San Francisco can lay claim to two of the three coolest neighborhoods in the country, with the Mission District taking top honors and tiny Jackson Square nabbing the No. 3 spot.
That’s according to a somewhat dubious bit of data-crunching by rental website HotSpot, who set out to find the hottest and/or coolest neighborhoods in America.
New York — more specifically, Brooklyn — gave San Francisco a run for its money, taking the No. 2 (Bushwick) and No. 5 (Sunset Park) spots. Seattle’s Capitol Hill ranked No. 4, while Washington, D.C., had two of the nation’s top neighborhoods with Shaw (No. 8) and U Street (No. 11).
Of course, any ranking of this sort is doomed from the outset, because it’s virtually impossible to objectively measure the coolest neighborhood or the best city to live in. People need and want very different things from their communities. And perhaps nothing is so subjective and fleeting as what passes for cool at any given moment in time. But HotSpot has made this impossible task even more difficult, for reasons I’ll explain in a moment.
How Do You Measure “Coolness”
To determine the ranking, HotSpot scored an unspecified number of neighborhoods around the country in six different categories:
Walkability: Being able to walk everywhere is very cool. It’s good for the spirit, the environment, and for local businesses — everyone wins. You can experience chance encounters with fellow humans, and stumble home safely after a bunch of beers — all cool in my book.
Transit: Well, I’m a big believer in funding and using public transit — I’d argue it’s an essential requirement for any truly livable urban neighborhood, and riding the subway is far preferable to sitting in traffic. It’s extremely practical. But I mean, is it “cool” to be smooshed into someone’s armpit on your way to work? Jury’s still out on that one.
Budget: Yes, having enough money to go out at night is pretty cool. So you’d think this category would be devoted to median income or housing affordability or cost of living or something to that effect… maybe the average cost of a burrito and a craft beer, I don’t know. But to come up with a budget score for each area, HotSpot considered “confidence in the local economy, state and local taxes, and recent shifts in the rental market.” Putting aside how vaguely meaningless most of that sounds, did they really say taxes? Come on, man, taxes are definitely not cool!
Entertainment: Okay, now we’re getting somewhere. Music, clubs, art — entertainment is cool. For this category, HubSpot tallied up all the restaurants, bars, coffee shops, festivals, fairs, arts events, and music events in a given neighborhood. However, only two of HotSpot’s coolest 25 neighborhoods — in the whole country, mind you — scored higher than an 80 in the Entertainment category. This should be the single most important criteria if you’re trying to measure coolness!
Granted, some of the top neighborhoods are near enough to great entertainment, even if it’s to be found a few blocks outside their boundaries. For example, Austin’s Central East and Holly neighborhoods, No. 10 and No. 12, both score in the lowly 40s when it comes to entertainment options — but they’re just steps away from downtown Austin’s famous 6th Street scene.
Lifestyle: This nebulous moniker could literally encompass anything, but HotSpot chose to zero in on just three factors: bikeability, pet friendliness, and outdoor activities. I mean, those are all great, but it’s a pretty limited definition of lifestyle, isn’t it? Not everyone drives a Subaru, guys. (Though you should probably try one — I really do love our Impreza.)
Weather: I’ll give HotSpot credit, because they actually did something interesting here. Rather than just score the weather based on sunshine and warm temperatures, like most of these lists do, they based the ranking on what locals think of their weather. That’s an important distinction, since comfortable weather can be very subjective — I would melt and beg for mercy in Phoenix or Miami, for example.
Then, HotSpot tallied up each neighborhood’s average score across all six categories, and spit out this list.
It’s all in good fun, of course, but there are some glaring problems with this exercise. Two of the categories, Budget and Weather, comprising 33% of the overall score, would be virtually the same throughout an entire metropolitan area. And of course there’s the wildly subjective and selective nature of the criteria to begin with.
But worst of all, I double-checked some of the math, adding up a bunch of the neighborhood scores in each category and averaging them out… and in most cases, they don’t work out to the final scores HotSpot has assigned. For example, the Mission tops the list with an overall average of 92. But add up its six category scores (97 + 89 + 82 + 91 + 83 + 91) and you get 533, or an average (divide by 6) of 88.8. And in fact, No. 3 Jackson Square actually outscores No. 2 Bushwick by 15 points overall, or the equivalent of a 2.5 points overall. It’s unclear where the extra mystery points are coming from. If some of the categories were weighted more heavily than others, that would make sense — but HotSpot doesn’t mention any other madness to its methodology.
Still, I’ve been to a number of these places, and even lived in one of them for several years (Boston’s Allston-Brighton, No. 20), and they were all pretty cool. So, take a look at the full list — but definitely take it with a grain of salt.
How would you go about measuring something as subjective as coolness in an objective way? Should they have counted vinyl record shops and tattoo parlors? The number of 20-something residents?