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The Smartest, etc. Cities in America

I wonder why Americans love lists so much? Is it because lists offer to organize a disorganized world? Or because they confirm preconceptions?

Every year, magazines sport bold cover lines announcing a list of the smartest, greenest, easiest-to-live-in—and so on--cities in America. I’ll save you the trouble of reading them all by summarizing some recent news.

What burg do you think recently earned the title of “smartest city”? The readers of Travel & Leisure think they know: The Twin Cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul, MN. The magazine cites the profusion of colleges and universities, theater attractions, museums, and even Minnesota Public Radio and its signature show, Garrison Keillor’s “Prairie Home Companion,” as reasons the city took the gold.

Runners up to the Twin Cities were Austin in second place, Boston in third. Los Angeles, by the way, weighed in at 28th place, just ahead of Miami and Vegas.

The city with the “ugliest” people was deemed to be Philadelphia and Miami was voted the city with the most attractive residents. You be the judge.

And here’s a list where you might expect New York City or Los Angeles to trot off with the winning statuette: the city with the most congested traffic.

The GPS maker Tom Tom took at look at the traffic data of millions of GPS users and pronounced the city with the highest percentage of congested roadways to be . . . Seattle. LA came in second followed by Chicago, San Francisco, and New York City. Least congested? Bucolic Charlottesville, VA, where only 19 per cent of roads are congested.

Budget Travel magazine decided to name America’s “coolest” small towns. Meet the winner, Cayucos, CA, a beach town with a population of 3,000 that’s apparently famous for its surfing and serious attention to cuisine-don’t miss the “super-addictive,” sea-salt-topped cookies ($13 a dozen) at the Brown Butter Cookie Co.

Then there’s Lexington, VA., a town of nearly 7,000 that Budget Travel says is “right out a Norman Rockwell” painting. Other contenders are Breaux Bridge, LA, Tubac, AZ, Wallace, ID, Saugerties, NY, Mount Vernon, IA, Jacksonville, OR, Rockland, ME, and Whitefish, MT.

I believe your reaction to these lists is often dependent on what experience you’ve had with specific locations. I dated a fabulous woman from Breaux Bridge, for example, so though I’ve never been there, I’m certain it’s a charmed little town. And since I live in St. Paul, I’m certain the readers of Travel & Leisure were spot-on in naming my hometown the smartest in the nation.


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About Rudy Maxa

Rudy Maxa

Rudy Maxa is host and executive producer of the public television travel series, Rudy Maxa's World. The 78 episodes he has hosted have won numerous awards, including a 2008 regional Emmy for his episode "Rajasthan." He's a contributing editor with National Geographic Traveler magazine and has written for a host of national travel magazines and newspapers. For nearly 15 years he offered consumer travel commentary on public radio's business show Marketplace as "The Savvy Traveler," which was also the name of a one-hour, coast-to-coast weekend show on public radio that he co-created and hosted for four years. Prior to his career as a travel writer and broadcaster, Maxa was an award-winning Washington Post investigative reporter, magazine writer, and columnist for 13 years, during which time his reporting was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. He was a senior writer at The Washingtonian magazine and Washington, D.C., bureau chief of Spy magazine. The author of two non-fiction books, Maxa lives in downtown St. Paul, Minnesota.