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ALEX BEAM

Taking bite out of Big Apple hype machine

NEW YORK -- Just recently, one of the local papers ran a vast puff piece about NYC & Company, Gotham's tourism promotion arm. Flush with a $45 million budget, the agency hopes to attract 50 million visitors here, annually, by 2015.

NYC & Co. has launched ad campaigns in the United Kingdom, Ireland, the Netherlands , and Russia, intending to dispel stereotypes that the city is too expensive, and "that New Yorkers are exceptionally rude, and that crime is rife," The New York Times reported.

Reaction to the ambitious campaign has been swift. An ad in a London Underground station hyping "cheap" New York prompted this response from David Usborne, who covers the City That Never Sleeps for London's Independent newspaper: "The city has a nerve to place those ads. Cheap is Buenos Aires or Havana, not here. Finding a bed for under $500 a night over the Christmas period in Manhattan was tougher that persuading a New Yorker to eat a mince pie."

Usborne directs his readers to NYC & Co.'s website, nycopenbook.com, commenting: "All the cliches are there." Indeed they are. If nothing else, NYC & Co.'s relentless hype confirms New York's reputation as the City of Grandiose, Bogus, and Misleading Claims.

Here's a boast: that New York is the "World's Best City" according to Travel + Leisure magazine. Well, no. If you take the time to check -- and frankly, who would bother? -- you see that "Florence tops the list of World's Best Cities for a second time this year," according to T+L's World's Best Awards 2006. New York descended to eighth place this year, one spot above Beirut and down from sixth in 2005.

I hear that Beirut is lovely this time of year.

New York likewise claims to be the Safest Large City in America, citing FBI crime statistics. Hmmm. Let's go to the FBI website, where the Crime in the United States data are available for all to see. "Why doesn't the FBI rank cities' crime levels?" the Bureau asks right on the CIUS home page. But wait -- I thought it did.

The FBI explains that "many entities" like to massage Bureau data to compile rankings "that often create misleading perceptions adversely affecting cities and counties, along with their residents." Here's looking at you, Bloomberg-burg.

Why anyone would worry about personal safety in New York City is beyond me. For the duration of my stay, the cops have been conducting a "full - scale creep sweep" (the always understated New York Post) to find a man who beat and robbed a 101-year-old grandmother outside her Queens apartment. ("Gran' Larceny" -- Daily News.) By Day Three of the manhunt, New York's Finest were still empty-handed, and Queens senior centers were talking about instituting self-defense courses for their oldsters. Maybe it's time to bring in the FBI.

Laughably, New York also claims to be the Greenest Large City in the United States, citing the Trust for Public Land as their source. Green is certainly something you think of as you pick your way among the Himalayan piles of street-side trash that grace almost every neighborhood here. What was the TPL thinking? "That information may have come from a press release in 2000," explains the Trust's Peter Harnik. "We have more up to date numbers."

TPL measures park acreage as a percentage of a city's area, and calculates "green" acres per thousand residents. On the first criterion, Washington, D.C., scores highest, with New York third. In terms of park acres per population, New York scores -- gasp -- 10th, well behind Minneapolis at number one and Boston at number four. But I understand NYC & Co.'s thinking. After all, what kind of a slogan is: "We're number 10!"

Who couldn't be amused by the tourism flacks' puffing of New York's "outstanding transportation options." "Getting to and around New York City is a breeze," they say. It's a good thing they didn't read last week's article by Nicole Gelinas , an editor at the Manhattan Institute's City Journal, about America's second-oldest subway system: "dismal . . . downright intolerable . . . dangerous floor-to-ceiling turnstiles . . . dangerously unprotected . . . and it will only get worse."

Did I leave anything out?

Inevitably, New York also claims to be America's best sports city. To which we can only say: Red Sox 7, Yankees 5. The results are in. I'm coming home.

Alex Beam is a Globe columnist. His e-dress is beam@globe.com

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