The rank file

Dear Ace,What’s up with the ranking of Charlottesville as the #4 best city in America? Is that number completely arbitrary or have we been doing something wrong since we were ranked #1 in 2004?—Sly Down

Dear Sly, Part of the superlative discrepancy has to do with the different parties crunching the numbers. This year Kiplinger’s Personal Finance Magazine decided we were #4 in America, while in the 2004 edition of Cities Ranked and Rated by Bert Sterling and Peter Sander, we won the top honor. But rarely does Charlottesville quote its rank in that series’ second edition, published in 2007. In that illustrious text we were ranked 17th. How the devil did we fall so far? Did Sterling and Sander eat some bad tapas? Did they get hazed at a UVA frat party? In order to account for the fluctuation, Ace did some light Internet research in his dressing gown.

In 2007 Sperling told the New York Times that his numbers shifted because of “changes in the information he uses and in the weight given to certain data.” His accounting system in the second edition bestowed more importance on housing affordability than did the 2004 edition. Sperling wrote that in the span of three years Charlottesville’s “median house price jumped from $177,000 to $345,000, and the cost of living more than doubled, to the highest in the state.” But the recent Kiplinger’s survey gave far more weight to job availability than to housing. Demographer Kevin Stolarick, who did the evaluating for the magazine, looked at growth potential, overall number of jobs, as well as “the quality of those positions and the ability of cities to hold on to them when the economy softens.” Ace had a hard time determining whether or not Stolarick and Sperling actually visited the towns they surveyed or just plugged the numbers into a super computer. In the future they should interview Ace personally. His legendary powers of persuasion crowned him with “Best Smile” and “Most Likely to Succeed” in his high school senior yearbook. He predicts that he can do the same for the superlative city he calls home.

Before we locals get down about our drop in the ranks, let’s remember that according to our eminent website, we can claim other number one honors: 2008 Fire Chief of the Year, Fire Chief magazine; Golf Digest: Best Retirement City for Golfers (#1); and Modern Maturity Magazine: Most Alive Places to Live (#2 College Town) (as opposed to #1 Most Dead Place to Live in Modern Zombie Magazine).

You can ask Ace yourself. Intrepid investigative reporter Ace Atkins has been chasing readers’ leads for 20 years. If you have a question for Ace, e-mail it to

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