Are they ‘polling’ Richmond’s leg? What recent polls really mean for the city.

Posted at 3:14 PM, Mar 06, 2012
and last updated 2012-03-07 19:13:34-05

EDITOR’S NOTE: This semester has partnered with VCU’s School of Mass Communications “iPadJournos” mobile and social media journalism project.  Those VCU students reported the following story.

By Zachary Holden and Nicolas Nightingale (Special to

RICHMOND, Va. – The national spotlight on Richmond sometimes changes quicker than the weather here. One day the River City is among the best places for dating, on another it’s among one of the fastest declining cities in the world.

Just in the past few months, Richmond and Virginia have been ranked as “Best Wine Destinations,” “Best Cities to Find a Date,” and “America’s Most Underrated City” as well as one of the “Fastest-declining Cities in the World.”

Dr. Scott Street, a statistics professor at VCU, and David Saunders, president of the marketing agency Madison+Main, looked at the ups and downs in these rankings and their impact on the city’s reputation.

Best for dating?

The news website The Daily Beast recently ranked Richmond as the 13thof 25 “best cities to find a date in 2012,” even beating Orlando and San Diego [Click here].

The ranking was based on a combination of number of available singles, dating costs, a health index as well as popularity on major dating sites.

But all of that did not impress statistician Street. He said the data combination for the ranking was very questionable.

“Maybe some assumptions went into this study that might not be valid. I would not put much weight on this one being worthwhile at all,” he said.

Most underrated or fastest-declining?

A travel blog of the news website The Huffington Post recently detailed why Richmond might be  “America's Most Underrated City.” [Click here].

The author praised Richmond for expanding its Civil War charm to becoming “a young, vibrant city with architecture treasures, stunning parks, walkable neighborhoods, great food and perhaps the most elegant vintage cinema in the country.”

But a survey by the Brookings Institute published by the magazine The Atlantic ranked Richmond among the “fastest-declining cities in the world,“ based on slow income growth and employment decline. [Click here]

“It does seem kind of odd,” said Street, but noted that the surveys were not done at the same time and things could have changed. But it could also just be a problem of different samples.

Best for wine travel?

Wine Enthusiast Magazine included Virginia in its annual list of the world’s “10 best wine travel destinations for 2012” and praised the region for “historically significant sites, picturesque pastoral landscapes, elegant equestrians and affable winemakers.” [Click here]

According to Street, this ranking seemed to be the most reliable of all the rankings he reviewed.  There is not much arguing with standardized wine sales numbers, he said. But also warned that other countries might report numbers differently and thereby could possibly skew such a ranking.

What counts is the attention

But what do all of these rankings mean for the city’s reputation? Marketing expert Saunders said it all comes down to increased attention for Richmond as an “underrated city.”

He pointed to another poll released last year, which named Richmond the third most tattooed city in the country. He said that surprising ranking provided great attention, which shed a different light on the city.

But Saunders also said that being an “underrated city” has positive and negative consequences. It helps to “sneak up to the Atlanta's, Charlotte's and Miami's in the world” in economic development, “because they are not expecting us.”

But he has also noticed some complacency with the notion of being an “underrated city” among the city’s leadership, which Saunders believes halts aspirations.

In the end, Saunders said  that Richmond is a great city to live in and work. So all rankings should be “merely a way to get the word ‘Richmond’ out in the open and bring attention to the city.”

This story was reported by the “iPadJournos” mobile and social media journalism project, a cooperation between and VCU’s School of Mass Communications.