Monday, July 11, 2005

Moorestown, Triumphant?

I've always been skeptical of the glossy magazine tendency to rank things. Atlanta's Top Doctors! Missouri's Best High Schools! New England's #1 Chowder!

These rankings must be a crock, right? I mean, how could some dopey editor actually survey all the doctors in the Atlanta metro area? Or, for that matter, all the chowder in New England? These exercises must be bogus, right? I've suspected as much, but now I have proof.

Money magazine has just ranked America's "Best Places to Live" for 2005. Yup, these geniuses have performed the Herculean task of surveying every town, from sea to shining sea, compiling a careful set of metrics, and ranking the towns accordingly. I'm sure the editors at Money are all very nice people, but they're also frauds. Gigantic, stinking hacks. How do I know this? Because I grew up America's #1 Town (for 2005)--sunny, beautiful Moorestown, New Jersey.

Mind you, there's nothing wrong with Moorestown. It's a perfectly pleasant little berg. It has a nice main street, reasonably good public schools, and an unbelievably kick-ass program of girls sports. (During my time at Moorestown High, the girls' soccer, field hockey, tennis, and lacrosse teams all won multiple state championships. Those programs are all still dominant today, as is the girls cross-country program, which has also added a couple won state championships. If you want your daughter to get an athletic scholarship to college, Moorestown might well be your #1 town.)

But Moorestown's best days are behind it. In the last 15 years the township has been plagued by sprawl as the town council granted virtually unlimited rights to the Toll Brothers to develop every last inch of land. Moorestown used to be stately houses, well-planned subdivisions, and acres of peach orchards. Today you're hard-pressed to find a single tree where the farmland used to be. McMansions huddle next to each other on itsy-bitsy parcels of land. The quaint demeanor the Money editors admire is now indistinguishable from nearby Marlton or Medford.

The town's infrastructure is set to buckle under the population boom--there simply aren't enough roads to get new residents quickly from their homes to Route 38 and I-295--which most of them will take to their jobs. The school system, once one of the best in New Jersey, has been passing a series of ill-advised bond measures to fill in the gaps as the school-age population has just about doubled in less than a decade. The system's shortcomings have been papered over so far, but only just, and the biggest glut of kids is on the horizon. Yet the town still has no long-term plan. Anyone who spent even 36 hours in Moorestown researching the community would uncover this problems easily.

(And what type of people are living in these McMansions and sending their kids to the schools? Remember Blair Hornstine, the girl who, at the urging of her father, sued her school to be valedictorian? That was Moorestown.)

Moorestown, in other words, has, for years now, been passing the buck through bad management. It has a nest of problems all beginning to manifest themselves. Did I love growing up there? You betcha. Is it still a great place to raise kids? Sure. But is it the "#1 Town in America"? Absolutely not. It isn't even the #1 town in South Jersey. (That would be Haddonfield.)

The goal of this, mind you, isn't to knock Moorestown, for which I have a great deal of affection. The point is that the people at Money don't have any idea what our country's "best town" is. And by pretending that they do somehow "know" this great unknowable cardinality, the editors and their sham rankings only reinforce to the world how arrogant and idiotic and intellectually bankrupt most journalists are.

Like we needed the help.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

I grew up in the Trenton area. Used to go through Moorestown on my way to Garden State Park. It looked like something out of Norman Rockwell then.

Philadelphia Magazine was guilty of the same conceit that you cite. Always presuming to rank things that are often just a matter of opinion.

Jay Bhattacharya said...

I have one nit to pick about an otherwise spot on post--you must mean "great unknowable ordinality", rather than "cardinality".

Ranking the unknowable belongs up there among the classic techniques of lying with statistics.

Anonymous said...

What I want to know is how Hackettstown, NJ made it onto the list.... now doubt the people at Money have an affection for M&Ms

Perhaps the little girl Camden has a sibling named Moorestown?

It's a SJ thing, I wouldn't understand

The Fox said...

On a less substantive note, the CNN/Money profile says: The town, founded by Quakers, bans the sale of alcohol. Is this true?

Call me an Irish Catholic if you must (as, indeed, I am) but how can a town lay claim to "best place to live" status when they nix the hooch?

Anonymous said...

Vienna,VA in the top 5? Are they drunk? I guess I'll just have to aim for something a bit more humble and nearer to home: lousy 'ol #25, Coronado, CA.

Anonymous said...

I grew up in Stratford, NJ and came to believe at age 6 or 7 that Moorestown was the fanciest place in the world. This was mostly because it was a 30 minute car ride up Rt. 295 to the big movie theater next to the Moorestown Mall where I saw "The Man Called Flintstone." Only later in life would I learn that Haddonfield was old money and thus far superior. Tavistock was richest of all and in my late adolescence I was certain that there were gorgeous, sexy and sensitive women living in those big mansions, one of whom would feel sorry for me and grant me charity sex, if only I could work up the courage to ride my bicycle that far.

HoustonF said...

I grew up in Mt. Laurel but attended Moorestown Friends from K-12, graduating in 1987. Nice town with great old houses, and you are correct about the girls' sports, but these rankings are just a way of selling magazines. I now live in Cary, NC, which was a top 5 town in Money Mag for 2004, but this year has somehow plummeted to #34. What changed? Beats me. It's not like they opened a landfill in the middle of downtown or anything.