How does our city fit? Let us rank the ways We're heavy on the anger, light on the food poisoning

August 21, 2006|By JEAN MARBELLA

Angry? You bet I'm angry!

Another one of those Men's Health magazine rankings has come out, and typically enough, Baltimore comes off badly: We're the fourth-angriest city in America.

Maybe we're still mad over what the magazine said in January: That of the 100 best cities for men, we're 93rd.

Or maybe we've been steamed since November 2004, when the magazine's sexiest cities in America rankings came out and Baltimore was a bottom-scraping 96th.

But we're probably just generally irked because we're also middlingly stupid, possibly impotent and sort of bummed out. Says who? Men's Health, of course: Previous city rankings - the magazine calls them "MetroGrades" - had us as the 34th-stupidest city, the 19th most likely to experience impotence and only the 62nd-happiest.

Gee, all those studly, blissed-out Hopkins rocket scientists must have been otherwise occupied when Men's Health did its polling.

Actually, the magazine ranks cities not through polling but via some creative numbers crunching: To answer the question it asked last year - "Is Your Town Down?" - the magazine looked at antidepressant sales and suicide rates, among other indicators. Somehow, Laredo, Texas, came out as happiest, while Philadelphia, at 101st, was saddest. And somehow, Jersey City (third) is happier than Honolulu (sixth), and Minneapolis (78th) is slightly sadder than its twin, St. Paul (71st). Suddenly being No. 62 doesn't seem so bad.

Surely no one takes these rankings seriously, nor are they meant to - the magazine doesn't pretend it's the Journal of the American Medical Association. (Although maybe it's the JAMA of hard abs and great sex: those seem to be the two subjects it launches into with dissertation-level comprehensiveness.)

But who doesn't love lists, however inexplicable, arguable and contradictory they turn out to be? You see one, and you just have to scan it for where your city falls.

Depending on the source, Baltimore is the fittest city in American (Men's Fitness magazine), the seventh top arts destination (readers of AmericanStyle magazine, which is based in, um, Baltimore), the 10th-best place to live (readers of Black Enterprise magazine), the 10th-worst place for pollen (Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America), the 19th-best fishing city (Field & Stream magazine), the 37th-best place to do business (Forbes.com), or the 40th-best sports city (Sporting News magazine, down from seventh last year, when it was lumped together with Washington).

That last ranking illustrates the problem with trying to locate Baltimore's place in the list universe - often, we're part of a hyphenated region, which tends to skew things. Take lock-maker Kryptonite's naming of Washington-Baltimore as the fifth-worst place for bike thefts - which city do you suppose is dragging down the other in that ranking? And the road-rage survey by the AutoVantage auto club that ranked Washington-Baltimore sixth-worst?

We might have to thank all those unattached Capitol Hill staffers, though, for elevating our standing on at least one list: Washington-Baltimore ranked ninth in Forbes.com's best places for singles. (Denver-Boulder was first.)

Singles are getting more attention these days from those who obsessively rank - AOL adds its opinion: Atlanta is tops. In the past, there seemed to be many more lists for best places to retire. (Ashland, Ore., according to Money, or Loveland/Fort Collins, Colo., in AARP's view.)

It was inevitable that lists would merge - now there's a best place for singles to retire: Sarasota, Fla., says Fortune magazine. (Insert your own retired clown joke here.)

Then there's Bert Sperling, something of a one-stop ranking guy whose Web site and books feature the usual lists of the best places to live, work or retire, but also covers some more obscure categories. Did you know, for example, that Minneapolis is the best city for sleeping? No, it's not boring, it just came out well on various indicators of emotional health and well-being, which apparently help you sleep. The study, as you might guess, was conducted "in partnership" with the maker of insomnia drug Ambien.

In Sperling's research, Baltimore turns out to be the fourth-most-challenging city to navigate (after Boston, Washington and San Francisco); neither here nor there as far as dating (34th out of 80); and sort of stressful (35th out of 100).

There's something unsatisfying about coming in at the middle of the pack. Which is why we must thank our friends at Men's Health, even if usually they put us down at the bottom.

I see on their Web site that, according to an analysis of outbreaks of salmonella poisoning, tainted food deaths and other delightful statistics, Baltimore is the least likely of any of the 101 cities surveyed where the food will make you sick.

jean.marbella@baltsun.com

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