Episode 141: How "Most Livable Cities" Lists Center Upwardly Mobile White Professionals

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"America's 50 best cities to live in," reveals USA Today. "These rising U.S. cities could become the top places to live and work from home," reports CNBC. "The best U.S. cities to raise a family," lists MarketWatch.

Over and over again in American media we hear stories centered around ranking, judging and analyzing the rather vague concept of a city. But who is being discussed when we talk about "cities"? How are "cities" a meaningful unit to understand a given space, especially in a country marked by runaway inequality and segregation?

When we’re told Johns Creek, Georgia, is the best city for "young people," or Carmel, Indiana, is the most "livable," whose lives and experiences are the media really talking about? Who is the audience for these reports about the best cities for families, for nightlife, for safety, for education, for happiness?

The criteria most U.S. corporate media uses centers a very particular constituent: Your average homeowner or prospective homeowner, usually white, upwardly mobile, namely, those who marketers, investors and real estate agents most want to reach.

Cities then, aren't deemed livable for their fair labor practices, but for their business-friendly policies. They're not worth moving to for their abundance of free public space in low-income neighborhoods, but for their charming boutiques and chic restaurants. They don't rank high for their strong rent-control laws, but for their ability to attract tech companies and they capture attention not for their excellent mental-health statistics, but for their "booming economies".

On this episode, we parse the ways in which media coverage of cities and urban living — often crafted by white professional-class writers for white professional-class audiences, and funded by faceless parent companies and corporate advertisers — centers the most powerful while ignoring the needs of the working class, the homeless, people with disabilities, and the vast majority of Black and brown residents.

Our guest is VOCAL-NY's Jawanza James Williams.

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