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Can clean be overrated? America’s dirtiest cities happen to include some very popular tourist destinations.

How do you define a city’s soul? For a lot of travelers,
it’s in the dirt.

Atlanta ad exec Patrick Scullin, for instance, loves
Baltimore—but not because it’s particularly pristine. “Yes, there’s litter,
smokers, and graffiti,” he says, “but that’s just life going on. The air
sometimes offends, but a cool breeze off the harbor can ease all worries. It’s
a gem of a city.”

While such sentiments don’t appear in tourist brochures,
that glorious grit has landed Baltimore in the Top 10 dirtiest cities, as
chosen by Travel + Leisure readers in the annual America’s Favorite
Cities survey. Of course, visitors gauge “dirty” in a variety of ways: litter,
air pollution, even the taste of local tap water.

This year’s American State Litter Scorecard, published by
advocacy group the American Society for Public Administration, put both Nevada
and Louisiana in the bottom five—echoing the assessment of T+L readers who
ranked Las Vegas and New Orleans among America’s dirtiest cities.

Likewise, the American Lung Association releases an annual
State of the Air report, listing cities with the least (and most) pollution.
Not surprisingly, Los Angeles fared poorly again this year—but so did Phoenix,
which T+L readers actually ranked among the top 15 “cleanest.”

It just goes to show that for casual visitors, passing
judgment on a city’s dirt factor is pretty subjective—and may even have a lot
to do with a general vibe. Many of the cities that ranked poorly in the AFC
survey also tanked when it came to environmental
awareness
, nice public
parks
, or pedestrian-friendly streets.

On the bright side, those same dirty cities also offer a lot
of, well, atmosphere. Memphis, Las Vegas, and Miami ranked highly for having
great bar
scenes
, live
music
, or quirky people-watching.

So while no one would dissuade a city from doing some
renovations or stepping up its recycling, there is something to be said for a
little disheveled charm. “I love New York City because it’s not pristine,” says Kaamna Bhojwani-Dhawan, founder of family travel site MomAboard. “It’s a city that has never shunned
a chance to fully experience life—and it has the scars to prove it.”

America's Dirtiest Cities 2011

Can clean be overrated? America’s dirtiest cities happen to include some very popular tourist destinations.

How do you define a city’s soul? For a lot of travelers,
it’s in the dirt.

Atlanta ad exec Patrick Scullin, for instance, loves
Baltimore—but not because it’s particularly pristine. “Yes, there’s litter,
smokers, and graffiti,” he says, “but that’s just life going on. The air
sometimes offends, but a cool breeze off the harbor can ease all worries. It’s
a gem of a city.”

While such sentiments don’t appear in tourist brochures,
that glorious grit has landed Baltimore in the Top 10 dirtiest cities, as
chosen by Travel + Leisure readers in the annual America’s Favorite
Cities survey. Of course, visitors gauge “dirty” in a variety of ways: litter,
air pollution, even the taste of local tap water.

This year’s American State Litter Scorecard, published by
advocacy group the American Society for Public Administration, put both Nevada
and Louisiana in the bottom five—echoing the assessment of T+L readers who
ranked Las Vegas and New Orleans among America’s dirtiest cities.

Likewise, the American Lung Association releases an annual
State of the Air report, listing cities with the least (and most) pollution.
Not surprisingly, Los Angeles fared poorly again this year—but so did Phoenix,
which T+L readers actually ranked among the top 15 “cleanest.”

It just goes to show that for casual visitors, passing
judgment on a city’s dirt factor is pretty subjective—and may even have a lot
to do with a general vibe. Many of the cities that ranked poorly in the AFC
survey also tanked when it came to environmental
awareness
, nice public
parks
, or pedestrian-friendly streets.

On the bright side, those same dirty cities also offer a lot
of, well, atmosphere. Memphis, Las Vegas, and Miami ranked highly for having
great bar
scenes
, live
music
, or quirky people-watching.

So while no one would dissuade a city from doing some
renovations or stepping up its recycling, there is something to be said for a
little disheveled charm. “I love New York City because it’s not pristine,” says Kaamna Bhojwani-Dhawan, founder of family travel site MomAboard. “It’s a city that has never shunned
a chance to fully experience life—and it has the scars to prove it.”

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America's Dirtiest Cities 2011

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