor recreation resources; spending on fun activities, sports and recreation, and in-home entertainment; and participation in (and spending on) social activities.

The study found greater Seattle with ample parks and forests, off-leash dog parks, professional sports teams, nearby skiing, saltwater coastline and great museums. Residents spend $242 per person annually on parks systems (the second highest in the study), and dedicate a high percentage of their income on fun activities, with above-average spending for gyms, sporting events, movies and theater, bicycles and musical instruments. And they like to have fun with friends and in their neighborhoods too — nearly 45 percent of residents surveyed said they regularly have block parties.

The Minneapolis park system is considered to be one of the best in the country. In addition to hundreds of playgrounds, ball fields, and tennis courts, the area also features 69 ice rinks, and four amusement parks. Residents of the Minneapolis-St. Paul area choose to spend a greater-than-average amount of their disposable income “on fun” compared to the other cities in the study. This includes cash outlays for sporting events, musical instruments, camping gear and participation sports.

San Francisco residents spend more money annually for their park system than any other city in the study, $268 per person annually. There are 26 off-leash dog parks, the most (per capita) in the study, and superb museums. Residents of San Francisco are more likely than the rest of the cities to spend money on movies, sporting events, recreation lessons, musical instruments and bicycles.

San Francisco was one of six California cities to make the survey’s top 20.

“It seems that Californians work hard at taking it easy,” Sperling said. “Part of this may be due to the trend we’ve seen in health studies showing that residents of the Golden State have a strong interest in a healthy lifestyle. This has produced a wealth of resources to have fun while also staying in shape.”

The survey took approximately two months to complete and was finalized in March. Given the Puget Sound winter, perhaps gym and health-club membership swung the vote. Or, maybe everybody bought a bike the first day the sun came out.

Copyright 2009 Tom Kelly
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