What should those unfamiliar with Chico think about our fair town?

When is the last time you Googled Chico? It’s been a while since I’d typed the name of our fair city into that ubiquitous search engine. I’ve had an occasion to do so recently, however, because CN&R is hiring, and several of the folks who’ve applied for the job are from out of town—a handful from out of state. I wondered what Chico looks like to an outsider.

Unsurprisingly, the top item on the first page of results brings up the city of Chico’s website. To be blunt, it needs a makeover. It’s so dated, in fact, that the copyright at the bottom of the homepage is listed as 2009.

Chico, as you’ll recall, was then in financial turmoil stemming from the global economic meltdown. The city is in a much better place today than during that crisis, but it hasn’t fully recovered. The website is just one small indicator of the municipality’s inability to catch up on the things that were put on the back burner during and after the Great Recession. Consider the important stuff: infrastructure, affordable housing and park maintenance.

Speaking of parks, of all of those listed on Chico’s Wikipedia write-up (the second item Google found), Bidwell Park is the only one with its own page. And rightly so. Communities that boast municipal parks comprising thousands of acres are a rarity. When I think of city parks, the first one that comes to mind is San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. I grew up about 45 miles from that green space and explored it on several occasions—mostly for class field trips. It seemed huge at the time (and still does), but it’s actually less than one-third of the size of Bidwell’s sprawling 3,600-plus acres.

One of the websites I’d caution newcomers about giving much credence to is Movoto’s guide called “20 Things You Need To Know About Chico, CA—Before You Move There.” The real estate company put together your basic listicle—more clickbait than anything else—and despite being sorely out of date, it’s positioned relatively high in a search for Chico (on that first page).

Probably the most helpful link I found during a quick search is the last item listed on the first page: Sperling’s Best Places. That website basically culls all sorts of public data to give readers a rundown on such things as population (90,316), population of married folks (36.6 percent), unemployment (6 percent), median age (29.4) and home price ($289,400), income per capita ($24, 665) and average commute time (17 minutes).

Perhaps its best feature is one that compares cities’ affordability. I played with it for a while, comparing Chico with all of the other places I’ve lived: San Jose, Livermore, Folsom, Granite Bay, Hamilton City and Littleton, Colo. No surprise that Hammy City—not a true municipality—is the only one with a lower cost of living than Chico’s.

So there you have it. Chico’s a small metropolitan city full of young people, including lots of singles; where housing isn’t cheap, but is cheaper than California in general ($393,000); where traffic is pretty light, pay is fairly low and people escape by exploring the giant park in our backyard.

That said, my advice is to visit town before planting roots here—the Internet is no substitute for experience.