Cville Ranks 3rd Nationally In Happiness. If Only We Knew Why.

Thanks to the intrusion of outsiders bent upon confrontation, Charlottesville has become synonymous in the public discourse with hate and discord. It’s a bum rap. In a recent survey of the happiest metros in the United States, C-ville ranked third, behind Boulder, Colo., and Santa Cruz, Calif.

The study by National Geographic and the Gallup organization established 15 metrics—from healthy eating and learning something new every day to civic engagement, financial security, vacation time, and even dental checkups—that signal happiness. The National Geographic Gallup Special/Blue Zones Index draws on nearly 250,000 interviews conducted with adults from 2014 to 2015 in 190 metropolitan areas across the U.S.

In happier places, locals smile and laugh more often, socialize several hours a day, have access to green spaces, and feel that they are making purposeful progress toward achieving life goals, writes the National Geographic’s George Stone. The happiness index tracked factors that are statistically associated with doing well and feeling well, including feeling secure, taking vacations, and having enough money to cover basic needs.

The National Geographic article is frustratingly short on specifics about what makes Charlottesville happy, noting no more than the following in its photo cutline: “Along the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Charlottesville, Virginia, has ample opportunities for getting outdoors between visits to Monticello and the University of Virginia—both listed as World Heritage sites.”

I’d like to know what makes Charlottesville such a happy place, but the details aren’t available anywhere online that I could find. It also would be helpful to know if the data is drawn from just the city of Charlottesville, from Charlottesville and Albemarle County, or from the Charlottesville metropolitan area, which includes the outlying counties of Fluvanna, Greene and Nelson.

The photograph above, taken from the National Geographic article, shows Charlottesville’s downtown mall, which is an enjoyable place to spend time. And Cville is, of course, home to the University of Virginia, with all the assets that it has to offer. Those two iconic features, along with Monticello, are the first to come to mind when people think “Charlottesville” (well, when they aren’t thinking about white supremacist rallies). But Nelson County, which is part of the metro area, is the location of the Wintergreen resort community, which is a fabulous place in its own right.

All this is a long way of saying, yeah, it’s cool that Charlottesville is ranked No.3 in the National Geographic’s happiness index, but the published data doesn’t give us public policy wonks much to work with in teasing out what makes Cville residents happy and what lessons might be gleaned for other Virginians.

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12 responses to “Cville Ranks 3rd Nationally In Happiness. If Only We Knew Why.

  1. As someone who moved here because CVille is a pretty nice place … I think you already have most of the answers. The three ‘happy places’ are all major college towns, Boulder and Santa Cruz all have excellent state universities that dominate those towns. They also have easy access to large open spaces, Santa Cruz to the pacific and mountains too, and Boulder to the mountains. There is an interesting study that say that a walk in the woods in full of health benefits! Each town also has a major city within a few hours drive.

    Finally, the university community brings a pretty liberal attitude and approach to what is important. Sorry you conservatives! 🙂

  2. This survey of “happiest places metros in the United States” reminds one of the WSJ’s last Saturday Off Duty article titled:

    “Where to Travel in 2018, From Shanghai to Scotland’s Coolest City, 10 hot destinations for adventurous sophisticates, curious foodies, and deep pocketed beach Bum’s. Don’t miss out.

    Put in #5 spot was:

    “Dundee, Sweden. A coastal college town, Dundee has emerged as Sweden’s coolest city …”

    Only to have the WSJ later admit that: “An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Dundee was in Sweden. Dundee is in Scotland.”

    The same article put Shanghai in #9 spot calling it the “Paris of the East.” There the writer recommended that you could :

    “flee the city’s tizzy at the new Amanyangyun, a forest retreat formed out of 13 relocated Ming dynasty villas and 24 newly built suites … (from about $1,040 a night).”

    Ops Again!

    A later correction states: Amanyanghal “consists of 13 restored villas from the Ming and Qing Dynasty as well as 24 newly built suites.”

    So much for today’s journalism where writers travel far to often by internet screen.

    Perhaps here, too, the National Geographic people (of all people!) and Gallup traveled no where at all and instead interviewed themselves why imagining C’ville from their college days, and Boulder from their last vacation there.

    • I remember applying for a job with the WSJ as a reporter with just three or four years worth of experience. I was told that they had a three strikes and you’re out policy. Three errors would get you canned. I decided not to apply for the job. I wonder if the writer you refer to above got canned or whether they’ve relaxed the policy as too “harsh.”

      • I make three mistakes in a single blog post. I guess it’s good that I pursued a career in software rather than journalism. In software you can test your work and find the mistakes.

        • Yes, great step forward even for severe dyslectics, although perfection is near impossible given all the mistakes one makes correcting earler mistakes, and “not seeing” words technically spelled right by the auto correcting function that renders the meaning wrong insofar as original meaning intended. Yet the software engineer has single-handedly and over-all lifted many a dyslectic into literacy, and much more.

          Still now devilish it is being impossible to see anyrhing right until you take a walk and then see suddenly clearly what was invisible before, only to correct it with another mistake. Still no excuses, just living in the reality of different worlds, different people live in. And odd-balls do their share making world go round, or wobble at times too.

          By my standards, Don, you set the high bar for perfection.

  3. I grew up near Charlottesville and agree it is pretty nice. I also wonder about these ratings, though.

    There is a lot of natural beauty in the surrounding area and, like a lot of college towns, there is a have a vibrancy the young students, and activities.

    Looking at this from a cold, hard economic standpoint, though, you’d have to say C’ville almost has unfair advantages vs., for instance, nearby Waynesboro. The two sectors with spending growing faster than others are higher education and healthcare. And C’ville, thanks to Thomas Jefferson, has a big stake in both. What you see is really an area buoyed by money being brought in from other areas of the state and the federal government. Every time that Pegasus helicopter flies out to pick up someone from around the state and brings them back to UVA hospital, it could potentially add $150K or more to the local economy. Every time a Northern Virginia parent sends their kid off to UVA, a similar thing takes place. Waynesboro, on the other hand, has been blown in another direction by the decline in manufacturing.

    I don’t think local government or planning inthe area has been good. The 29 North mess was a slow motion train wreck of bad government. They failed to take note of the water situation fast enough. The separation of city and county and the inability of the city to annex have probably hurt the area long term. City Council and government often seem shambolic (read the Vice Mayor’s tweets).

    One other thing. The picture shows the downtown mall. I’d have to say other towns like Lexington have done a better job with what they have than C’ville.

  4. re: ” The 29 North mess was a slow motion train wreck ..”

    What’s the verdict on VDOT’s re-work of Rt 29? good. bad. meh?

  5. My late Dad was a career Navy man who grew up in Detroit. Over teh decades he served in the US Navy he saw the world from the deck of ships and various places during calls at foreign ports. So, it was natural for people to ask him what he thought were the prettiest / best / nicest places he’d ever seen. New Zealand and Charlottesville were his two favorites. And, for the record, he graduated from the University of Michigan.

    There’s just something about Charlottesville. It’s hard to put your finger on it but it’s there.

    A small city in reasonable proximity to a mid-sized city (Richmond) and a large city (Metro DC)?

    Excellent healthcare?

    University town?

    Scenic beauty?

    Friendly people with small town attitudes?

    If it only had some salt water!

    • “New Zealand and Charlottesville were his two favorites.”

      Mine too.

      And for me, the South Island of New Zealand is beyond compare. Simply out of this world gorgeous from stem to stern, top to bottom, gorgeous.

  6. The funny thing is that Rt 29 north of Charlottesville is one strip mall after another. Same as Henrico County. Same as much of Tidewater. But when the RoVa “real Virginia” crew starts whining about NoVa it’s always “blah, blah, blah, strip malls, blah, blah, strip malls”. Traffic has also been a long standing problem in Charlottesville, especially when classes are being conducted at UVA.

    So, you can apparently have strip malls and traffic issues and still be a good place to live.

    More people live in Reston, Va than the City of Charlottesville. I was having dinner in Reston last Friday night and the whole “town” was hopping. Very vibrant. Certainly Charlottesville grew organically while Reston was a planned community but I see similarities between the two in layout, mixed use areas, access to quality healthcare, etc.

  7. Regarding last Saturday’s WSJ off duty article “Where to Travel in 2018, From Shanghai to Scotland’s Coolest City, 10 hot destinations for adventurous sophisticates, curious foodies, and deep pocketed beach Bum’s. Don’t miss out.”

    This article is worth much study. It provides great insight into how younger people think today, a great example of the profound insights rendered in Doris Lessing’s great book “Prison’s We Chose to Live Inside.”

    The very same is true of the National Geographic and Gallup Poll place Happiness Survey. Jim cannot see any proof therein. Nor can I.

    But younger generations, caught in their own bubble, think they seen unassailable proof of guaranteed happiness. The survey reads just like many a UVA Today article today; everyone marching along in the lockstep of a total fog, thinking they know and see everything clearly, all of it in black and white, including what confuses most everyone else different from them.

  8. Rt 29 through Charlottesville was.. perhaps still is a thorn in their side and after a couple decades of some folks seeking a bypass.. that idea was shelved and VDOT went forward with a re-do, “in-place” I was branded as “Route 29 Solutions” and took one or more at-grade intersections and converted them to grade-separated… a good dose of access management to control median use and force left-turn folks to the signals.

    There was and perhaps still is some angst that the “solution” was not going to be nirvana nor close to it…

    It’s been largely completed and I was wondering how the folks in Charlottesville felt about it.

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