Washington D.C. Is Forbes' Coolest City — Here's What Went Wrong

Orhan Cam/Shutterstock.com

Something went horribly, horribly wrong with Forbes' "America's Coolest Cities" list: it named Washington, D.C. the coolest city in America. It then went on to name other decidedly uncool cities in its top 20, including Riverside and Sacramento, Calif. As Laura J. Nelson at the Los Angeles Times put it, "If naming DC the coolest city in the US didn't sound any alarm bells, ranking Riverside the (8)th-coolest should have."

To be fair, the list just ranks how great a city is to live in. "And by 'cool,' we mean cool to live in," Forbes' writes. Still, this is a deeply unserious ranking of geographical coolness, and Forbes' flawed methodology is to blame. Forbes' ranking is based on these criteria:

Size of the City 

"We sought to quantify it in terms of cities, partnering with Sperling’s BestPlaces to rank the 60 largest Metropolitan Statistical Areas and Metropolitan Divisions," writes Forbes. Orlando, Fla., doesn't count because its data is messed up, but Orlando isn't cool so that's alright. The problem is the list also includes metro areas. "New York is not a top 10 'coolest city' because New York includes Wayne, NJ, and White Plains now, apparently," Philip Bump at The Washington Post noted


The list favors cities with a lot of 20-34 year olds and recent transplants. People moving to the city (the 2010 - 2013 Net Migration) implies people want to live there — or, in D.C.'s case, most of the federal government jobs are there. Diversity was also considered, which is the only thing this list gets right. 

We can't deny that Washington, D.C., had the highest influx of 25-34 year olds last year — an analysis of Census data by the Brookings Institute last year showed as much. But that move was prompted by a thriving economy, and while having a job is nice, working 9-5 for The Man is not cool. 

Entertainment Options

Here is where everything went so very, very wrong. The list relies too heavily on population statistics and not enough on entertainment factors. The availability of activities like "college sports events, zoos and aquariums, golf courses, ski areas, and National parks, among others," made up each city's Recreation Index, and the availability of theaters, "musical performances" and museums make up the Art & Culture Index. The availability of non-chain restaurants and bars gives the Local Eats percentage. 

Even though most of the "cool" activities aren't cool (millennials don't like golf), actually cool cities score much higher in these entertainment categories. In those three categories, D.C. scores a 99, a 93 and a 68.9 percent, respectively. Riverside (8th) scores 88/93/72.2 percent.

Meanwhile, New York (11th!), a city that is subjectively cool, scores 100/100/89.9 percent. Los Angeles (16th!!) scores 99/100/78.6 percent. San Francisco (5th) scores 98/99/92.2 percent. 

While most people, particularly people from New York and D.C., will question the placement of the latter city anywhere on this list, the California ranking is equally bad. (As someone who grew up more or less in the Riverside metro area, I can personally that the very essence of the area is uncool.)  

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

  • The Big Data Campaign Trail

    With everyone so focused on security following recent breaches at federal, state and local government and education institutions, there has been little emphasis on the need for better operations. This report breaks down some of the biggest operational challenges in IT management and provides insight into how agencies and leaders can successfully solve some of the biggest lingering government IT issues.

  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

  • Ongoing Efforts in Veterans Health Care Modernization

    This report discusses the current state of veterans health care


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.