With the help of Matt Carmichael, editor of the website Livability.com (the producer of the Best Places to Live list), Emily Badger goes back to a three-part series on "THE WORST AMERICAN STATE" by H.L. Mencken that ran in The American Mercury in 1931 to trace our fascination with ranking places.
"Over time, 'quality of life' – or, more often today, 'livability' – has come to mean many things, some of them contradictory, others just outdated," she observes. "One theme that remains constant dating back to Mencken's time is that even as the criteria have changed, our search to quantify the unquantifiable has not."
"Listicles and rankings since 1931 have benefited from ever-more data, and now an ever-more insatiable appetite to rank everything," she continues. "Rankings themselves have proliferated – creating an endless list of lists to which Carmichael is conscious that he's adding yet one more entry."
Oh, and in case you're interested (of course you are), Palo Alto came in first in Carmichael's Top 100 Best Places to Live rankings.