At Long Last, A Finance Magazine Tells Me Where The Cool Kids Are Chillin’

by drewnilsen

Once you’re explaining a joke, it’s no longer funny. Once you’re quantifying coolness, it’s not cool.

That arbiter of what’s hip, Forbes Magazine, is out with a list of the 20 coolest cities in America.

As I’ve discussed recently (here and here), online surveys purporting to tell me “Where I should move to” or what the next hot cities are have an inherent inability to capture the intangibles what what makes a place great.

I’ll reveal the findings below so you can pack your bags on the train to Bitchin’ville (unless Fortune Magazine drops its own dopeness bomb first). But first, the methodology.

Forbes used seven equally-weighted metrics. Multiple criteria were based on sports and recreation (number of sports teams, green space, outdoor recreational activities … like golf. Tré cool, Forbes). I like that they used number of non-chain restaurants, as TGI Friday’s hasn’t been a proxy for coolness in 40 years. Also factored in were cultural diversity, unemployment, and net migration. Notably absent — any mention of walkability (curious, since quantifiable Walk Scores are readily available for every neighborhood) or access to public transit.

No list of this sort is perfect, but it’s missing a human element. God help me for invoking the much-maligned Bowl Championship Series in support of my argument, but the original intent recognized that computers might not realize that 9-1 Oklahoma is actually way better than 10-0 Central Michigan. Thus, they balanced the computer rankings with the human element (coaches’ and media polls).

The human element is the missing link here. A panel of “experts” — everyone from urbanists and realtors to cultural mavens and sociologists — could have rendered their own coolest city picks, or weighted the rankings based on the data.

So, what’s the #1 coolest city in America? Brace yourself.

Houston. Just the other day, I noted that Houston gets a bad rap, and is underrated. In my years living in Texas, I came to admire Houston’s cultural diversity, arts, food, and fun, walkable neighborhoods inside the 610 Loop. Its affordability is an asset, as is its progressivism (I get more raised eyebrows — especially outside of Texas — by mentioning Houston’s second-term lesbian mayor, than I do from anything else I say about the place). All that said, it’s hard to believe that Houston would even get on the “Family Feud” board in a survey of average Americans asked to name the coolest cities.

And #2? Washington, DC. [Comments redacted since I live here now.]

There are a few good choices on this list — though whoever put Betheda, Maryland on there should be fired — but it demonstrates the limitations of trying to decipher what’s cool based exclusively on numbers. Math, in this case, isn’t cool.

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