Anyone who’s hiked up Los Angeles’s Runyon Canyon can verify that, while the sweeping city views are beautiful, they’re accompanied by the yellow hue of smog — particularly around downtown. So when the American Lung Association released the results from its annual State of the Air report in April, it wasn’t a huge surprise to see L.A. named the most ozone-polluted city in America.
Where else did the city land itself a top-ranking spot? In Travel + Leisure’s America’s Favorite Cities survey, where voters found the City of Angels’ cleanliness to be a little less than heavenly. In fact, survey takers — who rated 30 cities around the U.S. in 10 different categories — found the centerpiece of SoCal sprawl to be the No. 3 dirtiest city in the country.
Some cities fared better. Take Honolulu, for example. People who filled out our survey voted the Hawaiian capital as the eighth cleanest city in the country, while the American Lung Association survey found Honolulu to be the seventh cleanest city for ozone pollution. Of course, clean air is expected in a romantic, tropical destination like this, and the Aloha State came through.
OK, maybe the relative ranking for L.A. and Honolulu isn’t earth shattering. What is surprising, though, is that the dirtiest cities shared similarly low ratings in other survey categories, like peace and quiet, public parks and environmental friendliness. Many of the dirtiest cities also had another thing in common: great nightlife. After all, inebriated club-goers can have a tendency to be careless with their trash.
Take Las Vegas, for example. With its up-all-night party lifestyle and neon landscape — the lack of anything resembling a park doesn’t help much — it fits in with the pattern of the other cities voted dirtiest.
Conversely, the cleaner cities tended to receive strong marks for peace, parks and a devotion to Mother Earth. Portland, Ore.'s No. 2 spot for cleanliness stems from its eco-conscious zeal as well as countless measures to prevent overdevelopment.
The results are based on public opinion, both of residents and tourists. So while the rankings come from people’s perceptions — and not hard science — remember that a huge part of travel is the way visitors perceive a destination. So in that vein, the opinions showcased here are every bit as important as those in any other study.
Before you travel again, check to see where you can ditch the face mask and where you should wear a hazmat suit. The results may just surprise you.