Worst or First! St. Louis' showings in a plethora of nationwide rankings.

Worst or First! St. Louis' showings in a plethora of nationwide rankings.

Worst or First! St. Louis' showings in a plethora of nationwide rankings.

Click here for a larger version of a chart full of St. Louis rankings, from "Craziest" to "Stylish."

Dozens of rankings comparing St. Louis to other American cities have been published over the past twelve months. Aside from the U.S. Census, the one about penis size was probably the most accurate.

An online prophylactic emporium called condomania.com published the study on its website. The company sells custom-fitted condoms that require men to measure their little buddy's length and girth "down to the centimeter" and choose from one of 76 different sizes. Condomania has sold 27,000 such rubbers since 2004, in the process accumulating a unique cache of data about the American male anatomy.

"It's extremely accurate," boasts Condomania CEO Adam Glickman. "These men were measuring not for bragging rights but because they want the absolute best-fitting condom. Other studies that ask what size it is, the guys are more likely to fudge."

When the company's statisticians graphed the penile percentages in March, they found that our nation's dongs form a near-perfect bell curve. A quarter of the population is less than five inches in length when erect, half are between five and six inches, and the rest are, ahem, bigger.

New Orleans emerged as the most well-endowed metropolis, while Dallas/Fort Worth brought up the rear of the twenty cities included in the study. Los Angeles, home of countless disproportionately proportioned porn stars, finished a weenie seventeenth. Tiny New Hampshire is the top-ranked state. Go figure.

How did St. Louis measure up? While the U.S. Census Bureau estimates St. Louis is the fifteenth-largest metro area, Condomania says we rank tenth. Statewide, Missouri ranked 36th out of 50; it doesn't take a genius to point out that the Show-Me State's average urban male is likely to pack more heat than his rural counterpart.

But whereas the dick-study ranking was, shall we say, respectable, St. Louis takes the short end of the stick (as it were) in far too many other evaluations. In the past year, we've been called the sixth-most miserable city in America, the eighth-worst city for men, the sixth-drunkest city and...wait for it...the 96th-best baseball town.

Unreal refused to stand idly by as our city's good name is sullied by pseudoscientific number crunching.

We are, by any measure, at least the second- or third-drunkest city in America.

So it was that Unreal elected to undertake a campaign of the utmost civic urgency: to make St. Louis No. 1 in every survey published in print, blogged online or aired on TV in the coming year. Best Place to Live? Top spot, baby! Sexually transmitted diseases? We've won that one before; we can do it again!

We mounted a multi-pronged attack. We phoned the writers at several prominent list-producing publications and asked what St. Louis could do to improve. We demanded action at city hall. And we contacted a statistics expert at Washington University who informed us of a popular saying in his field:

"Figures don't lie, but liars figure."

"Amen," Unreal replied, "and pass the ammunition."

Armed with a skeptical statistician and the firmly held belief that our fair city is ranker (for want of a better term) than the media makes it out to be, we set out to ensure once and for all that St. Louis is No. 1.

In everything.

We're happy to report that the city has managed to come out on top a few times without Unreal's assistance. The restaurant experts at Zagat say the area is home to America's most generous tippers. A Lundberg Survey determined that our cars are typically filled with the cheapest gas in all the land.

Men's Health noted that we have the "Worst Flab." Huffington Post honored us as the "WORST city for the newly graduated." (Worst is just as good as first in our book, especially when it's in all caps.)

But sadly, more often than not mediocrity is our middle name. Consider the evidence:

• According to AutoVantage.com's annual road-rage survey, we had the seventh-most courteous drivers in 2009. (Many middle fingers must have risen in the midst of the Highway 40 closure; we ranked fourth back in 2007.)

• Reusable bottle maker Nalgene noted that only two cities in America love leftovers more than St. Louis but named us only the 23rd-least wasteful city because of our thirst for bottled water and apathy toward sustainability.

Travel + Leisure considers our residents the 29th-most attractive in the United States. (That wouldn't be so bad if more than 30 cities had been included in the ranking.)

• The Daily Beast, a popular news and culture website based in New York, determined that we are the 21st-craziest city, falling between Columbus, Ohio, and San Diego on the loon-bag scale. (Cincinnati was awarded the top slot in the crazy ranking partially on the merits of a man named Jim Bonaminio, who erected a structure on a public street that was described as "a grubby port-a-potty on the outside...[and] a 10-stall restroom replete with flowers, marble, soft tile and tropical pictures" within.)

That last study was based on a variety of factors, including number of psychiatrists per capita, stress levels based on responses to a 2008 survey, the number of alcoholic drinks consumed per day per resident, and each city's level of eccentricity as perceived by a travel writer.

According to James Monogan, a lecturer at Washington University's Center for Applied Statistics, studies that draw from a wide range of criteria tend to be the most accurate.

"Whenever you use multiple measures, almost as a rule that will help you zero in on what you're looking for," Monogan says. "Provided, of course, those measures are unbiased on what you're trying to capture."

Aha! What is this "unbiased" business of which the good professor speaks?

"What if one travel writer thinks being able to drink in public is crazy and they're writing about St. Louis?" Monogan asks. "And another thinks drinking in is public fun-loving and that person is writing about New Orleans? It could be the same thing. This seems sort of like it might miss some of the key points, it might not be a consistent measure.

"And," he adds, "mental-health professionals per capita might indicate that St. Louis is more progressive and forward-thinking about mental health than a lot of other places."

While we're on the topic, this wasn't the first time St. Louis was passed over by the Daily Beast. The site ranked us as the 44th-most gridlocked city, the 24th-smartest city (tied with Chicago) and deemed citizens statewide the 44th-most attractive nationwide. Last week, in honor of Mother's Day, the big bad Beast ranked the Lou 184th in a study that purported to quantify "The Best — and Worst — Cities for Moms." You read that right: They dropped the ranking equivalent of a "Yo Mama" on us.

Unreal tracked down Clark Merrefield, the Daily Beast staffer who writes and researches rankings for the site and interrogated him about the lack of respect afforded to St. Louis in his studies, especially the way he shortchanged us in the crazy category.

We'd like to report that once under scrutiny, he folded like a cheap suit.

"It's not the be-all, end-all list," Merrefield quickly concedes. "I hope the reader sees it for what it is. With these things, about 30 percent are meant to be a fun thing to read, and the rest are based on real data."

Oh. Well, then. Nuance has never been Unreal's strong suit. (Note that we said above that we'd like to report. We didn't say we were gonna follow through.)

"They're usually a fun topic," Merrefield continues. "They're easy to understand, and people have always liked trends and seeing where things in their lives fit in."

Asked point-blank about improving our crazy ranking, Merrefield offers, "I would look at the cities that did well. Look at Austin — they drink a lot, and they have 'Keep Austin Weird.' There's a lot of colleges there; it's a different culture. I guess just get more college students doing crazy things."

Hmmmm. Last month the Daily Beast ranked Washington University as the 13th "Most Stressful" college in America, based on cost, competitiveness, crime on campus and various other criteria. A week later the site ranked the campus as the 25th "Happiest" because it boasts quality student housing, dining options and nightlife, as well as a whopping 57 percent of days that are sunny.

Unreal's prescription: Students should push their stress level to the max by taking out loans to pay tuition and cramming for exams, then unleash their happiness with binge drinking and "crazy" antics, thereby improving Wash. U.'s standing in both categories.

One of the leading players in the cottage industry of rank cranking is Men's Health magazine. When they tire of thinking up another 127 ways to give you washboard abs, the publication churns out surveys by the bushel for a section of its website called MetroGrades.

According to MetroGrades' calculations, St. Louis has some serious room for improvement.

They say St. Louis is the 98th "Happiest," the tenth "Angriest" and the nineteenth "Hardest-Working" metropolitan area in the U.S. We also clock in 66th in the "America's Top Sports Towns" category.

As part of that last study, Men's Health determined that St. Louis is the 98th (out of 100) best baseball town. Unreal called Matt Marion, the editor in charge of MetroGrades, and confronted him about the snub.

Marion explained that the "Top Sports Town" survey was based on a variety of factors, including fan attendance at all levels of sporting events, ESPN ratings, apparel sales and the number of season-ticket holders for professional franchises. OK so far. The baseball ranking, however, was based solely on "the [highest] percentage of adults attending baseball events," a standard by which Fremont, California, emerged as No. 1.

Worse, Marion is unapologetic about bursting St. Louis' "Best Fans in Baseball" bubble.

"It's a tough thing," says he. "It's something you don't want to hear. You say you're great fans. But you don't compare to these fans in this city — you're not as hardcore as you thought."

Can we do anything to improve? How about erecting a massive shrine to Albert Pujols under the Arch and naming La Iglesia del Hombre the official city religion? Would that help?

Uh, no, says Marion. "It's less about competing with the other cities than seeing what you can do to compete with yourself to do better."

That sounds suspiciously like something a Cubs fan would say. But we'll take it under advisement.

When it came to enhancing our status in other Men's Health rankings, Marion was slightly more specific. He discouraged trying to better our rank as the sixth-drunkest city; that would involve upping our incidences of drunk-driving and alcohol-poisoning fatalities.

(For what's it's worth, the industry lobbyists at the Beer Institute in Washington, D.C., determined that Missourians consume the 16th-most beer per capita, based on the number of barrels shipped by wholesalers.)

We also asked Marion about "The Worst City for Men" study, in which St. Louis ranked first in 2007 but slipped to eighth in 2009.

It seems the magazine ignored several traditional man-friendly hobbies in which the River City excels (drinking beer, gambling, eating) and looked instead at fitness and crime statistics.

"I think if you asked most people, they'd be more concerned about not getting shot than drinking beer," Marion says. "I think you'd find very few people who'd say a place with the worst violent crime and worst property crime of a hundred cities sounds like a great place to live.

"People might hear their city comes up short in a particular study," he continues. "There are concerns: 'What can we do about it?' We try to give people tools to effect some change on an individual level and a municipal level."

Change. Unreal likes the sound of that. It might even make a good campaign slogan.

Empowered by the pundit's pep talk, we called St. Louis City Hall to get Mayor Francis Slay's take on how we stand.

"A lot of [the rankings] are so silly we don't pay them much mind," Slay spokeswoman Kara Bowlin says. "People in city hall who are really connected to St. Louis, who understand what's going on and are very pro-city, just laugh about them."


With apathy like that at the highest level of local government, it's no wonder we're bringing up the rear.

On the plus side, Bowlin notes that the city recently applied to become one of Relocate America's "Top 100 Best Places to Live" and nominated Washington Avenue for the American Planning Association's "Great Places in America 2010." (They're the same people that named the Delmar Loop "One of 10 Great Streets in America.")

As for our paltry standing as the 43rd-best travel destination according to Travel Leaders online, the 38th-best bicycling city according to bicycling.com and Forbes' claim that we're just the fifth-best "Recession-Proof Retirement City," Bowlin says succinctly, "We're kind of desensitized to them, and I'm not really sure how scientific they are."

The mayor's flack notes that Forbes also dubbed St. Louis the seventh-most "Miserable" city in America, a proclamation that was based on, among other criteria, the fact that the Rams have been the worst team in the NFL over the past three seasons.

"A week later they had us ranked as one of best places to buy a house," Bowlin says. "If you wait long enough, these things will kind of debunk themselves."

Unreal waits for no one.

Two rankings in which St. Louis has traditionally dominated: crime and sexually transmitted disease.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, the city led the nation two years in a row when it came to gonorrhea and chlamydia infection rates. Baltimore and Richmond, Virginia, overtook us in 2009 in those respective categories. As gung-ho as Unreal is about being No. 1, nobody likes pissing fire. We're just not gonna go there.

As for crime, well, let's just say St. Louis wins the Most Dangerous City in America sweepstakes more often than the Cardinals win the World Series. In the infamous crime rankings published by CQ Press, we took home titles in 2006 and 2007. Alas, we've fallen behind lately, finishing in fourth and second place, respectively, the past two years.

Unreal will not tolerate losing out to the likes of Camden, New Jersey.

On the very day the rankings were released in November 2009, four people were shot in separate incidents in St. Louis, amply demonstrating that our citizens are capable of the levels of dedication and decisive action we'll need to reclaim our rightful spot atop the polls.

Some may argue that it's hardly an honor to be considered the Most Dangerous City in America. Come on! In the era of the Internet, ADD and the 24-hour news cycle, the expression "There's no such thing as bad publicity" has never been truer.

Sure, the headlines may look bad at first glance, but it's all about the spin. A slogan like "St. Louis: Danger Is Our Middle Name" would be a great way to attract adventurous tourists and thrill-seeking young loft dwellers to downtown.

Imagine our shock when Ben Krasney, a spokesman for CQ Press, informed us that very few cities embrace the "Most Dangerous" designation — least of all St. Louis. He recalls how the city even hired the public-relations firm Fleishman-Hillard to discredit the crime rankings in advance of their publication in 2007.

"That took us a little by surprise," Krasney says. "I get a lot of calls, and the question we usually get is: 'How do we improve?'"

There you have it: a prime example of why we're losing the rankings race. Other cities are going the extra mile, asking the tough questions and gaining a competitive edge.

What, precisely, do we have to do in order to win back that "Most Dangerous" moniker we rightfully deserve?

"You have to look at the individual statistics and see how the city fared," Krasney explains. "The rankings as a whole are just a starting point; you have to look at what crimes affected those rankings and what you can do about it."

CQ's methodology has become a model for other list-producing publications. The authors, Scott and Kathleen O'Leary Morgan, tally five separate statistical categories — murder, robbery, aggravated assault, larceny and auto theft — calculate the total number of violent crimes per capita, assign each city a score and — voilà! — danger is determined.

Trouble is, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, source for the crime stats, cautions against using the figures to compare one city to another.

The Census Bureau offers the same caveat with its population data.

"Each city has its own issue," says Rich Gerdes, an assistant regional manager with the Census. "It's definitely difficult to compare city versus city. We just put the statistics out there and let people do what they want with them."

(Gerdes, though, happily informs Unreal that St. Louis' 65 percent response rate to the Census mailings puts the city well ahead of many other urban areas. "You're definitely better than Detroit," he enthuses. Ha! Suck it, Detroit, we got you beat in crime and Census response rate.)

"From our standpoint," CQ Press' Krasney responds to the criticism, "it is important to say, 'You have X number of crimes per population. Is that good? Is that bad?' The only way to tell is comparing it to other cities."

The publishing firm also ranks crime in the largest 332 metropolitan areas. St. Louis came in at 103. (Pine Bluff, Arkansas, had the highest crime rate, while State College, Pennsylvania, home of Penn State, had the lowest.)

Perhaps the best approach is for local governments to develop some sort of crime-sharing program. The city could claim all St. Louis County's crime stats as its own and blow the competition out of the water in the "Most Dangerous" rankings. On the flipside, the county eradicates crime on paper, making it the safest metro area.

It's a win-win!

As for STDs, the only solution is to get more people wearing condoms.

As luck would have it, the CEO of condomania.com says that's also the best way to improve our penis-size ranking.

"Getting more guys of different sizes and shapes and dimensions using condoms just as a general rule," Glickman says. "That would probably help the numbers." 

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