The latest issue of Sunset Magazine arrived in my mail last week, and the cover story immediately caught my eye — “24 Best Places to Live and Work 2014.”“Looking for the perfect place to launch a career? Start a family? Just relax? We’ve found the ideal city, town, or neighborhood for you.”
For instance, if you’re “ready to put down roots,” the story’s handy flowchart offers you two choices — Issaquah, Washington (if “the burbs are calling”) or Sugar House, Salt Lake City, Utah, if they’re not.
Now Sunset is a fine magazine and they’re hardly alone in propagating these“best places” inventories.I understand the impulse to quantify a place’s attributes and size them up against other localities. But I worry that the proliferation of these lists have transformed place into a commodity rather than a commitment.
What I’ve learned from living in three countries and more than 20 locations is that there is no perfect place. Believing otherwise prevents the letting go of elsewhere necessary to create a home place where you are— a journey that takes effort and devotion.
Turning place into a consumer item diminishes its essential dimensions. As poet Gary Snyder once wrote, the demands of a life committed to a place, “Are so physically and intellectually intense, that it is a moral and spiritual choice as well.”
Communities are most alive when people are engaged and fully present — rather than merely coming home to sleep between commutes to elsewhere. Mine is the kind of place that people dream of escaping to when they’re stuck in rush hour traffic; yet too many of those who come here keep one foot planted somewhere else. Community is what happens when people have a stake in their place and an investment in its future.
Finish reading this post, 24 Reasons to Ignore Best Places Lists, at Last Word On Nothing.