Sunday, March 12, 2017

Connectedness in California communities may determine well-being

The 2016 Community Well-Being Rankings may compel people to reevaluate their commitment to California dreaming, or at least narrow their focus to only the coastal communities.

One hundred and eighty-nine communities across the United States were evaluated through telephone interviews. The five elements of well-being assessed by the surveys were sense of purpose, social well-being, financial well-being, community well-being, and physical well-being. The most powerful predictor of overall well-being is purpose, meaning "liking what you do each day and being motivated to achieve your goals." The pollsters completed over 354,000 interviews, nearly 2,000 from each community. Each tele-responder focused on their personal experience in the community.

The study's color-coded map of community well-being shows California coastal communities as bright blue, in the highest quintile. Communities in the spine of California, nestled between the western coastal ranges and eastern Sierra Nevada mountain range, are predominantly moss green. This signifies they are in the fourth and fifth quintile.

Top Quintile Communities based on Well-Being
In the top quintile are the California communities of Santa Cruz (3), San Luis Obispo (7), Santa Barbara (12), Santa Rosa (17), Salinas (19), San Diego (22), San Francisco (31), and Thousand Oaks (33). All but three of these communities, Santa Rosa, Salinas and Thousand Oaks, have a local major university. Most have multiple institutions of continuing education. Indeed, San Francisco and San Diego have multiple universities. Universities provide an energetic student population, diverse art and culture venues, and continuing education courses. These contribute to unique opportunities to interact with interesting people and engage in intellectual experiences. This finding may be reflected on the poll in the high purpose and social rank for these communities.

All of these top quintile California communities are near the beach. Besides being temperate climates, California beaches are recreational space. Beaches in the state are public property under the public trust doctrine meaning that all beaches are accessible for the "benefit, use and enjoyment of the public." This provides communities opportunities to exercise outdoors and experience nature. This may be reflected on the poll in community well-being, "liking where you live, feeling safe and having pride in your community," or in community physical well-being, "having good health and enough energy to get things done daily."

According to US Census Bureau data, all of these coastal communities are above the national mean household income ($53,889) except for Salinas ($49,840). This shows that the communities live comfortably but that wealth is not a clear indicator of well-being. San Francisco is the only community whose residents median income is more than $15,000 over the national median. This is reflected in its thirteenth place ranking for financial well-being, "managing your economic life to reduce stress and increase security."

This is all to say that it is not surprising that these communities ranked high in well-being.

An outlier to the top quintile California communities is Visalia, a community south of Fresno in the San Joaquin Valley. Compared to national averages, the community is only noteworthy for having about three times the national average Hispanic population. Given this high ranking, it is also surprising that the community has a higher poverty rate (21.3%) than the national average (13.5%).

The community ranks second of the 189 communities in purpose well-being. This may be due to the prevalence and success of agricultural ventures in the area. This theory is problematic where the California communities of the bottom quintile like Stockton, Bakersfield, and Fresno are mostly agriculture-based. Visalia is a much smaller in population than Stockton, Bakersfield, and Fresno but very similar to Chico. The top-ranked community has a population under 130,000 where the other farm communities are near or above 300,000. Chico is not as agriculturally successful. Visalia may rank high in "well-being" for having the ideal balance of size and success in the agriculture industry.

Bottom Quintile Communities based on Well-Being
Three California cities are in the bottom quintile of the study results: Chico (183), Bakersfield (172), and Stockton (166). Other cities in the spine of California escape the bottom quintile by 0.5 of an index point: Fresno (137), Fairfield (125), and Modesto (114).

Chico's ranking is especially shocking because it falls 0.8 ranking points behind Bakersfield, the next-closest California community.  It scored in the lowest quintile for all five indicators of well-being.

Chico is an urban epicenter of Northern California but ranked just above Flint, Michigan. The city boasts industry backbones like Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., Klean Kanteen, Lulu's Fashion, and Chico Bag, the original reusable grocery bag. California State University, Chico, is among the top 25 universities in California. Butte Community College has the most accomplished community college football program in the nation. Its most notable alum is Aaron Rodgers, star quarterback to the Green Bay Packers and winner and MVP of Super Bowl XLV. Bidwell Park is the third largest municipal park in the California with swimming holes, hiking paths, and wild bike routes.

Chico's Upper Bidwell Park by OFilbrandt
Why Chico?
The survey's research director reported that Chico community members report the highest rate of stress in the nation that "the negative emotions are really crummy in Chico." Chico has educational opportunities and convenient outdoor space. What it does not have is obvious and available connectivity to other communities. Though an intellectual destination in the region, Chico is surrounded by small towns that struggle to keep the only cafe in Richvale open, the only stop light in Durham working, and the water for Southern municipalities from drowning their town. (While I cannot find a reporting source for the first two points, this is common knowledge to Chico natives like me)

Indeed, the nearest international airport is in Sacramento, about two hours' drive. The nearest community of comparable size is about an hour south, Marysville-Yuba City. The closest northern community is Redding, about two hours away. No California community north of Redding is of comparable size. The closest community in the highest quintile, San Francisco, is about three hours away.

Essentially, a city with high well-being does not only need, as one writer read the study saying, "beaches, prosperity, and an intellectual zest" but also proximity to other communities marked by well-being. Bidwell Park provides outdoor adventure comparable to any beach. Lack of ocean views can hardly justify the low ranking when a handful of Colorado cities are in the top quintile.  Indeed, it may be an inability to enjoy the more unique Chico community aspects that hinders survey takers' perception of well-being. To correct for such a variable would require consideration of physical health, intellectual achievements, and individual participation in the community rather than self-reported well-being.

Disclaimer: the writer is from Chico, CA and shocked at the study's findings, especially that her unremarkable birthplace, Toledo, OH scored higher. 


Orchid64 said...

I think it's important to view all information as primarily information and not to interpret it in any particular way with too much certainty. We don't know what proximity to other communities is important based on the information. We could, for example, conclude that it is the concentration of affluence that is a big part of this and that places with wealth have sprawl. Wealth may be the determining factor in well-being, and the concentration wealth increases the number of neighboring communities as people who want to live and work in such areas can't afford to and move nearby. As more jobs and wealth accumulate (as has happened in the Bay Area), the number of nearby places does as well.

I have a lot of regard for any research Gallup is involved in, but I question the overall accuracy of these numbers based on the fact that my husband was called by Gallup for such a health poll and answered their questions. The poll is well-constructed, but it only reaches people with a phone and who are available to speak and willing to do so. It doesn't measure homeless, people who work long hours (more likely to be stressed), undocumented people (who are unlikely to take part in anything which they think seems official), people who don't have time to talk or a desire to take part in polls, and people who may take the poll, but lie about their issues for whatever reason. The tendency to complain may be cultural and regional. So, while I think this information is of some value, I think we need to be cautious about the conclusions we reach and consider the validity as well as what the data may imply. It's very dangerous to reach what we feel is an "obvious" conclusion based on our own biased viewpoint.

Kaly said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kaly said...

I thought this was a really interesting post, and after reading through it I wanted to know more about what criterium they use to measure "wellness." Imagine my consternation when upon opening the link number 6 is North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton, my hometown! I was born and raised in Sarasota, and even attended the public university New College of Florida in Sarasota as well. After spending 24 years in the city I'm rather shocked that it would rank so highly on 'wellness'. My version of Sarasota is one with rampant drug abuse, young people having moved away due to hostility, and extreme segregation of minorities and poor people. (You can see examples of this:;;
Sarasota has some great stuff too, but I would never move back there.

But reading further about the criterium, I can understand why it's ranked so highly. It is an amazing place to live if you are a wealthy white person. I would be really interested to see the results if Gallup made a poll specifically about the 'wellness' for low-income people or minorities. Perhaps rural areas would rank far more highly then.

ofilbrandt said...

Author's Addendum: In Tuesday March 21's edition of the Enterprise Record, Chico's local paper, Chico State President penned the following opinion piece titled "Ranking showed lack of knowledge about Chico"

I’ve been a proud Chicoan for nearly a quarter-century. Imagine my surprise when I read the recent Gallup Healthways Well-being Index and learned our beloved city ranked nearly last in the nation. Our residents enjoy a strong sense of community rich with art, food, music and cultural events, outdoor recreation and small-town charm.

Chico’s many accolades counter Gallup’s findings, including recognition among the Best Places to Re-Boot by Sunset Magazine, Best Places by Outdoor Magazine, Best Place to Retire by U.S. News & World Report and as a Gold Level Bicycle Friendly Community.

As Chico State University president, I know our graduates rave about their experiences here and look to settle in the area. More than 20 percent of our 130,000 alumni live in Butte County.

Many of them are behind the region’s growing hub of tech startups and nationally prominent businesses, such as Sierra Nevada Brewery,, Klean Kanteen and ChicoBag.

Our community is not without its challenges. But as we rebound from the Great Recession, we’re seeing a near-tripling in building permits, an abundance of new businesses and an increase in applications to our university as more people realize the gem we are.

Chico State is a proud partner in making Chico the premier city in Northern California, as we engage the community and enhance regional development, foster civic engagement, boost physical health and drive our economy forward.

It’s a new day in Chico, and together, we will let the world know our well-being deserves only the highest rankings.

see the piece here: