Pensacola, Florida
Monday December 11th 2017

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Outtakes—How Others See Us

By Rick Outzen

The Pensacola Young Professionals’ Quality of Life Survey showed that we feel better about life in our community than we did a decade ago. Mayor Ashton Hayward’s “Upside of Florida” campaign and strong social media presence have reinforced a positive attitude. Of course, a billion dollars’ worth of construction in the area doesn’t hurt either.

But how do others view the Pensacola Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA)? If they measure whether we are a nice place to raise children, not good.

24/7 Wall St., a Delaware corporation that provides financial news and opinion content for the internet, created an index to identify the 25 worst U.S. metro areas in which to raise a child. The Pensacola MSA made the list.

Why does it matter? Who gives a flying leap about 24/7 Wall St.? Some of the largest news sites in the country, including MSN Money, Yahoo! Finance, MarketWatch, Time.com, USAToday, and The Huffington Post, do.

To paraphrase the line from “Apollo 13,” Pensacola, we have a problem. 24/7 Wall St. stated in the article, “Only metro areas with some combination of high violent crime rates, low preschool enrollment rates, low high school graduation rates, and limited access to parks and recreation centers made this list.”

Ouch.

I know some of you have already begun debunking the measurements. The city of Pensacola has a gazillion parks. How could anyone decry limited access?

Where are the parks? On the more affluent east side of Pensacola. Morris Court had to fight to keep its park up. Meanwhile, Mayor Hayward wants to spend $8 million on a new community center near his house, which is more than the last two centers built in black neighborhoods. 24/7 Wall St. nailed it.

Public schools, poverty and crime are the biggest anchors holding us down. And sadly, they have been for decades. Leaders tend to only focus on the positives. If there is an uptick in a statistic in any of those areas, victory is declared. T-shirts, balloons and pieces of cake are handed out. And when they fall back, nothing is said.

Meanwhile, the world measures us. They don’t look at cute Instagram or Pinterest photos. They analyze the facts.

People may love to watch the cheerleaders and listen to the band play at college football games, but the only thing that matters is which team scored the most points.

The Studer Community Institute’s Early Learning City initiative and Achieve Escambia’s effort to increase pre-K registrations are building blocks, but much more is needed. We need to tackle public schools, poverty and crime on several fronts.

And we need to focus on the statistics that matter. Save the cheerleading for the touchdowns.