If you have followed a Facebook feed lately, you've probably seen the "article" by "RoadSnacks" making the rounds, declaring Storm Lake #1 on their "10 Most Ghetto Cities in Iowa" list.
The first inclination may be to laugh. Not with it, but at it.
A lovely lakefront town, full of parks, schools, two colleges, a waterpark, campgrounds, multi-million dollar health care and school projects taking shape, tree-shaded residential streets, holiday parades, woodcarvings, lighthouses, art galleries, libraries, museums, rec trails and soccer fields, ice cream socials and municipal band concerts - a ghetto. Iowa's biggest, no less.
One does not take too seriously such self-styled "infotainment" - which, congratulations to the authors, is nearly an actual word.
The writing style of the Facebook scoop would make any sixth grader proud, as RoadSnacks on their webpage describes the tone of their prose as, "how'd you argue in a bar."
Most of the more entertaining posts on Facebook probably do originate after extended visits to taverns, come to think of it.
Unfortunately, irresponsible postings and dodgy conclusions, infotainment or otherwise, can do actual damage. Such things can color how an entire community and its people are perceived by those who do not know better.
A quick glance at this website's repertoire shows that it lives up to its own mantra, "...to dish the dirt on places across the country."
It's uplifting archives are filled with stories like "The 10 Drunkest Cities in Mississippi," the "10 Most Redneck Cities in Alaska," "The 10 Most Miserable Cities in Connecticut" and "The 10 Snobbiest Cities in Kansas." It's what they do.
It's a free world, and a semi-free Facebook; more power to them. In fact, it's not a bad idea to use the occasion for a little introspection.
Are we really "ghetto?" Is that how people see us?
What makes a ghetto "ghetto," anyway?
According to RoadSnacks, the criteria is - household income; crime; high school dropout rates; number of drug stores, convenience stores and thrift stores; and number of instances of Twitter mentions with the hashtag "#ghetto."
They is the "scientific data," they cite.
So Twitter hashtags are now "scientific," apparently. Good to know.
Let's look at this data. Storm Lake's household income, according to RoadSnacks, is actually the highest of any community they listed, over $45,000. Law enforcement statistics in Storm Lake are indeed considerable - because police in our town fully respond to every incident, and openly report it all, which is not the case everywhere. The posting claims a dropout rate of 38 percent, which isn't even remotely accurate. For one thing, if the author had made any effort to ask for real information, he would have learned that Storm Lake boasts an innovative charter school program - many students he thinks are dropouts are actually in their fifth year, earning both high school diplomas and college associate degrees at the same time through hard work and great teaching.
We've never realized that having drug stores made a place ghetto, but as a major medical facilities hub for the region, we do indeed have places providing medicine. Thrift stores we have too. What can we say? We're thrifty. Repurposing maniacs, even. And those stores, by the way, support education, work activity for the disabled, and charitable causes - guess that's ghetto also.
It's true that we are not a wealthy community, not any more, at least not compared to the CEO-populated suburbs of trendy new townhouses and gated neighborhoods.
If being hard-working is ghetto, we can't deny it. There are plenty of labor jobs here. It is decent, honest work, done every day by people supporting their families, for which no one need apologize. We are not Wall Street or Silicone Valley. We are farming and hogs and agribusiness, small local-owned businesses and little ethnic restaurants. We are meatpacking and trucking and nursing and substitute teaching and grocery stocking.
We have more churches than we do nightclubs. Our downtown is classic two-story brick facades dating to the 1800s, not a cookie-cutter shopping mall. We don't have The Gap or Bath & Body Works or even Applebees, so we clearly must be ghetto. Someone cue up that Elvis song.
Our houses are not chrome and smoked-glass mansions. There are way more clapboard craftsmans, colorful bungalows, and solid Victorians with families saving up for new shingles or siding than there are million-dollar properties. There are more modest apartments than there are upscale condos. Does living within your means make you trashy, now? We missed that memo.
Some people will tell you that Storm Lake is "ghetto" because it has immigrants, and to be frank, they are afraid of anyone they perceive as different than themselves. Others have learned that having people from all over the world is an advantage. We have benefitted culturally, we have grown when other rural cities bled out, we are blessed with children and young families while they have grown old and grey and timid.
Challenges in our town? In every town? Plenty.
Fancy, or sophisticated? We're jeans and tennis shoes in Storm Lake, or steel-toe workboots. We're not striving to be anything else.
Rich? Hell no.
Or are we?
We're welcoming, and accepting, open and charitable. We have great schools and campuses. Beaches, and playgrounds. Hunting and fishing and priceless natural resources. We have work, and the work ethic to do it. We have independence, culture, vitality, not a single thoroughly "bad" neighborhood.
On second thought, yeah, we're rich.
And, if this is a ghetto, at least we don't ghettoans don't have to make our living insulting places we've never been on the internet.