Olympia is Americ’a’s #3 Friendliest Small City!

Olympia is America’s #55 Most Liveable City, and #3 in allllll of Washington!


Olympia is the town I love best, but seeing these lists being spread around always leaves me empty.

The problem with these rankings, is that they’re subjective in the mix. Sure, they’re usually pretty clear about what criteria they use to make up their rankings. But, the conclusions to me seem a stretch.

At least a stretch in that they should matter to any particular person. That friendly list up there especially. What makes a person friendly in Olympia is totally different that Grapevine, TX. We have a different history, different social structure and different culture. So, how can you really determine if we’re any more of less friendly?

You really can’t. People come up here from the deep South and find us off putting and cold. We go down there and find people overbearing and rude. But, both are considered friendly in their own context.

Or exciting. Someone considered Olympia exciting.

Its interesting to look back at this cottage industry of place rankings. David Savageau and Richard Boyer wrote the first “Places Rated Almanac” in 1983. The Almanac marked nearly the 20 year anniversary of the beginning of the Big Sort, a large demographic change.

According to the great book, Big Sort, Americans began unhinging themselves from diverse and deep rooted communities in the 1960s. They would find new homes in politically and socially homogenous communities.

It makes sense that book suggesting The Best Places, creating an idea that divergent communities could be objectivity ranked (and ranked and ranked) is a centerpiece of the idea of demographic sort. People who began shifting back and forth across the country began looking for rational reasons to pick one place over another. But, this rational sorting of communities lacks a coherence of place.

Toronto found itself on this lists regularly, and a local committee there decided to take a close look at what it takes to put these lists together. The committee (which focused on economic development) wrote a report that poked holes in how these reports are written.

Are they comparing apples to apples?

Is the data old? Has it been massaged?

Is the ranking consistent? Meaning, is #1 really one spot away from #2. Or is #2 really #432?

The lists really try to make what is a series of complicated and human topics clean and easy. We should never do that. It is too subjective.

So, as long as we’re talking subjective, we might as well go all the way. What determines what is the best place should be inside of you. You might as well rank cities in America by “Top Cities Where My Friends Live” or “Top Cities Where My Kids Are Growing Up.”

Doc “Moonlight” Graham in Field of Dreams put it best:

“This is my favorite place in the whole world,” Doc says quietly. “I don’t think I have to tell you what that means. You look like the kind of fellow who has a favorite place. Once the land touches you, the wind never blows so cold again. You feel the land like it was your child. When that happens to you, you can’t be bought.”

A place may be a good place based on a series of what look like objective criteria, but these can all end up being baloney if a place doesn’t mean anything to you.