Huntington Has Gorgeous Parks and Happy Families

Huntington Has Gorgeous Parks and Happy Families

HUNTINGTON, WV (HNN) - A visitor to Huntington reacts to what he did not find after anticipating a period in the so-called "unhappiest city" in the United States.

by John E. Ramspott

In a recent survey, Huntington, West Virginia came out as the "unhappiest" city in the United States. For details, see http://moneywatch.bnet.com/economic-news/blog/daily-money/the-10-happiest-and-saddest-cities-in-the-us/2308/.  Gallup conducted daily interviews and asked questions in the following categories: life evaluation, physical health, healthy behavior, emotional, work and basic access. When I read articles on the internet about Huntington, it sounded like a city full of toothless obese people living in poverty. So I decided to go check it out for myself.

On my first day there, I told the GPS to take me to the center of the city. I got out, walked around and began shooting. I saw lots of nice, old fashioned homes like I have seen in mid-western cities like Chicago and Saint Louis. Some might be a little small by modern standards, while others were huge. All were in good repair with well manicured lawns and excellent sidewalks. I encountered people out walking, and ended up in Ritter Park. This is a beautiful park with lots of jogging paths, bicycle paths and playground equipment. And more importantly, there were plenty of shiny, happy people running, playing and bicycling in a neighborhood that seemed right out of a Norman Rockwell painting or a "Leave It To Beaver" episode. I talked to some teenaged boys who told me they liked living here. I spoke with a black gentleman sitting on his front porch, and he also told me he liked it here.

Huntington Has Gorgeous Parks and Happy Families

Then I ran into a physical therapist, who along with his young son was looking at a baby bird that had fallen out of the tree. We had a long talk about the city of Huntington, which he is very fond of. He owns a white house one block from Ritter Park. He and his son usually take their dog for a walk daily in the park. He told me about the art museum,  the two nice hospitals in town, Marshall University, other parks in town and the extensive bike and jogging paths in Huntington. He also pointed out houses lived in by CEO's, bankers, the mayor, and other successful people. He also told me about the shopping at Pullman Square and the nice river park.

So I asked him why Huntington is getting such a bad rap. He confessed that the area has more hot dog stands per capita than most other cities, and that restaurants are mostly fast food.  There are not a lot of mom and pop restaurants in town. When I asked about the poorer side of town, he told me it was on the east side, but even that area was noted for having good antique stores.

I drove down to Pullman Square and the river park, which is a beautiful area for shopping, eating, fishing and boating. Not only did people not look sad, but everything looked to me to be rather idyllic. I even saw a man CATCH a fish. People were boating and jet skiing in the river. People were shopping in a nice bookstore. If this was a miserable city, I just wasn't seeing it. Here are pictures from my first day:

Huntington Has Gorgeous Parks and Happy Families

http://www.flickr.com/photos/jramspott/sets/72157626864436419/

State Highway 10, also known as Hal Greer Boulevard, divides the city of Huntington into very different halves. The "projects" are sitting right there on the east side of Hal Greer. All around them are run down houses with broken sidewalks. Despite the air of poverty, people were out on their front porches, talking to neighbors, or working on their yards. Plenty of toys were scattered over front yards.

My first conversation was with Billy, an older black man who does "odd jobs" in the area. He was getting ready to take his daughter to work. He told me about the lack of employment opportunities for the poor here. He told me, "Old money does not like new money". In his opinion, the old money runs the city and keeps new money from coming in and making any changes. As an example, he cited that developers wanted to build a nice new mall in Huntington, but the city rejected it and the mall was built in the city of Barboursville, east of Huntington. That mall could have provided jobs for the area poor, but he believes the city wants to drive out the poor rather than provide opportunities for them. He also told me about a city proposal to spend $50,000 on security cameras to monitor the area due to "drugs and prostitution". Billy told me they have only a little of that, and why couldn't that money be spent on better sidewalks and other area improvements?

I next spoke with a 65 year old black woman who was sitting on her front porch. She did not want to be photographed, but she was more than willing to talk to me about Huntington. She has lived in Cleveland, OH and Orlando, FL, and she is happiest right here in West Virginia. She told me here "kids can be kids". They can play in their yards, on the sidewalks and area playgrounds. She admitted to being fat and the town having a lot of overweight people, but she attributed that to the cheapest food available being fatty foods. She also said there is very little drugs and prostitution here, and that this neighborhood "is no ghetto". Anyone that calls this a ghetto has not seen a real ghetto, she explained. She went on to say that this is a real community, where people know their neighbors and usually know the parents and children too. She said if people don't see her sitting on her front porch for a few days, people come knocking on the door to check on her. She said that people may not have much, but they look out for each other and help each other out.

Huntington Has Gorgeous Parks and Happy Families

Next I drove around to where the mines were, and they followed the tracks back into the city. I saw a mix of nice homes and very dilapidated ones. In other words, it look a lot like the rest of America. It was interesting to see how the track that carries coal, such a big part of this economy, runs past some of the poorest homes I saw here. But then again, who would build a nice big new house along a noisy, active rail road line?

You can see my pictures from my second (and final) day here:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/jramspott/sets/72157626864587255/

Conclusion? People on both sides of Hal Greer Boulevard appreciate what they have in Huntington. There is no doubt that there is a strong divide between the nicer and poorer parts of the city. And that there are opportunities for educated people like physical therapists, bankers, doctors, lawyers, professors and the like. But how is that different from any other city in America? Clearly, Huntington has some beautiful neighborhoods, gorgeous parks, happy families and river activities. If you want exercise, you don't need to join a gym. Walking and jogging paths are freely available. My conclusion is you cannot go by a numerical survey to decide if you want to live somewhere or not. There are things you can't quantify, like the strong bonds between people here that don't exist in many other cities in America, including my own city of Atlanta, GA.

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