In defense of northern Minnesota cities

According to a site called RoadSnacks, these are the 10 worst places to live in Minnesota.

Grand Rapids
International Falls
North Branch
Waite Park

“Before you freak out and tell us these places might not be so bad, you should know that the data doesn’t lie,” Nick James writes. “It just means that according to data (which doesn’t measure things like beauty, ‘friendly people’ and number of warming houses), there are far better options in the state for making a place home.”

Perhaps you’ve noticed the obvious flaw in the logic. Data don’t lie, but the choice of what data to include and exclude lies all the time.

And the cool thing about the Iron Range is it has people like Aaron Brown, who writes at Minnesota Brown. He jumps into the data and, not surprisingly, finds it lacking.

Based on the methodology, Northern Minnesota never had a chance. Our cities have bigger footprints and fewer people. Our aging demographics and transitioning natural resources economies have pinned our unemployment above the state average for three decades or more.

Crime stats are always tough to figure in rural areas, though anyone who thinks there isn’t crime in Northern Minnesota is kidding themselves. Our biggest social problems stem from serious drug and alcohol problems that permeate our entire region, much of which I’d attribute to longterm effects of the uneven economy.

Numbers are numbers, and these data reflect the challenges we actually face in Northern Minnesota.

What the numbers don’t reflect, however, is our greatest tool in addressing that challenge, and the reason why most of the people who live in these places wouldn’t call them bad, much less “the worst.” In fact, several of the communities on this list are doing good things. I live between two of the “worst” towns and would call my collective community a great place to live.

Simply put, a list like this doesn’t take into account the aesthetics. The site was all too quick to pull the least flattering Google Streetview pictures they could find to use in the story, but many of these places are defined by their proximity to natural beauty. People who live here don’t stay in town all the time. Life in Northern Minnesota means a willingness to drive, explore, bike, or hike your way outside city limits. Most who live here seek that lifestyle.

The original article points out a troubling trend: People who find data on the Internet, slap up some Google Street View pictures, and never visit the area they’re professing to analyze.

Maybe some of these cities are awful to live; maybe they’re not. Spend some time there and get back to me.