America's Dirtiest Cities 2010
From L.A. to Miami, find out which U.S. cities are in need of spring cleaning.
Anyone who’s hiked up Los Angeles’s Runyon Canyon can verify that, while the sweeping city views are beautiful, they’re accompanied by the yellow hue of smog—particularly around downtown. So when the American Lung Association released the results from its annual State of the Air report in April, it wasn’t a huge surprise to see L.A. named the most ozone-polluted city in America.
Where else did the city land itself a top-ranking spot? In Travel + Leisure’s America’s Favorite Cities survey, where voters found the City of Angels’ cleanliness to be a little less than heavenly. In fact, survey takers—who rated 30 cities around the U.S. in 10 different categories—found the centerpiece of SoCal sprawl to be the No. 3 dirtiest city in the country.
Some cities fared better. Take Honolulu, for example. People who filled out our survey voted the Hawaiian capital as the eighth cleanest city in the country, while the American Lung Association survey found Honolulu to be the seventh cleanest city for ozone pollution. Of course, clean air is expected in a romantic, tropical destination like this, and the Aloha State came through.
Okay, maybe the relative ranking for L.A. and Honolulu isn’t earth shattering. What is surprising, though, is that the dirtiest cities shared similarly low ratings in other AFC categories, like peace and quiet, public parks, and environmental friendliness. Many of the dirtiest cities also had another thing in common: great nightlife. After all, inebriated club-goers can have a tendency to be careless with their trash.
Take Las Vegas, for example. With its up-all-night party lifestyle and neon landscape—the lack of anything resembling a park doesn’t help much—it fits in with the pattern of the other cities voted dirtiest.
Conversely, the cleaner cities tended to receive strong marks for peace, parks, and a devotion to Mother Earth. Portland OR’s No. 2 spot for cleanliness stems from its eco-conscious zeal as well as countless measures to prevent overdevelopment.
The results are based on public opinion, both of residents and tourists. So while the rankings come from people’s perceptions—and not hard science—remember that a huge part of travel is the way visitors perceive a destination. So in that vein, the opinions showcased here are every bit as important as those in any other study.
Before you travel again, check to see where you can ditch the face mask and where you should wear a hazmat suit. The results may just surprise you. (But hey, if you feel compelled to come to any city’s defense, share your thoughts with us below!)
No. 30. Minneapolis/St. Paul
Maybe it’s the eight miles of covered skyways that keeps trash off the streets and parks. (Or maybe it’s an out-of-sight, out-of-mind thing.) Regardless, America’s Favorite Cities survey takers voted the Twin Cities as the country’s cleanest city.
No. 29. Portland, OR
No. 28. Denver
The Mile High City keeps growing, but its environmental roots run deep enough to keep the air and streets clean. After all, with the Rockies staring you in the face from downtown, it’s tough to forget about Mother Earth.
No. 27. Austin
No. 26. Santa Fe
Even the sound of a stray piece of paper blowing in the wind is too much to handle in the city voted top dog for peace and quiet. Besides, the City Different, known both for its environmental friendliness and for its not-so-great nightlife, has people thinking green during the day and heading to bed early.
No. 25. San Diego
No. 24. Charleston
No. 23. Honolulu
It might be among the country’s major metropolises, but it’s still smack in the middle of a tropical paradise. And really, can a city be called paradise if it’s stockpiled with trash on the streets and beaches?
No. 22. Seattle
No. 21. Kansas City
No. 20. Nashville
No. 19. Phoenix/Scottsdale
No. 18. Providence
No. 17. Orlando
Sure, this Florida city is home to a plethora of parks, but they’re the theme kind. And we all know that too much on-the-go theme-park fun can cause a euphoria-induced lapse in eco-friendly judgment.
No. 16. San Antonio
No. 15. Chicago
The Windy City, another urban area inhabiting this category’s middle ground, sees its fair share of trash blowing in the breeze, according to survey results. It may rank pretty high for parks, but the sub-par environmental friendliness and stellar nightlife may be bringing the city’s clean image down.
No. 14. Houston
No. 13. Washington, D.C.
No. 12. Boston
It seems that since dumping cases of tea into the harbor as an act of protest, Beantown has continued to throw things where they don’t belong. Of course, these days it’s trash…and without the noble purpose.
No. 11. Dallas/Fort Worth
No. 10. St. Louis
No. 9. San Francisco
No. 8. Cleveland
No. 7. Miami
No. 6. Atlanta
No. 5. Las Vegas
With a name like the City of Sin, is it any surprise that the emphasis here is more on gambling and partying than it is on making sure that to-go margarita cup makes it to a trash can?
No. 4. Philadelphia
The City of Brotherly Love seems to get the short end of the stick in many of the AFC categories, and cleanliness is no exception. Unfortunately, locals can’t even blame the poor showing on their nightlife, which ranked only No. 13.