Richard Greene

Who are you calling a suburb? Arlington stands alone, despite website’s rankings

Something called Apartment Therapy has created quite a buzz in Arlington.

Whatever it is, the organization has developed a significant presence with its website and throughout social media.

It has done so by producing provocative articles such as the one recently launched, titled “The Coolest Suburbs in America 2019.”

Arlington is the top rated among the 24 cities featured, and the description of the remarkable community of 400,000 people is flattering and an enjoyable read for everyone who loves it.

But there’s a huge issue right there in the whole concept of including Arlington as some kind of “suburb.” That’s because it’s not one.

The story is reminiscent of a similar article that appeared in another publication about 25 years ago, when there were about 150,000 fewer residents in town.

The difference then was that Arlington didn’t fare as well when compared to other suburbs around the country, and it prompted a Star-Telegram reporter to call me up for a response to the unfortunate ranking.

The journalist figured that I, serving as mayor at the time, would be the best person to address the dissing the city by a magazine feature designed to increase the periodical’s sales at the news rack.

My immediate and totally unguarded reaction was to say that the whole concept of including our city in the story was bogus because “Arlington is nobody’s damn suburb.”

At first, I was a bit embarrassed when the quote appeared in the paper delivered on Sunday morning. After a while, however, with residents enthusiastically embracing my declaration as an expression of their civic pride in their hometown, I was happy to own it.

It was true then and has to be far more so today. Which brings us to an examination of why the editors at Apartment Therapy, self-described as a home and décor site, decided to include us in their evaluation of actual suburbs across the country.

They admitted that the term has no consistent definition. So, they turned to a Harvard University research analyst for help. The professor concluded: “If there’s high home ownership, high car travel, and single-family housing, you can call it a suburb.”

What? Doesn’t that explanation of the term embrace just about every city in the country? It certainly does when both Fort Worth, Dallas and the only four other Texas cities larger than Arlington are considered.

Next, we examine their introductory description of the city, and profoundly missing was any mention of Arlington’s status as one of only 28 Major League cities in the world, with its privilege of hosting the Texas Rangers.

Right there, with the glaring omission in spite of their claim of “qualitative research,” we have reason to wonder if the writers and editors had some other motive for including Arlington among the list of places a fraction of its size.

I have a theory, and I think it’s actually plain on its face. Apartment Therapy is a business. Its revenue comes from advertisers that pay to appear on its website and throughout its social media. Those advertisers make their buying decisions based on clicks.

So, including the country’s 48th-largest city among the other couple dozen they featured was bound to produce more of what they need to sell ads.

Among those in Arlington commenting on the publication’s Facebook posting was Dara Agnew Wandel. I like her conclusion: “While I am flattered the publication considers Arlington one of the best for their list, they have ‘classed’ us inappropriately, denying Arlington its proper place as a major urban Texas city.”

“Suburb” has always carried the connotation of a place reliant on some bigger nearby city for its existence. Arlington is its own place. Not dependent on any other. And, certainly, nobody’s damn suburb!

Richard Greene is a former Arlington mayor, served as an appointee of President George W. Bush as regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency and lectures at UT Arlington.
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