Baltimore is “Cool,” Says Forbes. But Are We Cool Enough?

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Try this new zen koan I just made up:  does it mean anything to be named one of Forbes“Coolest Cities in America” if the number one place is held by… Houston?!

If anything, Forbes‘ newest ranking proves something I’ve been suspecting for a long time:  these city rankings, with their complicated metrics (multiply the arts & culture metric by the number of local eateries, divide by the median age…) don’t tell us anything new, at least when it comes to ineffable things like “cool.” Sure, some of the factors that Forbes measured (diversity, green space, median age,  number of locally owned businesses) matter, but they’re hardly all that matters. When you reduce a city to its statistical profile, you end up with a list that ranks actually cool places (San Francisco, Austin, Minneapolis) above ones that are (I’m sorry) emphatically not cool (Bethesda; Orange County, CA). And all of a sudden, the word “cool” has lost all meaning.

Which is maybe the whole point? “Baltimore is in transition because it has been down and out for a long time but it’s beginning to come back because it’s affordable,” says Bert Sperling, founder of Sperling’s Best Places. Well… duh? So, Forbes, thanks for the nod; we’re thrilled to even be nominated, as they say. But the coolest cities don’t even read cool-city lists, so we’ll be moving on now, thanks.

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