This List of America’s Coolest Cities Is Very, Very Wrong

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Photo via Gawker
Photo via Gawker

Cool is an ephemeral concept. It has something to do with confidence, with being forward-looking, with being brave enough to go your own way. As soon as you try to pin it down, it slips away; that old Supreme Court definition of pornography, you just know it when you see it, applies.

And so based on that very vague, slippery, non-rigorous definition, I feel completely qualified to say that Washington, DC is emphatically not the coolest city in the country.

Now don’t get me wrong–there are a lot of great things about Washington, including its public transit system and the amazing availability of Ethiopian food. And I’m sure there are some cool people in DC. But when Forbes puts our nation’s capital at the top of its 2014 list of America’s coolest cities, it’s hard not to believe that they’re trolling a little bit. Even the Washington Post finds it difficult to take the honor seriously. Another relevant data point: Baltimore, clearly the coolest city, doesn’t make the list at all. However, Bethesda–Bethesda!!–comes in at number 19.


There is, of course, a metric behind these rankings. Forbes looked at the availability of zoos, sports events, golf courses, national parks, museums, theater performances, restaurants, and farmer’s markets. It also looked at diversity and population growth. Considering those criteria, it’s not surprising that DC came out on top, and that Baltimore didn’t rank at all. (The “DC is cool! Really!!!” narrative has been refuted handily by Gawker in previous years, we should note.)


It’s also a good reminder of how impossible it is to quantify cool. A city can have all the restaurants and zoos in the world (ahem, San Diego) and still be missing that ineffable… something that qualifies as coolness. Sorry, DC–you just don’t make the cut.



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