Take that, Cincinnati!
Turns out, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton area narrowly bested Ohio’s third largest city on Forbes magazine’s most recent list of top cities in which to raise a family. This region secured eighth place on the list of 100 U.S. metro areas, edging No. 9 Cincinnati and No. 10 Provo, Utah.
The magazine crowned as its most family-conducive community Raleigh, N.C. – a perennial favorite on “best places to …” lists.
Rounding out the top three communities were No. 2 Grand Rapids, Mich., and No. 3 Ogden, Utah.
The national recognition for this part of Northeastern Pennsylvania is most welcome, and perhaps a bit bewildering to people who consistently put down everything about living in the Greater Wyoming Valley. An objective look reveals lots of pluses about this area’s quality of life, particularly for children: many well-performing schools, easily accessible public libraries, well-supported youth sports programs, tight-knit neighborhoods and religious institutions, outdoor recreation opportunities and relatively safe neighborhoods.
That said, no one will mistake Wilkes-Barre for the Magic Kingdom.
The region probably would have fared much worse if Forbes based its list on criteria such as childhood poverty rates, percentage of single-parent households, college degree attainment, cigarette use/substance abuse and air quality. Or, for that matter, the number of grandparents who are raising grandchildren in the absence of a capable parent.
Instead, the magazine’s data-driven rankings examined seven categories, including overall cost of living, crime rate, commuting delays and education quality.
Forbes did note this area’s pathetically low median family income ($42,000), but suggested that was offset by other factors, not the least of which is affordable housing. (Again, had the magazine peered into the quality of that housing stock, any gloating to our good friends in the Buckeye State might have been more contained, or nonexistent.)
Regardless, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton area’s shortcomings regarding children and teens are widely recognized, and greater focus on correcting some of those troubles, such as childhood poverty, has begun to inspire action.
Meanwhile, the Forbes’ “Best Cities for Raising a Family” list offers a reminder that things aren’t so bad here. Equally important, it provides area residents with a sort of blueprint for improvement, as they can look to cities a few notches higher on the list and aspire to provide some of what they do.
In No. 3 Ogden, Utah, for example, children and grownups can visit the Treehouse Museum, which focuses on literacy. The city of 87,000-plus residents recently installed six bike repair stations (with tire pumps and tools) at trailheads and along paths, according to information on the city’s website. And, this year, more than 5,000 households received free smoke alarms.
Could similar projects, or other life-enhancing initiatives for families, be replicated in the Wyoming Valley? Collectively, can we enhance the quality of our public schools? Push crime rates lower?
Watch out, No. 7 Boise, Idaho! We have you in our sights.