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The 50 Most Steampunk Cities in America

Pull out your goggles and hop into your airships, because Movoto tracked down the 50 most steampunk cities in America. Huzzah!

David Cross

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There are two types of genre fiction that keep me from going crazy: urban fantasy and steampunk. Reading these mind boggling—and supremely cool—books gives me immense joy, letting me stretch my imagination a bit beyond fictional houses. So, when the Movoto Real Estate bloggers started tossing around concepts for a Big Deal List centered on steampunk, I laced up my boots and jumped all over the idea.

First, however, I should explain a bit about the genre. Steampunk adventures, with tales of sky pirates and robotic men, take place in an alternate time when steam power became the major energy source. The majority of these tales are set near the turn of the 19th century and have a definite Victorian quality. By that I mean there are gentlemen and ladies and a sense of etiquette that is different from today’s standards. In addition, steampunk has a definite DIY feel about it and a sense of invention, as in literally building things. I used this to guide me like a mad scientist.

So what city won? It turns out that Atlanta, Georgia is the most steampunk city in the nation. After I thought about it, this makes a lot of sense, as the city also ranked No. 1 as the Nerdiest City (to be clear, I’m not nerd-bashing). More importantly, Atlanta ranked highly in a number of our criteria I looked at such as antique stores, steampunk conventions, and flea markets. More on that in a bit.

If you’d like to know how your city ranked, you can jump to the bottom of the post for a list of the 50 cities ranked in order. You can find the top 10 most steampunk cities here:

If you’re interested in learning how we did it, grab your goggles, fire up your airship, and let’s do this!

How Did I Do It?

Source: Wikipedia

Source: Wikipedia

There’s a saying around our office: If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it—unless you can make it steam powered. Unfortunately, as much as we tried, we weren’t able to make our Big Deal List steam powered, so we went with the old standby.

As with our other Big Deal Lists, we looked at the 100 most populous cities in the country and ranked each cosmo across a set of criteria. We then took the average rank across all these criteria. The city with the lowest overall rank earned a feather to stick into its top hat… you know, if people did that back in the pre-industrialized world.

Let’s move on to the tic-toc parts of this list machine—the criteria.

The Rule of Cool

I surveyed eight criteria for this piece. My goal was to distill the idea of steampunk down to some of its basic moving parts, and then find criteria that correspond to the these parts. To help me along the way, I looked up steampunk tropes and read essays about the subculture. The criteria I used were:

  • Formal wear
  • Paranormal Societies
  • Antique Stores
  • Walkability
  • Steampunk conventions
  • Flea markets
  • Salvage yards
  • Hardware stores

Don’t worry, like a good tinker, I’ll break down the whys and how-comes. I’ll start with the formal wear, because looking good is half the fun.

Formal Wear Stores

If you’re doing steampunk, you’re doing it to the nines. This means tuxedos and dinner jackets for the gentlemen and dresses for the ladies. While I would have liked to have just found “the most fancy Victorian clothing stores in a city,” I went with formal wear instead. If there’s a city that likes to look dapper, it’s Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I was just as surprised as you are. Birmingham, Alabama placed second.

Paranormal Societies

For those unfamiliar with the genre, this might seem somewhat out of place. Let me assure you that ghosts and the paranormal are part of the matrix that makes up steampunk stories. For this reason, I included paranormal societies per capita. My thought was that this would help inform me on which cities had the most paranormal activity in them. What I found was that Cincinnati, Ohio (my hometown!) had the most most ghost hunters per capita. Following behind, like a scared Slimmer, was Reno, Nevada in second.

Antique Stores

It’s not all about your personal fashion—sometimes your home needs some love too. I included antique shops as a way to gauge the availability of decorative items such as nautical compasses, giant clocks, and fancy china sets. If you’re going to go decorate, do it right. That’s what Captain Nemo said. Or was that my mom?

What I found was that Atlanta, Georgia has the most antique shops on a per capita basis. New Orleans, Louisiana was second.

High Walkability

Cars are not steampunk. Excuse me, horseless carriages are not steampunk. This means fans of the genre will have to walk—or take their penny-farthings. The cities with the highest walk scores took the top prize in this criterion. New York City was the best city for hoofing it. Multiple cities tied for second: Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Oakland, and Philadelphia. Wear comfortable shoes, ladies.

Steampunk Conventions

I think this criterion is self explanatory. I included this section as a means for gauging the popularity of steampunk in each city. However, I looked at the conventions on a per capita basis. The winner was Wichita, Kansas, followed by St. Petersburg, Florida.That being said, I should mention that while Dallas, Texas ranked fifth for this criterion, the city does hold three steampunk events each year. I found that little fact pretty surprising.

Flea Markets

This sub-ranking is the first of two criterion that attempt to tackle steampunk’s DIY soul. I’ll get to the second in a minute. For this criterion I looked at the number of flea markets in each city on a per capita basis. I made the assumption that gearheads would be able to scour these locations for whatever parts they’d need for their inventions, or to just repair things that need some TLC. Winston-Salem, North Carolina just barely edged out St. Petersburg, Florida for the No. 1 spot.

Salvage Yards

As with flea markets, salvage yards are filled with parts in need of good homes. Want to make a motorized couch? Stop by your local salvage yard. Winston-Salem, North Carolina walked away with this criterion. San Francisco placed second, which was surprising.

Hardware Stores

Now that you have all those motors and gears to work on, you’ll need tools. For this criterion I surveyed the number of hardware stores on a per capita basis. Once again, the fine folks in Winston-Salem easily took this criterion. It makes sense, as they are already hitting up the flea markets and salvage yards. Second was Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Conclusion

Now that you know how this list works, why not offer some suggestions on how to make it better? Remember, just gluing a gear on something doesn’t make it steampunk. And if you really want to know how to live like it’s the age of steam, just ask someone in Atlanta.

50 Most Steampunk Cities

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posted on: August 8, 2013
22,345 views, 29 comments

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29 Comments

  1. Vaelru

    “Saint Paul city, MN” isn’t a place.

  2. RJ Foster

    How about organized Steasmpunk Groups in the area?

  3. Cynthia Middleton

    I shouldn’t say anything, because Atlanta already scored the top spot, but you won’t FIND paranormal societies here. There’s so much paranormal around here that they tend to be copious, private, informal groups. Hell, I’ve been in at least one over the years. And one of our Steampunk gatherings each year (or possibly more, or maybe the years are just too short) is at our oldest cemetery, Oakland, near downtown Atlanta.

  4. Descal

    Oh, no, you missed Waltham, Massachusetts! It has a huge annual Steampunk Festival, has the Charles River Museum of Industry and Innovation and lots of the cool amenities described in your list. Here is a link to their festival site: http://internationalsteampunkcitywaltham.org/WCF/

  5. Concerned San Antonian

    It’s utterly strange that San Antonio, TX isn’t on here, considering they’d rank high in all of those categories.

  6. Jan M

    I too was surprised that Waltham MA didn’t make the list, especially since your very first picture is of the Emperor of the Red Fork Empire, a regular at the Waltham Steampunk Festival. That picture may even have been taken in Waltham!

    • Cherry in response to Jan M

      That first photo is absolutely from Waltham. I recognize the storefronts in the background. No mistake, the first photo was taken in Waltham, MA during the Watch City Festival; that’s The Emperor of the Red Fork Empire standing in front of Watch City Brewing Company.

  7. R

    You missed Detroit as well. With a long history of conventions, monthly meetup groups…

  8. John Small Berries

    “Now that you know how this list works, why not offer some suggestions on how to make it better?”

    Other things which might have relevance:

    Fabric stores – since quite a few steampunks actually make their own clothing.

    Museums – especially those which feature technology from the Age of Steam.

    Maker communities – as there’s often a wide overlap between Maker and steampunk communities.

    And, as RJ Foster already suggested, organized steampunk groups – there are a number of groups that don’t put on conventions in their cities, but do hold smaller events.

  9. Dr. Phobias

    The Minneapolis MN, picture is from Waltham Massachusetts.

  10. Capt. Hamilton

    New Orleans #11? We got beat out by Las Vegas? We have actual Steam powered River boats. Architecture that dates back almost 200 years. Actual gas Lamps lighting the Streets. We are the most Paranormal city in the country..or at least one of the top ones. Streetcars! Our Steampunk community has regular Tea socials, in an actual Tea and coffee house. We have antique stores and flea markets all over this city. We created the cocktail! (okay, I realize that was not part of the equation, but hey, it’s important!) I call Shenanigans and Tomfoolery on this! ;)

  11. Erik

    Why choose paranormal societies but don’t include steampunk societies. Sacramento has a couple steampunk groups with memberships in the hundreds

  12. Fanny

    This list makes no sense at all. How in the world does Los Angeles rank #2 in walking?! HOW? Have you been to Los Angeles? It is pretty big. Have you walked in Los Angeles? Have you seen people walking in Los Angeles? Better question, have you seen people dressed in Steampunk outfits walking in Los Angeles?
    It does not happen. No. Those you do see walking take public transport. Las Vegas #2 as well. People walk the strip. THAT IS IT. Anywhere else they take public transport.

    You know where I did see tons of people walking? CHICAGO! So how on earth did that rank a 32 in walking? And in terms of public transport HELLO! The L began operation in 1892!! Which, if you are looking for a more Steampunk centric time period that is it.

    Also I have been to many a Steampunk events. Not once have I seen people decked out in “formal attire” nor do formal shops usually carry “Steampunk centric” items. You would have been better off with mentioning military surplus stores and costume shops.

    As I said, this makes no sense at all.

  13. Madora

    I’m with the person who said “Organized steampunk groups.” Also, what about Steampunk Shops. New Orleans has Airship Isabella in the French Quarter’s French Market, and Burbank (if I recall correctly) has Clockwork Couture. I would think cities that have a steampunk community that helps to keep such wonderful businesses going would be high on the list of qualities in a “Most Steampunk” city.

  14. Amber

    I don’t see how all those criteria could have been considered when there’s not a single New Jersey city mentioned. NJ hosts a lot of steampunk events including the Steampunk World’s Fair which is attended by some of the people in the photos you’re using. I think you perhaps need to realize there is a bit of geography between Philadelphia and New York.

  15. Harry Mossman

    I’m glad to see Sacramento ranked 7th but the whole study is deeply flawed. A very limited, stereotyped view of steampunk. Paranormal societies? Formal wear stores? Walkability? Those don’t belong on the list. How about steampunk societies? We have several. Our community is very active. We are also very actively involved in the San Francisco Bay area conventions. We help put them on.

    Lame

  16. Count Chaos

    As a member in good standing of the Arizona Steampunk Society, which has over 1,000 members and hosts events every month, including the Wild Wild West Con at Old Tucson Studios, I also find these criteria mindboggling. The paranormal may tie to steampunk but it’s hardly a key component and the presence of such societies is meaningless. Formal wear stores also have no relevance but fabric stores, leather dealers and costume shops certainly do. Thrift stores are more important than antique stores. Surely steampunk conventions and events should merit inclusion, as would the number of local independent artists and artisans making and/or selling steampunk related material. Steampunk has strong ties to the maker community, both costuming and tinkering. How about the number of local writers who work in the genre?

    Also worthy of note is that Scottsdale, AZ is a strange inclusion on its own. Just as St Paul, MN can’t be separated from Minneapolis for such lists, the many cities that make up the Phoenix metropolitan area can’t be separated out. Events dot that whole metropolis, regardless of city. Our con is in Tucson, two hours away, while our cohorts in the Tucson Steampunk Society also appear at and are often involved with Phoenix events. This list may be more accurate if reworked by state rather than city.

    • nancy in response to Count Chaos

      absolutely agree. there is serious steampunk in Tucson. and we do have horse-drawn carriages (for a fee, of course) and Tucson is very walkable, especially for a large city. Tucson is a massive grouping of complete neighborhoods, you really can walk to anything you need here.

  17. Cyrano Jones

    Note that this isn’t a list of ‘which cities are the biggest fans of steampunky stuff’. It’s perhaps more ‘which cities could most easily be transformed into the anachronistic dystopian hellscape that is SteamPunk’.

  18. Maddie

    I’m surprised to see that Piscataway, NJ isn’t on here considering they host the Steampunk World’s Faire (which is one of the largest, if not THE largest, steampunk event in the country.)

    That said, the criteria are kind of flawed (as others have already said). Especially since not all steampunk is formal.

    Loving the Red Fork Empire representation, though. They’re pretty amazing. :)

  19. Sir William

    You forgot Waltham, MA. Also known as Watch City. I went there on a trip to the east coast earlier this year. If anyplace should be the list of Steam Punk cities, they should. Home of the Museum of Science and Industry. Huge Steam Punk conventions. Even a giant robot. The place definitely grabbed a place in my heart.

    • Cherry in response to Sir William

      Museum of Industry and Innovation*, actually. ;)

      The Charles River Museum of Industry & Innovation, to be exact.
      crmi.org — hosts of watchcityfestival.com

  20. Gary

    Criteria flawed. Why was Seattle voted the most steampunk city several years in a row on the Brass Goggles website? The criteria better measures that the best city is for a Maker who doesn’t own a car, and likes to dress formally.

  21. Jim

    How is the conventions score calclulated? San Francisco has five Steampunk convention-type events that I can think of off the top of my head. Now not all of them are in the city limits. Some of these need to count for other cities such as San Jose, Sacramento, etc. conventions should be counted (IMHO) if they are within a one hour or 1.5 hour drive.

    Additionally, Old Town Scramento is about as walkable as it gets with horse-drawn carriages, a functional steam train, and riverboats.

  22. Joe

    This list is a farce.

    Paranormal societies? How about organized steampunk groups? The Seattle Steamrats have conducted weekly gatherings since 2009, as well as Steam Con annually, and other events like train rides, tea parties and photo shoots. Formal wear stores? Oh please. It’s better to buy your costume components from the Goodwill, that way you have no qualms against modifying them. What about steampunk artists/writers, such as Abney Park and Cherie Priest? The fact that actual steampunk culture isn’t factored into the rankings beyond conventions says plenty about the author’s expertise.

  23. Travis

    A key criteria you are missing here is period architecture, locales and venues. You can step out onto a street in Society Hill in Philly and not look out of place in your Beau Brummels. Try doing that in Vegas.

    • Brad Handley in response to Travis

      EHH!!! Aint nothing out of place in Vegas. Not even the dude from Santa Monica who roller skates naked in the cross walks. Not even Amish Gangsters are out of place in Vegas.

  24. Brad Handley

    Raliegh got robbed. You did not score them any points for Contemporal? That Steampunk Con rocks that last weekend of June in Raliegh. contemporal.org

  25. Lorelei McFadden

    Seattle or Bellevue aren’t on there? We have one of the largest steampunk conventions in the country. And we have the League of Steam and a very large number of steampunk roleplays. We even have a museum with a giant working tesla coil that surrounds you with electricity. I think we are underestimated because of our size but several areas are very, very steampunk.

 

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