A key to planning a meeting that’s inclusive is choosing a meeting destination that measures up in terms of its appreciation for and acceptance of people who are different, whether they be LGBTQ+, Black or have a mental, physical or emotional disability. Many smaller cities have made outsized efforts to become more welcoming to all, and various organizations that monitor their efforts sometimes publish data and rankings that can help planners get a handle on whether a city will be a welcoming one.
Here are a few sources of information and points to consider.
LGBTQ+ Friendly Cities Grow
For the past 10 years, the Human Rights Campaign Foundation has measured cities’ attitudes toward LGBTQ+ people with its Municipal Equality Index. It scores 506 cities on policies, laws and services that affect LGBTQ+ people.
Each year, there’s been an increase in the number of cities with a perfect score. In 2021, 110 cities scored 100, up from 94 cities in 2020, and far above the 11 cities with perfect scores 10 years earlier.
The HRC website includes an index of results by city. (hrc.org/mei). It is a great tool for getting a handle on how LGBTQ friendly a destination will be. Bloomington, Indiana; Lexington and Louisville, Kentucky; Iowa City, Iowa; and Ann Arbor, Michigan, are among the long list of those with perfect scores. Another perfect scorer is Palm Springs, California, home to the most same-sex households in California and the country’s first all-LGBTQ+ city council.
Efforts Expand on Autism
Three years ago, Mesa, Arizona, became the first-ever Autism Certified City in the U.S. Since then other cities, including Visalia and Palm Springs, California; Billings, Montana; and Springfield, Missouri have become Certified Autism Centers. The designations, from the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education standards (ibcces.org), mean the destinations have completed training to better understand and welcome visitors who have autism and special sensory needs. In Mesa, nearly 4,000 community members, including 60 businesses and organizations, did the training. Individual attractions and venues can also receive certification. Mesa’s intense focus on autism training is one reason the AutismOne 2022 Conference was held there in August.
Accessibility Gets Attention
If your attendees mirror the general public, one in seven will have a mobility issue, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It makes sense to look for cities that have become better places for all to live through their work on accessible transportation systems, all-encompassing health systems and other social supports for the disabled. Who isn’t heartened to discover a city that has made sure its parks have paths and restrooms that are wheelchair accessible? A number of accessibility studies indicate small cities are taking action to improve accessibility. The Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation’s top 10 wheelchair-accessible cities include Lubbock, Texas, and Albuquerque, New Mexico, both applauded for their highly accessible bus systems. Money Inc.’s top picks include Raleigh, North Carolina; Sioux Falls, South Dakota; and Rochester, Minnesota.
Kindness Gives Off Good Vibes
Arrive in a city you’ve never visited, and almost immediately you pick up on its vibe. From your Uber driver and hotel front desk clerk to the restaurant server, you notice if the locals are friendly and happy to see visitors like you. Qualities that add up to kindness — being considerate, helpful, humane and charitable — became even more valued during the pandemic, so VolunteerMatch decided to look at data that would indicate a city’s kindness levels.
The result is its 2022 list of the 50 most kindhearted cities. Five of the top 10 are second-tier cities: Portland, Oregon; San Jose, California. Austin, Texas; Virginia Beach, Virginia; and Madison, Wisconsin. Meanwhile, WalletHub, a financial website, has rated the happiest cities in America. A number of smaller cities made its top 20 list earlier this year including the California cities of Irvine, San Jose, Huntington Beach, Anaheim and Oakland; Overland Park, Kansas; Fargo and Bismarck, North Dakota; Sioux Falls, South Dakota; Madison, Wisconsin; and Scottsdale, Arizona.
Diversity is Celebrated
Appreciation of cultural and racial diversity can express itself in a number of ways. In some cities, it means lively festivals and celebrations. Columbus, Ohio, home to the country’s fifth-largest Hispanic population, celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month each fall with music, art and food. In Arlington, Virginia, a Latino American festival and a ton of Latin American restaurants remind that the city is home to the largest Hispanic community in the D.C. metro. In St. Augustine, Florida, Hispanic roots are remembered throughout Hispanic Heritage Month.
In Virginia Beach, the success and growth of Black-owned businesses signals a community that seeks economic equality. Meanwhile, Raleigh, North Carolina, made the top 10 in terms of opportunities for Black and Hispanic children in a study done by Brandeis University. Tallahassee, Florida, ranked No. 1, followed by Lansing, Michigan, in Liveability.com’s list of the 10 best cities for African Americans.