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For the Rank Files

When the ballot-stuffing stops, Pittsburgh perceptions fall

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For months, Pittsburghers have been held in thrall by the activities of the "Image Gap Committee," whose ongoing mission has been to offer up "brand promises" and other marketing tools to better sell the region. But perhaps we've been so busy deluding ourselves with buzzwords that we've forgotten to create a buzz for anyone else.

When AmericanStyle magazine unveiled its readers' poll list of the best cities for cultural tourism this month, Pittsburgh clocked in at number 13. That was well below the city's fourth-place finish last year, when local arts boosters told City Paper and others they'd circulated e-mails urging each other to stuff the biannual magazine's ballot box. Other cities, however, have apparently figured out the same trick: This year, Pittsburgh fell back behind such noted artist's retreats as Buffalo (#8) and Milwaukee (#10). On the bright side, we're holding our own against Saugatuck, Michigan (#16).

There's also bad news from Forbes magazine, where Pittsburgh wound up finishing 40th out of 40 in the magazine's "Best Cities for Singles" for the second year running. This despite the fact that the writer, Davide Dukcevich, came to visit Pittsburgh himself. Though he professes to like Pittsburgh, his account reflects a certain New York contempt: By visiting the Strip District on a Saturday, he writes, "you'll find fashion trends that are just now catching on in Brooklyn's hip Williamsburg neighborhood: sweat-stained baseball caps advertising a tow-truck company, Wrestlemania VII T-shirts and a scattering of mullet-cuts." But Dukcevich adds, while "cheeky New Yorkers" wear such gear "to prove their postmodern credentials, Pittsburghers have been wearing them without irony since 1989 -- a decade after these items were first in style."

Pittsburgh wasn't helped by its poor job-creation statistics or its aging population. But the city also took a hit from a reader's poll: "Only 29 percent of respondents gave Pittsburgh a thumbs-up in our survey, while 61 percent gave it a thumbs-down," wrote Dukcevich. "The Pittsburghers we spoke to blamed jealous Clevelanders for spoiling their score. A better showing on the poll does count: If civic-minded Cincinnatians hadn't rushed to the poll in the last days of voting, their city could have ended up last this year."

Instead of spending our time at meaningless "Image Gap Committee" meetings, maybe we should spend it stuffing the ballot boxes of meaningless magazine rankings.

That, or we should get Dukcevich laid the next time he's in town.

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