When I listen to folks in cities below the first tier talk, I so often hear some variation of a story about people from out of town and exclaim about how great the place is saying, "I had no idea your city was this cool or had all this stuff." Or we hear about the person who moved there from New York, fell in love, and is now the city's biggest champion.
I think all of these should be taken with a grain of salt.
First, how often do you visit someone's house and then make a disparaging comment about it to their face? My guess: never. Whenever we make a visit to someone's home, we always draw conclusions about it, some good, some bad. And we'll probably chat about it candidly with our friends later. But it's unlikely we'll say anything that's not exquisitely polite to the person we visited. That's not how it works. That doesn't mean we tell them something that's not true, but rather we choose to accentuate the positive while not commenting on the negative. It's a little more subtle lie, as it were.
Also, people visiting from out of town frequently end up in a highly manicured environment such as a downtown Green Zone surrounding the convention center or some such. This might indeed be very nice, but it's likely also very unrepresentative of your city. (This sometimes works in a negative way, as with my first experience in Dallas
Likewise, the people who moved to your city from LA and fell in love are likely not representative. By definition that doesn't include the people who moved there from somewhere else, hated it, then left. Or those who decided against moving there in the first place after paying it a visit. Or those who grew up there but got the hell out as fast as they could.
I think we all tend to glom on to the positives, and while we should certainly be encouraged by good reports, and use them to our city's marketing advantage, I get the sense that a lot of places actually internalize this as reality. Thus they conclude that their problem isn't with their product, but merely that the marketing hasn't gotten the message out. If only everyone out there saw how great it was (as evidenced by those visitors and transplants), all would be well, and people and investment would flow in.
I'm all in favor of better marketing, but this is naive.
One of the most difficult to obtain but immensely useful things in life is honest feedback about what people around us actually think, particularly from those who are generally inclined positively towards us, but aren't by default going to tell us our problem areas. Lake Wobegone
isn't the only place where grade inflation is out of control. As a general rule, I strongly suggest applying some level of discount to excessively positive feedback received about your town.
Aaron M. Renn is a urban policy analyst and consultant based in New York City. His writings appear at his blog, The Urbanophile, and in other publications.
Images by Nate Mroz