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.