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Ranking the Cities

We took a day trip to Chicago on Saturday. We went to the Shedd Aquarium, ate at Uno’s (over-rated), walked/shopped the Miracle Mile, then decided the heat was too much and drove home early, pulling into our driveway before 8:00 p.m.

On the way there, I re-visted a train of thought I’d been considering off-and-on for a few months: Where does Chicago rank, culturally, among important U.S. cities? Where do other cities like Miami and Boston rank?

And what do I mean by “culturally”? Heck if I know, but I guess I could frame the issue this way: if I could get a digital read out of the Jungian collective unconscious of all Americans, where would the various cities rank in intuitive importance? How much does each city have in the area of cultural references, theaters, film production, history, tradition, sports, music, food, politics, etc. and etc. Put everything together, and where do the cities fall in importance?

I came up with this list. Now make no doubt about it: The list is highly subjective, but it’s not arbitrary. I have reasons for the ranking (see parenthetical comment for the things that came to my mind first), but I can’t defend the ranking. Again, it’s subjective. Feel free to differ in the comments box. If everyone looked at this list and said, “Oh, yeah, he’s 100% right,” I’d be shocked . . . and a little disappointed.

I divide the list into different classes. In Class 1, I put NYC. I think it’s in a class by itself. Everyone else is head and shoulders and maybe even torso below NYC. Also, a lot of cities don’t make the list at all (e.g., Jacksonville, Columbus, Wichita, Topeka, etc.), so if one of your favorite cities is toward the bottom, don’t take offense. I only included those cities that, I think, have cultural significance, so if your city is toward the bottom, it’s still a compliment at some level.


New York (has it all, in spades)
Los Angeles (Hollywood)
Chicago (the Second City)
San Francisco (Dirty Harry, the Haight)
Boston (revolution, Irish, Good Will Hunting)
Philadelphia (Rocky, liberty)
Washington, DC (leviathan)
New Orleans (jazz, Walker Percy)
Las Vegas (casinos, the mob, movies)
Atlanta (Gone with the Wind)
Miami (Cubans)
Detroit (see below)
St. Louis (beer, Cardinals, arch)
Denver (Kerouac, mining)
Baltimore (Mencken, Ripken)
Seattle (needle, coffee)
Houston (oil, big hats)
Nashville (music, Vanderbilt)
Memphis (music, Elvis)
Dallas (too big to ignore)
Charleston (old South)
Honolulu (Five-0, Brady Bunch vacation)
Cleveland (rock-n-roll)
Salt Lake City (Mormons, Olympics)
Kansas City (Wilbur Harrison)
San Diego (cool)
Minneapolis (Vikings, later addition: Mary Tyler Moore Show)
San Antonio (Alamo)
Cincinnati (Hudenpohl, Reds)
Louisville (baseball)
Portland (cool)
Phoenix (too big to ignore, desert)
Austin (U of T)
Chattanooga (choo choo)
Orlando (Disney)

I struggle with Detroit, incidentally. Fifty years ago, it may have been in Class Two: Chevrolet, Buick, Cadillac, Joe Louis, the Purple Gang, Motown, Bob Seger, Red Wings and Tigers, etc. But it’s such a dump today. At one point, I almost put it in Class Five, but then reconsidered, thinking I was punishing it too harshly. It has produced a ton of things on the cultural front, so I stuck it at the top of Class Four. I’d be especially curious to hear where readers think my family’s home city should be ranked.


  1. C.R
  2. C.R
  3. Eric
  4. C.R
  5. Jake Ryals