Merced recently topped yet another list of worst cities in California. Again. Sigh.
This list – “Worst cities to live in every state” – was compiled by MSN. It looked at poverty rate (35.1 percent), median home value ($204,400), and “adults with at least a bachelor’s degree” (19.5 percent).
“Relative to the size of its population, Merced is generally lacking in amenities, including below average numbers of restaurants, bars, libraries and museums per capita,” the report says.
I’ve lived here for four years now and Merced has been named “worst of” on a few of these kinds of lists.
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It’s getting old.
This isn’t about covering up or turning a blind eye to our city’s very real troubles. I’m not a booster cheerleading for the gang who can’t shoot straight. Of course, we have problems. Big systemic inequalities plague our city.
We have too many people living in poverty, especially children. That’s true. We need more doctors. The rent is too high. We need better access to healthy food, especially on the south side of town. A few more decent restaurants wouldn’t hurt us. We need to hold our elected officials and community leaders accountable.
But our problems aren’t unique. We didn’t invent poverty. We’re not contagious. And it’s not like we’re not trying to fix it.
Have a little perspective.
None of these lists tell you anything you really need to know about Merced. This latest list examines a narrow handful of statistics that only point out that we’re struggling financially. This list points at us, calls us poor and moves on to Colorado. It’s insulting. Like making fun of a guy with a broken arm while the doctor’s still putting the cast on.
I mean, who even makes these lists? Why is that a thing? How is that even a job? And, really, what’s the point?
I think it’s time somebody pointed out one kind of important detail about these lists: They’re wrong. It’s time for Merced residents to push back.
Growing up, my little brother bugged me. So I punched him a lot. He needed it. But only I got to punch him. If you tried to punch him, I punched you, too. If you grew up with siblings, you know what I’m talking about. We should start feeling that way about Merced.
I wasn’t raised here, but I’m happy to live here now.
The most common complaint I hear about Merced is some version of: “There’s nothing to do.”
But that’s not really true, either.
We have an arts scene thanks to our colleges and the Merced County Arts Council. (By the way, Art Hop is Saturday in downtown Merced.)
We have our own symphony. They call themselves the Merced Symphony.
Just outside of town we have fishing and camping and hiking trails. We have a Frisbee golf course. Our downtown has restaurants and bars and music and movies, and a locally-owned bookstore.
We have a lot of the places everyone else has and a few things you only can get here like Little Oven Pizza on Main Street. I once had a potato pizza and it was awesome. I haven’t been able to get that anywhere else. I’ve tried.
Just because you don’t take advantage of these things doesn’t mean they’re not there.
And while many communities talk about celebrating diversity, in Merced we have real cultural diversity. The latest Census numbers back that up. We’re a healthy collection of dozens of cultures.
Earlier this year, our mayor stood in downtown Merced and described a coming “renaissance,” calling our community a “city on the rise.” That’s the kind of talk you expect from a city official, but I think it happens to be true. Mike Murphy had a point worth making, especially in the face of so many detractors.
So maybe do our city a favor.
Next time anyone from somewhere else says something bad about Merced, invite them to spend a day here. Take them to breakfast at Paul’s or Toni’s or Bagel Tyme. Go to Coffee Bandits. Walk downtown to Second Time Around Used Books.
Grab a drink at Five-Ten Bistro or Destino’s or O’Ryleigh’s or the 17th Street Public House. Get lunch at Noah’s or Sam Cafe or Hangar BBQ or Jantz. Hike along Bear Creek, our own babbling brook running right through the heart of town. Visit the Courthouse Museum. It’s a beautiful building.
Take in a play or go to the movies.
Or, at the very least, tell them to shut up. We can say what we want about Merced because we live here. Everyone else needs to back off. This is our city.