Savor recent media praise for Stuart and Fort Pierce. It's better than the alternative.

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It was as predictable as the timing of a solar eclipse: Not long after USA TODAY named Stuart as the nation's best coastal small town, the complaints started showing up on social media.

And why wouldn't they? Here's what those awful folks in the national media had to say about the Sailfish Capital of the World:

"Part of Florida’s Treasure Coast, with the impressive Roosevelt Bridge to its north, is the under-the-radar town of Stuart," the April 10 article read. "Walk along the St. Lucie River at Flagler Park or Shepard Park, both great spots for picnicking, fishing, or otherwise relaxing. The Stuart Heritage Museum, Road to Victory Military Museum, and restaurant-lined downtown Stuart are all among the local attractions."

Stuart, after finishing second in balloting in 2023, came out on top in this year's national poll, beating out burgs along the Eastern and Pacific seaboards, as well as the Great Lakes. USA TODAY's readers even ranked Stuart ahead of the much more ballyhooed Key West, which finished third, despite all the love Ernest Hemingway's former home usually gets.

'Best coastal small town'? How dare they call us that!

A boat floats in between the Old Roosevelt Bridge and a railroad drawbridge in Stuart waiting for a Brightline train to cross the St. Lucie River on Sept. 22, 2023, the first day of passenger service between Miami and Orlando.
A boat floats in between the Old Roosevelt Bridge and a railroad drawbridge in Stuart waiting for a Brightline train to cross the St. Lucie River on Sept. 22, 2023, the first day of passenger service between Miami and Orlando.

If you think all of our local residents were going to take that ranking as a compliment, guess again. The response from some of the keyboard commandos in our midst was swift.

How, they asked, could Stuart be ranked so highly with all of its problems with pollution in the water, traffic on the roads and eventually a Costco store that will be the ruination of our idyllic community?

The polluted waters comment is a fair criticism. It's shameful the Army Corps of Engineers isn't moving more swiftly to put a permanent end to discharges of Lake Okeechobee waters into the St. Lucie River.

Some of the other complaints? Well, as with so many aspects of life, it's all relative. If you think the traffic is bad on the Treasure Coast, take a leisurely drive an hour or two south and see if your perspective changes. As for Costco, it's hard to imagine one more discount department store will make that much of a difference when U.S. 1 is lined for miles with retail businesses.

Does Stuart have other problems? Sure, no place is perfect. But where does all this scornfulness come from?

Having lived more than a quarter of my life in Memphis, Tennessee, and Pueblo, Colorado, I'm used to being among civic naysayers. Those two communities regularly end up ranked among the nation's worst for crime, poverty, lack of economic opportunities, you name it.

Both communities have their share of avid boosters, who wake up every day trying to think of ways to make their own lives and the lives of their neighbors better. Both communities also have not-insignificant numbers of people who have fallen for the negative hype.

Let me tell you, it's no way to live. It's hard to remain hopeful and set lofty goals when many of your neighbors believe wallowing in misery is their lot in life.

Why try to recruit new industry to town? Why build new tourist attractions? Why try to improve the standards for the people who already live here because we don't deserve anything better than what we already have?

I understand where at least part of this is coming from. Some people think having Stuart named to a "best of" list will encourage more people to move here.

The truth is, the secret is already out. People are already moving to Treasure Coast communities in great numbers, so a newspaper article here or there won't make much of a difference.

In Stuart's case, the city itself is mostly built out. If you want to stop development in outlying parts of Martin County, you might want to have a word with the county commissioners who seem intent on letting developers do whatever they want in the remaining rural enclaves.

I also understand there are a lot of these "best of" and "worst of" surveys out there, some of which use questionable methodology to arrive at their rankings. How can someone accurately rank which cities are best to raise a family or best places to retire, when so many individualized criteria go into people's decisions about such matters?

It's a mistake to take all the rankings too seriously. On the other hand, when a Treasure Coast community happens to do well in one of them, there's no reason to get bent out of shape about it.

Port St. Lucie a 'new boomtown'

An aerial drone photograph shows the Fed Ex distribution center in Port St. Lucie, located within the Southern Grove "jobs corridor" acquired by the city in 2018.
An aerial drone photograph shows the Fed Ex distribution center in Port St. Lucie, located within the Southern Grove "jobs corridor" acquired by the city in 2018.

Just days after the USA TODAY article dropped, Money magazine ranked Port St. Lucie among the country's top places to live, categorizing it as a "new boomtown." Reaction on social media to that designation was mixed, with some questioning Money's methodology or what exactly qualifies PSL as a boomtown.

It's worth noting often when publications include Port St. Lucie in their "best of" or "worst of" rankings, they are really talking about the entire Port St. Lucie metropolitan area, which includes all of St. Lucie and Martin counties.

Among Treasure Coast communities, Fort Pierce seems to get picked on the most, by nonresidents and even some people who live there. While a lot of the criticism is misguided, Fort Pierce has admittedly had a rough few months.

In December, U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, who represents the community, described the city as rundown.

A couple of months later, Brightline picked Stuart as the site for its first Treasure Coast high-speed rail station, disappointing Fort Pierce residents who wanted the station in their town.

Now, Fort Pierce appears to be on the verge of losing King's Landing, a mixed-use project that was supposed to transform the downtown waterfront.

Even Fort Pierce gets some national love

Sponsors Brenda and John Jacobs
Sponsors Brenda and John Jacobs

Based on all those setbacks and Fort Pierce's somewhat unseemly (but outdated) reputation, you might think people elsewhere around the country would have a pretty low opinion of the Sunrise City.

You might be surprised. World Atlas, a source of geographic information, recently named Fort Pierce one of nine "breathtaking" Florida cities.

Let's be thankful for all the Treasure Coast has


"Known for its beautifully stunning natural and artificial reefs, this town on Florida’s Atlantic Coast is a perennially favorite destination for diving," the article said. "Add in plenty of hot sun, warm coastal breezes, and an attractive boardwalk area, and there is indeed never a shortage of natural beauty to be enjoyed in Fort Pierce.

"Meanwhile an inviting historic district and several unique buildings can be explored here including the Boston House (1909) and the Sunrise Theatre (1923), while an afternoon at the Backus Museum & Gallery, the Heathcote Botanical Gardens, or the Old Fort Pierce Park are great ways to learn about Florida’s cultural and natural history."

The people who wrote, edited and published that article aren't crazy. They were just looking at the community in a different way than people who live here do. If you live in some distant land-locked northern city, I can promise you Fort Pierce looks like Shangri-La.

As I said, it's all a matter of perspective.

This column reflects the opinion of Blake Fontenay. Contact him via email at or at 772-232-5424.

This article originally appeared on Treasure Coast Newspapers: Don't turn praise for Treasure Coast towns into a negative