How We Rank

The good, the bad, and the ugly about Baltimore, from bedbugs to baseball stadiums.

Compiled By Ken Iglehart

–Illustrations by Vidhya Nagarajan

Let’s face it: For a least a century, Baltimore has had something of an inferiority complex. Maybe it’s because our location makes it too easy to compare us to those bigger places, like D.C., Philly, Beantown, and, of course, the Big Apple. And through the years, we’ve cooked up lots of catchy mottos to look a little better in their shadow: Charm City, The Land of Pleasant Living, The City That Reads (that seems to set the bar a little low), and the most eyebrow-raising park-bench claim ever, “Greatest City in America.”

But what’s the real story on America’s 20th largest metro area? If, for instance, San Diego is the sunniest city, New York the biggest, and St. Louis the most dangerous (we came in at a better-than-you-might-think No. 8 on the “most-dangerous-city” scale), then where does Charm City stand? We’ve paged through dozens of national rankings from as many sources to find out. So, drum roll, here it is: the good, the bad, and the ugly about Baltimore, from bedbugs to baseball stadiums.

View PDF of July 2012's How We Rank feature.

QUALITY OF LIFE

How thin is your skin, Bawlmer? In this category, it’s a mixed bag of good and not-so-good news.

Baltimore is No. 2 of the Top Ten Towns For Working Toward a Home Purchase, behind Washington. [Move Inc.]

Best Cities for Recent College Graduates: No. 9

Rankings were based on average rents, the concentration of young adults, and inventory of jobs requiring less than one year of experience:

1. Hartford-New Haven
2. Cleveland
3. Boston
4. Denver
5. Minneapolis
6. San Francisco
7. Washington, D.C.
8. Philadelphia
9. Baltimore
10. St. Louis

Best Cities to Find Work: No.5 [careercast.com]

Best Cities to Find Tech and Biopharmaceutical jobs: No.2 [Forbes]

Top 10 cities for singles: No.4 [Kiplinger]

And in the “most attractive people” rankings? We didn’t do so well, at No. 34. “But that doesn’t mean you can’t have a good time here: The city ranked in the top 20 for wild weekends,” says Travel + Leisure.

Forget the car: Believe it or not, Baltimore has the 11th highest percentage of commuter walkers and bikers among major U.S. cities (Alliance for Biking and Walking). And Walk Score ranked Baltimore the ninth best city in the country for public transportation, based on frequency, type, and distance of transit routes.

The Baltimore area ranks No.17 on a list of top 50 cities for working mothers. Buffalo ranked No. 1 while Las Vegas was last. [Forbes]

Second worst city for wage growth: -0.1% [Payscale.com]

Maryland tops all millionaire rankings with a slightly higher percentage of millionaire households, 7.22 percent, than Hawaii. [Phoenix Marketing International]

Hold your nose: Baltimore is No. 5 on a list of cities with the most toxic air pollution from power plants. [National Resources Defense Council and Physicians for Social Responsibility]

Gibson Island is No.23 on Forbes magazine’s list of the most expensive ZIP codes in the country. (The median home price is nearly $2.8 million)

DOING BUSINESS

In most ways, the metro area’s business landscape looks pretty lush by national standards:

The taxman cometh: We’ve all heard lots of whining here about too much regulation and too many taxes. And some of it is justified: Out of 50 cities, we have the:
9th worst tax climate for doing business
5th worst individual income-tax rate
6th worst unemployment insurance tax rate
11th worst property-tax rate. [Tax Foundation]

Is my Rolls here yet? The Port of Baltimore is No.1 in the nation as an international auto-shipping hub for the first half of 2011, beating out New York. [U.S. Census]

We’re the Third Best Shopping City. Yes, we were a little surprised, too, but the only thing that matters is that we left New York in the dust: Baltimore, with its 9,536 retail locations and 21 shopping centers, ranks No. 3 on the best shopping cities list from Forbes magazine, behind Houston and Dallas.

Bon voyage, baby: Baltimore ranked No. 5 on the East Coast for cruise-ship passengers in 2010. Baltimore ranks 12th among all U.S. ports for its cruise passengers. [U.S. Department of Transportation]

Best City For Minority Entrepreneurs: No.2

SPORTS

We’ve always been unrecovered sports freaks, so it’s no surprise that Baltimore does well by this measurement:

Best arena of its size: 1st Mariner - No.1 [Billboard]

Local boys make good: On the National Football League’s rankings of greatest NFL players of all time, Johnny Unitas is No. 6 and Ray Lewis is No. 18.

The Baltimore Orioles’ value rose 12 percent to $460 million in the past year, but dropped one spot on Forbes magazine’s annual list of the most-valuable baseball franchises, going from 18 to 19.

The Ravens are worth $1.088 billion, which ranks them No. 10 most-valuable NFL team. [Forbes]

Baltimore ranks No. 29 for best sports cities, according to Sporting News.

STEPPING OUT

This is it: One of our strongest areas. Turns out we’re a great place to eat, drink, or make like a tourist. But we knew that already.

The South's Tastiest Towns: No.9

When Southern Living magazine ran an online poll to determine the answer to this, more than 500,000 readers responded. Lafayette, LA. was No. 1 (where?), New Orleans was No. 3. Hey, with everything from crabs, rockfish, and barbecue to our high-brow Zagat-rated restaurants, it would have been a dumb list without us.

Baltimore’s Inner Harbor area ranked No. 21 for top Labor Day destinations. [Priceline.com]

Best city to see holiday lights: No.10 [Yahoo Travel]

50 Best Chocolatiers in America: Baltimore-based Glarus, No. 6:
1. Jacques Torres Chocolate Heaven, NYC
2. Grocer’s Daughter Chocolate, Empire, MI
3. Cero’s Candies, Wichita, KS
4. Christopher Elbow Artisanal Chocolates, San Francisco, CA
5. Leonidas Chocolates, Washington, D.C.
6. Glarus Chocolatier, Baltimore
(Online style guide for men, Complex)

Ladew Gardens is recipient of the “Top Five North American Gardens Worth Traveling For” award, presented by the Canadian Garden Tourism Council for 2012.

National Geographic ranks O.C.’s boardwalk as the fourth best in the country, and the water’s fine, too: Maryland beaches rank 16th and Delaware beaches are fifth, based on cleanliness of water samples, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Baltimore’s system of parks is rated 15th among the nation’s 40 largest cities. [Trust for Public Land]

ARTS

Biggest cities for art:No.9 [American Style]

We’re pretty happy with this score: A tip of the hat goes to The BMA, The Walters, the American Visionary Art Museum, and many other players.

We’re home of the “Most Influential Film of the Last 30 Years”: Diner [Vanity Fair] as well as “Best TV Drama”: The Wire [vulture]

HEALTH

Hey, we’re surrounded by great hospitals and 10,700 scolding doctors to remind us to eat an apple a day and not run with scissors. How could we not be healthy?

You want health care? It’s one of our strong points: Baltimore-area hospitals rank highest for patient care in the country. Nearly half of the area’s hospitals (nine out of 16) are in the top-five percent of all of the hospitals in the U.S. (HealthGrades). And The Johns Hopkins Hospital is routinely named the best in the nation by U.S. News & World Report, which also ranks the Hopkins medical school No. 3 in the nation behind Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania.

Baltimore ranks 10th in the top 50 U.S. cities for bed bugs. [Pest control firm Orkin]

EDUCATION

Highly regarded public schools in both Howard and Baltimore counties helped move the needle in our favor on the smarts gauge: For the fourth year in a row, Maryland ranks No. 1 in the nation in the percentage of its graduating seniors who successfully passed the Advanced Placement (AP) exams, with 29 percent of last year’s graduating seniors having passed one AP exam by the time they graduated. [Advanced Placement for the College Board]

And that, of course, means we’re brainy: Ellicott City, Columbia, and Towson are among the smartest U.S. towns with populations between 50,000 and 99,999. Ellicott City ranked No. 15, Columbia No. 16, and Towson No. 21. [U.S. Census Bureau]

TRANSPORTATION

After reading this section, you might want to take Southwest Airlines to work instead of driving:

Maryland drivers are among the dumbest in the nation, according to a GMAC insurance study. Maryland drivers ranked 49th in the country for their driving knowledge. Insurer Allstate seconds that, ranking Baltimore drivers among the most dangerous in the country, second to last in the U.S. for safety. Only D.C. is worse.

BWI ranks No.1 (tied with Boston) for shortest security wait time, No.6 for on-time departures, and No.9 for tech travelers [farecompare.com; FAA; PCworld]

PERSONALITY

We all know we have some quirks in Charm City, and it turns out some of them are a tad annoying in the nation’s eyes:

Worst Dressed City: No.3 [Travel + Leisure]

Travel + Leisure named Baltimore the ninth rudest city in the country, saying it’s “not terribly safe” and “maybe it’s just a different sense of humor.”
1. New York City
2. Miami
3. Washington, D.C.
4. Los Angeles
5. Boston
6. Dallas
7. Atlanta
8. Phoenix
9. Baltimore
10. Orlando

We’re the 28th Manliest City. Maybe we’re just not man enough: In a survey by Combos (the pretzel company), Baltimore was ranked No. 28 on the third annual “America’s Manliest Cities” list, dropping 23 spots from last year (as measured by the number of home-improvement stores, steak houses, and motorcycles).

We don’t know whether to laugh or cry: When it comes to America’s happiest and saddest cities, Baltimore ranked 52 out of 100 (with No. 1 being the most cheerful and 100 being the most depressing). The happiest city is Honolulu. [Men’s Health magazine]

Fifth Most Tolerant City. We’ll take this as a compliment. [The Daily Beast]

PEANUT GALLERY

Some rankings just don’t fit into some neat little box. Here are a few of those:

Did you lock up the backhoe, hon? Maryland ranked No.8 for heavy equipment theft. The worst state was Texas. [National Insurance Crime Bureau]

Some of us did well at Forgery 101: Maryland has the third-highest number of fraud reports per capita in the country, including identity theft, employment-related fraud, and fraud in debt collection. [Federal Trade Commission]

Baltimore’s John F. Steadman fire station is the busiest in the nation. In 2010, Steadman’s nine vehicles made 21,921 runs—–3,000 more calls than any other firehouse. [Firehouse Magazine]

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