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In July, Atlanta became the latest city to ban smoking in public parks, with frightening fines—up to $1,000—for offenders. But keeping butts off green spaces came too late to help Atlanta’s ranking as the No. 5 dirtiest city in America.
As part of the annual America’s Favorite Cities survey, Travel + Leisure readers ranked 35 metropolitan areas on the features most enticing to travelers, like culture, dining and shopping—as well as how tidy a city feels.
The cities that scraped the bottom of the cleanliness category may show signs of grit, grime, or muck, but they all have some basic features in common: they’re big, and most have a bustling nightlife. To be fair, though, plenty of “dirty” cities are working hard to mitigate the squalor. And of course, plenty of travelers are willing to accept a little dirt in exchange for the experience of a great city.
1. New York City, NY
After ranking a tidier No. 5 last year, NYC has regained its No. 1 spot for grit and grime. Some have argued that littering fines here—up to 10 days in jail—should be tougher, but pollution isn’t always just what you see or smell: New York also won the survey for being the loudest and rudest city. Plenty of voters embrace that over-the-top personality, however: the city also ranked first for its theater, stylish locals, and luxury stores.
2. New Orleans, LA
Between hurricanes and the tornado of detritus that comes with Mardi Gras every year, Crescent City can be forgiven for having a tough time keeping up with debris. Some would say it even complements the city’s old-style but offbeat atmosphere: it’s also the No. 1 city for wild weekends, bars, and friendly locals.
3. Baltimore, MD
Does this Maryland city need an army of cats? County officials have been reportedly getting more complaints about rats this year, which may be one reason the city creeped up from last year’s No. 6. But plenty of voters still see Charm City’s lovable side, ranking it well for its classical music and quirky locals.
4. Los Angeles, CA
That bad rap for smog has been hard to shake—especially when the Lung Association has ranked L.A. in the top three for the nation’s worst air pollution. The bright side? Voters still found the sunny skies appealing and applauded the city’s less-than-gleaming features, such as the classic burgers and kitsch-filled flea markets.
5. Atlanta, GA
The Sun Belt city moved four spots closer to the Most Dirty prize this year, and ranked next-to-last for feeling safe. Atlanta is trying to get rid of one unsightly presence—cigarette butts—by banning smoking in parks, with fines of up to $1,000. Readers otherwise liked the city’s genteel shopping and the unapologetically messy barbecue.
6. Philadelphia, PA
The City of Brotherly Love is moving in the right direction: last year, it ranked a gritty No. 2. Even so, while readers like that they can walk around town so easily, that may have given them an up-close view of the litter. Luckily, voters were also easily distracted by Philly’s fabulous microbrews and plentiful pizza.
7. Dallas/Fort Worth
According to data, the Dallas area may have less of an ozone problem than Houston, but it still leapfrogged over its fellow Texas city and into the Dirtiest 10 this year. Perhaps voters didn’t find enough green space: the cities ranked last for their public parks. Locals here may prefer ballparks instead—these Texans also ranked in the top 10 for being sports-crazed.
8. Miami, FL
The Florida city—home to extremely polluted soil, according to one recent study—is holding onto its AFC spot from last year, and voters seemed to sense an overall chaos around town: Miami ranked near the bottom for noise and won the award for the nation’s worst drivers. But the locals still look fabulous: they ranked near the top for their style and good looks.
9. Memphis, TN
Memphis has improved five slots since last year, perhaps thanks to concerned citizens who can report litterbugs’ license plates on the 52-Clean hotline. Offenders get only a scolding letter in the mail—perhaps proof of the locals’ easygoing nature. Voters also put Memphis in the top 10 for its purposely sloppy barbecue and unrestrained music scene.
10. Houston, TX
Houston also made the American Lung Association’s top 10 for the worst ozones in the nation. If you want a nice excuse to stay indoors in this oil town, use the highly ranked burger joints and antique shops; the city also ranked well for being pleasantly affordable.
See more of America’s Dirtiest Cities