Robert Price

Saturday, Mar 01 2014 09:00 PM

ROBERT PRICE: A survey of cities we can't help but own

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    Robert Price is The Californian's executive editor. Email him at rprice@bakersfield.com.

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By Robert Price

I blame David Letterman. He's the guy who turned everything into a top-10 list. Yes, Dick Clark started counting down the top-10 rock 'n' roll records of the coming week on TV every Saturday back in the late 1950s, but it was Letterman who made it necessary for every analysis of everything to require a numerical ranking.

Letterman's goal has always been topical funny stuff rather than measuring civic achievement, but others have taken care of that. Health, wealth, happiness -- just about every month, we hear that some magazine or university study or business group has crunched a set of statistics that it deems relevant and then turned it into a top-10 list.

Bakersfield is often on these lists, and usually for all the wrong reasons.

That was the case again in February when Central Connecticut State University ranked Bakersfield the least literate big city in the U.S. for the third straight year. I can't really fault the study's criteria: It weighed per capita weekday newspaper circulation, adults with college degrees, retail bookstores, public library participation, magazine readership and median income. Every major newspaper and newsmagazine in the country had the story. A real Chamber of Commerce moment!

Fortunately that was offset by another top 10, somewhat less publicized, that placed Bakersfield at No. 2, ahead of Seattle, Denver and a host of generally forward-thinking cities: America's 10 "best" cities in the future.

How is such a thing possible in this, the city least likely, by virtue of that aforementioned literacy level, to even be aware of this flattering new finding? Answer: Craft your criteria just so, and you can come out at the top of whatever survey you might invent.

In this recent case, Bakersfield is a resounding No. 2 as an ideal city of the future because:

1. We have a high percentage of housing built in 1990 or later, according to the U.S. Census.

2. We have had a high degree of population change since 2010, also according to the U.S. Census.

3. Construction jobs are more plentiful here than in most cities, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

4. Space travel companies and proposed spaceports are in relative regional abundance, according to the Federation Aviation Administration.

5. An unusually high number of DeLoreans (think "Back to the Future") are available for sale, according to eBay's past-year sales records.

CreditDonkey, the financial education website that came up with this test of future viability, had me going until Marty McFly flew into the picture. Yes, two locally owned DeLoreans were listed for sale on eBay last year, tying Bakersfield for second in that category behind Miami and Orlando, which each had three.

Using the CreditDonkey model, I have formulated criteria for a top-10 list that may help Bakersfield overcome its past difficulties with these municipal rankings.

The title of City Most Deserving of America's General Admiration will be based on:

1. Most white trucks per capita.

2. Most people who claim to have gone to school with Merle Haggard.

3. Most barrels of oil produced.

4. Most Basques per square mile.

5. Greatest frequency of discarded, soiled diapers.

6. Most state high school football championships (leather helmet era included).

7. City with longest-serving current mayor.

8. City with smallest volume of water flow in its primary river.

9. Air with most caloric content.

10. City most consistently placing at the bottom of top-10 lists.

I'm not aware of any surveys comparing U.S. cities ever undertaken by Cal State Bakersfield. CSUB professors, you have my permission to adopt this one.

Email Executive Editor Robert Price at rprice@bakersfield.com.

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