JOHN BRUMMETT: Changing attitudes, culture

USA Today published a ranking the other day that called Little Rock the 19th-worst city in the country.

Little Rock responded by saying USA Today was the first-worst newspaper in the country.

Not really. I just thought it would be funny to say that.


Actually, the rankings were compiled by an outfit called 24/7 Wall Street. USA Today was but a messenger, not of fake news, but marginal news.

Mayor Mark Stodola did respond, predictably, to defend our honor. He pointed out that Forbes recently ranked Little Rock one of the best places to live in the country.

Little Rock will usually rank poorly if considered only by itself, absent its surrounding metropolitan statistical area, and if crime is a big part of the criteria. Little Rock will do better if--as with some of Forbes' rankings--Conway is thrown into the Greater Little Rock mix and quality of life, time of transportation to work and cost of living are emphasized in the ranking formula.

Little Rock tends to live better, for a lot of us, than its data indicates. It will land higher when the ranking body sends someone to look around. That's provided the city gets hold of that person for co-opting before he wanders into the dangerous neighborhoods south and east, ushering him instead him to the River Market and Hillcrest and the Heights and maybe the Capital Hotel for a cocktail and then Brave New Restaurant for fresh scallops sautéed ever-so-delicately.

It all depends on what you mean by Little Rock and what factors you punch into your formula. Is it a data test or an eye test? We can be a great place or a terrible place--whether in these highly subjective rankings or by plain truth.

Little Rock will deserve to rank poorly if crime statistics are at the top of considerations, as with USA Today. It will rank poorly if a median income brought down by areas of deep poverty is a factor, as with USA Today. It will rank poorly if school stability is a factor, as with USA Today.

But many Little Rockians are not beset by much crime or threat of it. Many Little Rockians have excellent economic situations. And many Little Rockians place their kids happily in schools they wouldn't trade, be they private, charter or occasionally public like Roberts Elementary, Pulaski Heights Middle or Little Rock Central.

That's hardly unique to Little Rock. The city and others like it--where significant minority populations have been abandoned, isolated and neglected--deserve to be judged with appropriate harshness.

Answers rest not with city government policies or chamber of commerce slogans. They rest with changing attitudes creating new cultures.

The issue comes down to race and the solution comes down to generation.

I sat the other day on downtown Little Rock's east side of Interstate 30 having an enjoyable lunch at a local craft brewery. And I was given to thinking about where I was.

A block away, on East Shall Street, my dad supported me as a kid in the '50s and early '60s from his meager but sufficient wages as a union-member warehouseman on the night shift loading trucks at the Nabisco cookie warehouse. We lived an easy walk away in an apartment house on East Capitol Avenue about where the Interstate 30 service road runs now.

Then, with my baby boom generation in its prime, and in control, there was more money about. And there came an exodus in good cars on good freeways to new houses in new suburbs or exurbs away from ... well, the urban life, for some, and black people, for others. Baby boomers came along just in time for early infection with racism's cues.

This light-industrial section of east Little Rock that had afforded my dad a means of providing for his young family became, for me, an abandoned area to drive thoughtlessly past every morning on the way to Central Flying Service to hop on a little plane with Bill Clinton to cover his gubernatorial re-election campaigns.

Now a new generation of smart young people makes tasty beer in this very section of the city and turns it into a dining destination.

Today's emerging generation didn't grow up quite so intimately with racism's cues. Its relationships, interests, values and politics are different--evolved, mostly.

Maybe it will continue to move back to the city center to work and live in a retro-'50s kind of economy and culture, but racially reformed.

Maybe it will begin--if only begin--to break down the divisions by which Little Rock isn't one place suitable for ranking, but two planets.

Then someday some ranking agency's representative would come to Little Rock and say, you know, there's something positive bubbling up all over this place that always had a good side to go with its bad side.

Meanwhile, we persevere. We wait to evolve. We don't read USA Today.


John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at jbrummett@arkansasonline.com. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

Editorial on 07/12/2018


Razrbak says...

Facts are facts. High murder rate and even over half of the police officers refuse to live in the city which employs them and gives them a car to back and forth to their homes as far as Malvern, #TimeForChange #CleanOutLRCityHall

Posted 12 July 2018, 7:03 a.m. Suggest removal

RBear says...

Interesting point, John. The next generation of Little Rock isn't saddled with the racist overtones the last few generations put forth. This new generation doesn't have a problem living and dining with people of different races, cultures, orientations, or religions. They are proving that by moving into the neighborhoods that past generations shunned in their exit to the burbs.
Of course, you'll get the standard detractors who live in their enclaves in Otter Creek and criticize any development in the urban core as a waste of money and time. They are of the past and quite frankly, their opinion doesn't matter so much any more as they are not the future of the city. What I've seen of two of the mayoral candidates, Sabin and Scott, is that they understand what this new generation is wanting to achieve and are ready to work with them to help achieve it.
The next several months will provide many opportunities for interesting commentary from you, Rex Nelson, and others as we have an ongoing dialogue on the city going into the municipal election.

Posted 12 July 2018, 7:18 a.m. Suggest removal

GeneralMac says...

I'm sure the mayor of that hell hole called Detroit could spin Detroit as well as John Brummett spins Little Rock.

The spin on Little Rock reminds me of the spin Black mothers on First 48 put out about their murdered son /daughter who has a lengthy rap sheet and got shot during a drug deal.


Posted 12 July 2018, 8:23 a.m. Suggest removal

GeneralMac says...

Spinning Little Rock reminds me of a poster spinning Memphis on a Tennessee forum.

Discussion was about crime in Memphis and a resident said he was fed up with comments that gave Memphis a bad reputation.
He stated those were myths and HE could give an honest opinion since he actually lived in Memphis.

He said.........." I have lived in my house in Memphis for 6 years and only had it broken into 3 times. Crime in Memphis is exaggerated "

I told that to two neighbors who fled to north Arkansas from Memphis.
She was an emergency room nurse and he was a deputy.

Both said they are now working in their fields in north Arkansas and it feels a world away from the crime infested Memphis.

Good southern folk, those two.

Posted 12 July 2018, 8:44 a.m. Suggest removal

Illinoisroy says...

GMan still waiting for the south to rise again.

Posted 12 July 2018, 8:56 a.m. Suggest removal

RBear says...

More spam from fake.

Posted 12 July 2018, 9:22 a.m. Suggest removal

ARMNAR says...

KlansmanMac is daydrinking again.

Posted 12 July 2018, 9:35 a.m. Suggest removal

GeneralMac says...

John Brummett and Mayor Stodola should go to butcher shops and ask for sows' ears.

They could then turn them into silk purses.

Easier than spinning Little Rock.

Posted 12 July 2018, 9:59 a.m. Suggest removal

JiminyC56 says...

I wouldn't live in Little Rock if you gave me a house. I like how Brummett praises Hillcrest and the Heights, 2 ultra exclusive areas where there is no diversity only rich white people. Yeah, Little Rock is a great city if you live up on the hill above the river where they keep the riff raff out. I do agree with him that you shouldn't read USA Today.

Posted 12 July 2018, 10:16 a.m. Suggest removal

ronr592901212230 says...

A very interesting and pertinent article ! I am a Memphian, and my city suffers as much, if not more, from the precepts of many who do not know of the wonderful changes and opportunities available in this grand ole center of the mid-South. In addition, I would like to add that I subscribe to four digital mid-South newspapers, including this one, the Jackson "Clarion Ledger", the Nashville "Tennessean' and the Memphis "Commercial Appeal". It is my observation that of all these newspapers, the "Democrat Gazette" has the best on-line format and daily presentation. It may be just a coincidence, but the other three newspapers are connected directly with USA Today. Their formats are the same, as are their presentations - none of which are the equivalent of the "Dem-Gaz". Keep up the good work - Little Rock is all the better for it !

Posted 12 July 2018, 11:09 a.m. Suggest removal

Delta2 says...

I've had this book for a while, and just remembered it this week.

"The Absolutely Worst Places To Live In America", by Dave Gilmartin. Available on Amazon, amongst other places.

And lookee here on page 130, not Little Rock, not Ft. Smith, not even a town in East or Southeast Arkansas, but our own hillbilly/Midwest meth bastion...Harrison!

Posted 12 July 2018, 11:12 a.m. Suggest removal

ARMNAR says...

hillbilly/Midwest meth/Ku Klux Klan bastion, Delta2.

Posted 12 July 2018, 11:48 a.m. Suggest removal

MaxCady says...

You can bet it's not the middle class and UMC's that are ensconced in their mini mansions behind gated walls that are doing all the dirt that makes LR so dangerous.

Posted 12 July 2018, 12:17 p.m. Suggest removal

PopMom says...

Harrison would be the last place in Arkansas I would live. I don't like even driving through there on the way to Eureka Springs or the Buffalo River. I am thinking about retiring to Arkansas. I've always thought that I would move back to Hillcrest in Little Rock where I still have friends, but the crime stories give me pause. I've also thought about a lake house in Hot Springs or Heber Springs. I'm like Hot Springs because of the race track, but I am afraid of gators.

Posted 12 July 2018, 12:57 p.m. Suggest removal

Delta2 says...

Pop, any gator problem in Hot Springs is pretty exaggerated. Even here in my area, it's not that big a deal. You have to really be looking for them.

Posted 12 July 2018, 1:07 p.m. Suggest removal

DoubleBlind says...

Gators in HS?! I’d personally consider that a selling point for what is otherwise AR’s version of Atlantic City. I can’t believe the place hasn’t become the backdrop for a movie or dark comedy; I’m thinking a hillbilly ‘Fargo.’ Where are those Renaud brothers when you need ‘em.

Posted 12 July 2018, 1:46 p.m. Suggest removal

GeneralMac says...

I could sell people on relocating to the beautiful scenic towns of Harrison or Batesville?

Little Rock?

I'm no magician that could pull that off.

Even Mayor Stodola and John Brummett blow smoke in their failed attempt to sell Little Rock.

Posted 12 July 2018, 1:47 p.m. Suggest removal

GeneralMac says...

Delta2......if you believe the hell holes of Pine Bluff or Blytheville are better than Harrison, you got a few screws loose.

Those towns have buildings that collapsed onto a sidewalk and for YEARS just put a snow fence barricade around the rubbish.

You won't see that ghetto sight in Harrison !

Posted 12 July 2018, 1:53 p.m. Suggest removal

GeneralMac says...

Delta2...........could you explain what mosquitoes look/act like?

We don't have those Delta insects in north Arkansas.

Posted 12 July 2018, 1:57 p.m. Suggest removal

Packman says...

You can blame two people for the "death" of Little Rock - Henry Woods and John Walker. Back in the early 80's then federal judge Woods saw fit to do whatever John Walker asked and attempted to socially engineer school desegregation via the destruction of neighborhood schools and mandatory busing. The result was white flight as never seen before or since and the massive growth of communities like Bryant, Conway, and Cabot. Once these tens of thousands of families left the city, they never returned.
Now, we're left with the mess created by government mandated social engineering. There is no quick fix. A good start has been a return to neighborhood schools and school choice. Outside a couple of zip codes crime in Little Rock is pretty much the same as Bryant and Cabot. The next step is to crack down on crime in those two zip codes and for city fathers to spend money marketing the city as a place to live to young adults. A tech center would be nice as well.
Regardless, there are no quick fixes but lessons to be learned. Government mandated social engineering never works and to the contrary has a history of achieving the exact opposite of its stated intent. But hey, at least it made John Walker a very rich man, so there is that.

Posted 12 July 2018, 2:15 p.m. Suggest removal

Packman says...

Hey PopSnob - Will you make up your mind? In one place you say good schools make good communities. Harrison has great schools far superior to those in places like Little Rock and Pine Bluff which by your logic would make Harrison a great place to live. Were you lying then, Pop, or are you lying now?
And I hate to break it to you, Pop, but both Hot Springs and Heber Springs have essentially the same demographic makeup as Harrison. I have personal knowledge of Hot Springs as my pilot and I frequent her condo on Lake Hamilton. Lots of pickup trucks with Confederate flag bumper stickers driving around Hot Springs. And I mean a lot of them.
As to gators on Lake Hamilton, you're just showing your ignorance. There are no gators on Lake Hamilton according to the state fish and game folks. The one that was reported was stolen from a gator farm and releases and subsequently died due to unfavorable habitat. ike Hot Springs because of the race track, but I am afraid of gators.
As to Oaklawn, they've changed the schedule so the meet runs later into April in 2019. This is great news! You can find me there most weekends in March and April (after duck season), usually in the Jockey Club or a box on the 2nd floor just beyond the finish line. I'll be the tall guy in the MAGA hat with a hot short-haired brunette on my arm.

Posted 12 July 2018, 2:18 p.m. Suggest removal

Delta2 says...

PrivateMac, you won't find Blytheville, Pine Bluff, or anywhere else in the state included in a book about the absolutely worst places to live in the country, except, for, uh, Harrison!

No mosquitoes up there sure, but plenty of ticks. And racist hillbilly wannabe Southerners.

Posted 12 July 2018, 5:30 p.m. Suggest removal

ARMNAR says...

Harrison is scenic? Only if one finds cross burnings and lynchings appealing.

Posted 12 July 2018, 11:11 p.m. Suggest removal

ARMNAR says...

We're heading up to Eureka for the weekend tomorrow morning. We'll intentionally avoid stopping in Harrison for any reason so as to not fund the racists like KlansmanMac and Mike Masterson. One never knows.

Posted 13 July 2018, 12:03 a.m. Suggest removal

arkateacher54 says...

One of the primary reasons for this ranking is that we have to put up with Brummitt, undoubtedly the worst newspaper columnist in the country. I'm moving to Canada if he publishes one more column!

Posted 13 July 2018, 8:20 a.m. Suggest removal

Delta2 says...

Please, arkateacher, please, live up to that promise. Take Masterson and PrivateMac with you while you're at it.

Posted 13 July 2018, 10 a.m. Suggest removal

Packman says...

Hey Seed Tick Donnie - Harrison is in fact very scenic. It's your fault that you lack the basic intelligence to appreciate the natural beauty of Crooked Creek or the limestone bluffs that embrace the city. The air is clean and fresh and the countryside simply spectacular. As to not stopping in Harrison, that's is your prerogative. You're only cutting off your nose to spite your hateful face.
Hey arkateacher54 - Give Brummett a break. He's only writing to his job description. Pay the guy enough money and he will opine to the right of Rush Limbaugh. Recognize his columns for what they are, and enjoy.
Speaking of terrible places to live, Chicago experienced yet another mass shooting over the weekend. Nearly 30 people were shot and 4 killed in a 100% Democrat-controlled environment with some of the nation's strongest gun laws. Although, that's better than Memorial Day weekend when 36 were shot and 7 killed. But it's only black people killing black people and doesn't fit the lib narrative, so BFD.

Posted 13 July 2018, 10:04 a.m. Suggest removal

Log in to comment