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Searching for sister cities 

One of Colorado Springs' favorite pastimes through the years has been relishing where we rank in comparison to other American cities.

The category doesn't matter in terms of news value. If we're No. 1 for being dog-friendly, that fascinates people as much as being No. 17 in educational attainment or No. 18 among midsize metros for recruitment and attraction.

We could fill an entire Independent, listing and probing the legitimacy of those rankings. But that wouldn't answer the basic question underneath them all.

How does Colorado Springs truthfully compare to other cities of comparable size? More to the point, what other midsize cities and markets should we look to as being our true peers?

Answers don't come easily. In fact, they can vary widely, depending on who's drawing the comparisons. In searching for sister cities across the nation, the police department might produce a group totally different from the folks in economic development, education or medicine.

We could look very similar in some categories to, say, Youngstown, Ohio. But then you find out that Youngstown is one of America's most dangerous places. We might appear comparable to Augusta, Ga., until you discover that Augusta's average income is about the poverty level.

Then again, sometimes you have to go there. Regardless of how another city might look on paper, the reality of seeing a place for yourself can lead to a different conclusion.

That's the case with Charleston, S.C., a wonderful Southern city that ranks very close to Colorado Springs in market size, cost of living, dependence on tourism and other factors (one of which would have to be bad traffic). But Charleston doesn't feel anything like the Springs. It's a lot more crammed there, lots of tourists just go straight to the beach, and much of its downtown has been there for centuries, not decades.

Other places that might appear similar to Colorado Springs, but in reality aren't for various reasons, include Greenville, S.C.; Huntsville, Ala.; Springfield, Mo.; Lansing, Mich., and Omaha, Neb.

After considerable research, and reflection over 30-plus years of traveling to cover events, I've come up with five cities that, in my opinion, could qualify as comparative equals. Part of the intent here is to create a family of contemporaries, which we can check from time to time on any number of subjects or issues.

If you have different views, or others to nominate, please share them. But for starters, here are the five:

Des Moines, Iowa. The market area is just slightly smaller in population than the Springs (which is approaching 600,000) and the cost of living is lower, but the amount spent on education is comparable. It does serve as a major hub for Iowa, a big difference. But it "feels" like a good, safe place to live, much as the Springs does.

Madison, Wis. Besides being close in population, Madison has a cost of living that mirrors Colorado Springs', around the national average. The politics are much different, and Madison spends $8,306 per pupil on public education, far more than Colorado Springs.

Wichita, Kan. Wichita is virtually the same size as Colorado Springs, and the two cities are close in income, crime, education and business recruitment rankings. Cost of living is definitely lower in Wichita, and the freeway system there kicks our butt. Then again, our climate beats their tornadoes.

Greensboro, N.C. Slightly larger in population, but in the same ballpark in education and income. Greensboro has to play second fiddle to the larger Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area an hour away, much as the Springs does to Denver. Costs of living and housing are lower in Greensboro.

Boise, Idaho. Almost as large as the Springs, Boise takes pride in its quality of life. Its education funding is good, yet its cost of living has been on the rise. (Sound familiar?) If you ran a climate comparison for the cities in this discussion, Boise's the only one that belongs in the same sentence as Colorado Springs.

Disagree? Let me know, with reasons why, and perhaps we can expand the list.

This process has a lot more potential significance than making a big deal about being No. 2 in this or No. 23 in that. Not one of those rankings will ever make Colorado Springs a better place to live; learning from our sister cities might. routon@csindy.com

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