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Survey finds Pittsburgh singularly awful

Wednesday, June 26, 2002

We're No. 40! We're No. 40! We're No. 40! Whoooooooo!

Yes, Greater Pittsburgh, those mad social scientists at Forbes.com have come out with another "Best Cities for Singles" ranking. It's the second annual survey of 40 American metropolitan areas, ranking them from the best place to lead a hip, successful single life full of mingling and excitement down to the worst desert island on which to be marooned.

Last year, Pittsburgh came in at No. 39. A weak showing, but we could at least congratulate ourselves for not being in Cincinnati.

This year, Forbes.com adjusted its criteria. It took its manifestly biased editorial staff's subjective "buzz" factor out and replaced it with feedback from readers and a new "coolness" quotient designed to evaluate "dynamism and allure." More on that later.

You'd think the buzz adjustment would help, based on the e-mail I got last year when I wrote about our fair city's lame finish. Most boosters snarled, "These people have obviously never set foot in Pittsburgh!" Well, now the buzz component comes from people who have.

And Pittsburgh has sunk to dead last place.

Now, before everyone rallies 'round the flag, let me remind you that this survey is not calling Pittsburgh a terrible place to live. It is only saying that Pittsburgh is a terrible place to be single.

"Pittsburgh may be the best place in the world to watch a football game, but it's the worst place in America to be stuck with a lonely heart," Forbes.com's "Loser" analysis begins. "The Steel City is unforgiving to the unattached." Yow. (Note the lingering epithet "Steel City," though we no longer have a steel industry. This doesn't mean the writers know nothing about Pittsburgh. It means that Pittsburgh has yet to take the stage as anything but a city that used to have a steel industry.)

What makes Pittsburgh so unfriendly to the unwed? Well, we can round up the usual suspects. It's in the second-oldest county in America, with 18 percent of the population over 65, so unless you go for grandpaps, your pool is small. The population is shrinking; Pittsburgh was the only city in the 40 surveyed to lose population between 1990 and 2000. And projected job growth is pretty low, according to Woods & Poole Economics, which puts us third worst after Providence and New York.

But what I found interesting, as someone who has lived here just long enough to absorb the city's boilerplate rap on itself, was the different perspective an outside organization brings. The Forbes.com researchers threw a drink in the face of Pittsburgh's conventional wisdom.

For example, one of the first reasons anyone here will give you for why people don't come or don't stay is the weather. But Minneapolis-St. Paul (No. 8) and Boston (No. 1), both closer to the North Pole than Pittsburgh is, somehow rated as hotter environments for singles. And who says cold weather automatically causes romantic frostbite? Certainly no one who has snuggled with a sweetie in the glow of a fireplace. And they don't get to do that in San Diego (No. 7). Weather has always struck me as kind of a lame excuse.

I think there are far bigger turnoffs than the climate: Not only are we light on restaurants, bars and nightclubs, but my pet peeve, mentioned by a widely quoted CMU student, is that it's damned hard to get dinner out after 10 p.m., or after 9 on a weeknight. We young, single people tend to work long, strange hours. Often we are at the office well past 5 p.m., and by the time we've been to a yoga class, gone home, showered and changed and are ready to be shown a table, it is 9, 9:30, 10 p.m.

Too bad this town rolls in the sidewalks so early.

But there's always the sports, right? We've got a lot of faith in new sports venues and in the draw of our teams. And it's true that some people find big-league teams an important barometer of a city's prestige. But Forbes.com suggests that if there's nothing exciting to do in your neighborhood when the team's out of town or after the game, all the lovely stadiums in the world won't bring or keep people here.

Another conventional-wisdom buster: The No. 2 city on the list, held up as a shining model of vibrancy, is Austin, which has no major pro sports teams. My God, how do they get up in the morning there? Maybe we should find out.

More on this next week. Don't go anywhere.

Samantha Bennett can be reached by e-mail at sbennett@post-gazette.com

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