‘Urban Stress Test’: It Ires, Amuses Pomona

Times Staff Writer

A study that labeled image-conscious Pomona the nation’s second most stressful city has angered some civic leaders and distressed the mayor so much that his first reaction was to threaten to sue the Washington-based group responsible.

“I thought we were doing a great job,” Pomona Mayor G. Stanton Selby said. “Then I hear from our friends in Washington that we’re not. I’d like to jar them a bit.”

Called the “Urban Stress Test,” the study is based on government statistics in 11 social and economic categories, including crime, crowding, sudden jumps or declines in population, unusually high birth rates among teen-agers and air pollution. Researchers for Zero Population Growth Inc., a nonprofit group devoted to reducing population through public awareness, used the data to rate 184 American cities on a five-point scale.

Miami was ranked as the most stressful, with a 4.6 rating, followed by Pomona with 4.5. Fargo, N.D., with a 1.8 rating, was ranked as the least stressful among cities in the study.


The study has enraged some in Pomona and amused others. Selby was upset enough to engage in a terse exchange of letters with Zero Population Growth a few days after results of the test were released.

Selby wrote that he could not believe the result and chided Zero Population Growth for relying on aging government data--some of it six years old--instead of talking to residents about their city.

The organization’s executive director, Susan Weber, said such random interviews would have no validity in a truly scientific assessment of urban problems.

“What we were trying to find out wasn’t what people think about their town, but to find out if it’s doing OK,” said Weber, whose group advocates a voluntary limit of two children per family.


One city employee found humor--and profit--in Pomona’s stress rating. Frank Homstad, employed in the city’s community relations bureau, has designed a T-shirt that says “Urban Stress Survivor” on the front and sports a large “2" on the back.

Homstad said he has had nearly 70 requests from city employees for the shirts, which he is selling for $7.50 each.

Weber said such reactions suggest that the stress study results were largely misinterpreted.

“We were talking about population stress on the community as a whole, not individual stress levels,” she said. “It’s like going to the doctor. Like checking the body of a city, reading its vital signs.”

She said the study was the group’s most ambitious statistical survey, requiring three researchers to sift through piles of federal statistics for several months.