It was less than a decade ago when Fresno received front-page coverage in the Los Angeles Times because its best and brightest were leaving in droves and not coming back. Fresno was a city that had little to offer those young professionals.
It's a sign of the times that the online magazine Voactive ranked Fresno among the top 35 on its liveability index for those under the age of 35. The magazine called the city a place where "you can actually live these days and still retain some self-respect."
The obvious focus here is the city's affordability and ease of access to its power structures — the old big-fish-in-a-small-pond scenario.
Frankly, Fresno's not such a small pond. With a population of more than 500,000 it's the 34th largest city in the country and the fifth largest in California. Yet it can feel undiscovered, a bit like the Wild West.
It's the place where a tech-nerd can retire young in a five-bedroom house, fund his own start-up, or both. It's the city where a backyard gathering of theater folks turned into the biggest performing arts fringe festival on the West Coast. And it's a city where some film geeks gained national fame for making low-budget films with cardboard costumes and props.
But how exactly does Fresno rank against other cities, according to the index? Just below New York City and well above San Diego.
If that seems counterintuitive, keep in mind the data comes from the 50 most populous cities in the country and included a whole host of indicators — things like average salary and employment rates, the cost of rent and utilities, bike lanes, broadband and the availability of good takeout joints. Also the price of joints (as in weed).
So, while NYC does pretty good with public transportation and salaries, try getting a pint of beer for under $8 or a two-bedroom apartment for under $3,000.
Surprisingly, Fresno ranked high on the the green commuter index (No. 10) and was low in terms of coffee houses (No. 37th, or 28.1 per 100,000 people). We're also short of live music venues (3.8 per 100,000) people.
Fresno did rank No. 2 for the price of a pint of Guinness at the pub. It's $4.25, on average. The survey doesn't have numbers for DUI arrests, but Fresno was No. 26 in public transportation usage (a dismal 6%), so you can do that math.
Mostly, the city is where it should be.
It's right in the middle, taking the good ($740 average rent for a two bedroom apartment) with the bad (11.7% unemployment).
Surveys like this make for good stories, and this one in particular offers a lot in the way of dissecting what it is that makes a great city. Of course, liveability isn't based on the price of beer or weed or a house in a good part of town. It might be why you move to a city. It isn't why you live there. That's based on a whole host of other more personal factors.
For many (both young and old) that means Fresno will never be a great place to live. It will never have enough. It will always have bad air, homelessness and crime. No survey will convince them otherwise.
Here's hoping the index is on to something, though, and that those people will soon become out-numbered by happy residents who understand that a city is what you make of it.
This columnist can be reached at (559) 441-6479, firstname.lastname@example.org or @joshuatehee on Twitter and Instagram. Read his blog at Fresnobeehive.com