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The Real Reputations of America’s Top Cities

To get a better idea on America’s regional notoriety, we decided to ask hundreds of Americans about their perspectives on 16 of the largest U.S. cities.

Chris Kolmar

Chief Armchair Economist

164 articles, 139 comments

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The United States is a patchwork of distinct regions and cultures, each of them with their own local traditions and characteristics for which they’re widely known. So it comes as no surprise that this has always been a competitive country, from arguing about sports and politics to debating about hot dogs and pizza. These city rivalries have often endured for decades: Which city has the most attractive women? Which has the best food or the most dedicated sports fans?

To get a better idea of the collective opinions on America’s regional notoriety, we decided to ask hundreds of Americans about their perspectives on 16 of the largest U.S. cities. Participants rated each city in different categories on a scale of 1 to 4. We tallied up the 3s and 4s, calculated what percentage those answers made of the total, and used these numbers to determine the winners (and losers) for each category. Read on, and see which cities reigned supreme and why.

 We asked about the following cities:

  • Atlanta
  • Washington, D.C.
  • Minneapolis-St. Paul
  • Phoenix



 

OVERALL WINNER: LOS ANGELES

L.A. took the No. 1 spot in six categories, yet somehow managed to escape being in the Top 2 for worst traffic – although “busy” was the word most commonly used to describe both L.A. Americans named L.A. the Most Fashionable, with NYC coming in a controversial second place with a less than one percentage point difference. The coastal cities are clearly known for their couture.

L.A. also won the hipster category, as well as the most sexually promiscuous category for both men and women. (Interestingly, NYC came in second for all of these categories, sometimes with a difference of only 1%.) Perhaps the most interesting is that L.A. was rated Most LGBT Friendly rather than runner-up San Francisco, which lagged behind by two full percentage points. However, “gay” was the No. 2 most-used word to describe SF – its reputation clearly remains intact. Regardless, California unsurprisingly topped the charts in this category.

L.A. was also locked in tight competition with Miami for the most attractive residents. L.A. manages to be No. 1 in the Most Attractive Women category by a margin of 3%, but Miami has the Most Attractive Men (by only one-tenth of a percentage point). It was a close call: “beautiful” was the No. 10 most-used word to describe LA, but No. 5 for Miami. Either way, that’s a lot of good looking people in California, as Los Angeles belongs to the first county to reach a population of 10 million.

HONORABLE MENTION: SEATTLE

While L.A. boasts the most No. 1 spots, Seattle won several respectable categories that reflect Americans’ positive opinion of the city. First, of all the major cities included in the survey, Seattle had the lowest rating for worst traffic, meaning driving in that city is much more bearable than the cluttered highways in the other 15 places.

Americans admire Seattle’s hygiene, as well – both the people and the city itself. “Fun,” “nice,” “cool,” “clean” and “friendly” were the No. 7 through No. 11 most-used words to describe the city. Seattle won Cleanest City and Best Personal Cleanliness, while only Tampa-St. Petersburg and Dallas-Fort Worth came close. That’s a pretty solid start for a city’s reputation.

Seattle also went on to attain No. 1 positions in Most Intelligent and Friendliest, edging out New York City by 1.4% and Minneapolis-St. Paul by 2.6%. Don’t these wins just make you want to jump on a plane and visit with the locals? However, men might not be so eager: Seattle’s last appearance on the superlatives list is for Hardest for Men to Get Laid.

BAD REPUTATION: DETROIT

Detroit’s been in the news for some pretty unfortunate reasons recently, from its bankruptcy to its crime rate (though at least the latter declined in 2013). Detroit’s poor reputation has even led Mark Wahlberg to defend it and insist it’s a “great city” and not what people think.

But celebrity endorsements aside, it seems Americans generally have an overall negative opinion of Detroit, even in matters completely unrelated to crime or finances. “Dirty,” “poor,” “dangerous,” “scary” and “sad” were all in the Top 10 words used to describe the city. And even the three most common colors associated with Detroit were dreary: black, blue and grey.

Detroit’s results in the surveys were unfortunate to say the least, as they were named all of the following: Least Fashionable, Least LGBT Friendly, Least Hipster, Worst Food, Least Clean City, Worst Personal Cleanliness, Least Friendly, Least Attractive Men and Least Attractive Women. They were also named Easiest for Men to Get Laid and Easiest for Women to Get Laid. Granted, this is only compared to 15 other large U.S. cities and not to everywhere in the country. However, it’s hard to overlook this unfortunate set of results. Hopefully Detroit can start turning around its reputation in the near future.

If you’d like to see the full summary of superlative results, be sure to check out the flip book above. For an even more comprehensive look at the survey data, check out the other resources provided and a Tableau Dashboard visual analysis of the data. Do you agree with the hundreds of Americans who participated and voiced their opinions on some of America’s most prominent cities?

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posted on: February 6, 2014
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