Nation’s Most Downbeat City?

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The Gallup polling organization put a simple question to the residents of 190 metropolitan areas: “Would you say your city or town is getting better as a place to live?”

The responses are in, and Binghamton, N.Y., has been named the least optimistic place in America.

The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being index tracks community satisfaction and optimism on a daily basis by conducting telephone interviews with adult residents of U.S. cities and their surrounding areas. In 2011, Binghamtonians expressed the lowest recorded level of optimism: Only 27.8 percent voiced a positive feeling about their community’s prospects.

In Provo-Orem, Utah, on the other hand — the country’s most optimistic region, according to this poll — 76 percent of residents expressed confidence about the direction of their area.

As to the reasons why, The Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin suggests that the weather and economy are valid reasons for pessimism. Seasonal affective disorder, which can bring on bouts of depression typically in the winter, could be a contributing factor, but Binghamton’s malaise is also a product of its residents’ outlook. “The community is rather conservative and not very open-minded,” psychologist Benjamin Perkus told the Press & Sun-Bulletin. “So it’s stuck in the old paradigm of big industry, which is gone now.”

Settled in 1802, the once-agrarian Binghamton became a transportation hub and manufacturing center with the advent of the Erie Railroad in the 1840s. In the 20th century, IBM was founded close by and the flight simulator was developed in town, creating a robust local outpost of electronics and defense contracting. The end of the Cold War, however, saw the drying up of funds for many defense firms, costing the region jobs. From a peak of 85,000 in the mid-1950s, the city’s population has declined to less than 50,000.

Still, there are bright points, like the educational scene, centered around Binghamton University, and a local opera company and a symphony, as well as sports teams. Residents’ pessimism may have been influenced by flooding that occurred last year, when the survey was being conducted.

New York’s Syracuse and Utica-Rome also fared poorly in the survey, coming in at numbers 186 and 183, respectively. But Binghamton stood out, according to Gallup, for its “difficult combination” of relatively dreary satisfaction and optimism ratings. Only 74.9 percent of Binghamton area residents said they were satisfied with their community, which doesn’t sound so bad — except that it was the fourth-lowest figure among the 190 areas surveyed. Binghamton’s 27.8 percent optimism rating contrasts sharply with the national average among resident of small metro areas, which was 56.5 percent.

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