How Other People Stereotype Your City

I always find it really fascinating to find out how people from different places can perceive the same things so differently. And especially how people from other countries, regions, and cities perceive my city, region, and country – what they focus on, and what things stand out in their mind. In other words – people’s country, region, and city stereotypes.

For years – it has always been an interesting conversation to have – but finding out stereotypes has always been anecdotal. But last year – Renee DiResta had the brilliant idea to apply something that we all use everyday – Google AutoSuggest – to find out US State Stereotypes (you can see that post here).

Here’s the same methodology used on the top 50 US cities (by metro area population) to get the top 4 to 5 city stereotypes of each.

Just FYI – Google Auto Suggest works by using the most common and trending searches to auto-suggest the rest of your search. So when you go to Google and start typing in a search, Google uses other previously searched for terms to try to guess what you are looking for.

So, for this experiment, the search “why is CITYNAME so” will auto suggest the terms that people most commonly (or most recently) are using to complete that search. That search is like a window into what people are actually thinking and trying to find out about your city. Here they are in descending order of population (#50 to NYC).

Just to be clear – the images are from Google. They are not my perceptions. They are made up of what people actually search for.

50. Salt Lake City 50saltlakecity

Yes – I confirmed that Salt Lake City is the most smog-choked cities in the US. And yes, they do have absurdly wide streets.

49. Buffalo

49buffalo

Alas, I didn’t have any other pre-conceptions about Buffalo. This is going to be a theme among all the rust belt cities.

48. Birmingham

48birmingham

Apparently Birmingham is important (ie, people who slept through the Civil Rights part of history class?) – and I can totally confirm that it is quite ugly. There are definitely beautiful parts – but I-20 and I-59 really mess things up.

EDIT: That link refers to Birmingham, England. Here’s a picture of Birmingham, Alabama

47. Raleigh

47raleigh

Yes – Raleigh is growing that fast. Not sure about the boring part.

46. Hartford

46hartford

I had no idea about this one.

45. New Orleans

45neworleans

Yes, New Orleans is all of those – but is coming back from what I hear.

44. Richmond

44richmond

Expensive?

43. Louisville

43louisville

That fits from what my sources say – it’s a great city, but no one knows quite why.

42. Oklahoma City

42oklahomacity

Oklahoma City is riding on the coattails of the Oklahoma City Thunder and Kevin Durant here.

41. Memphis

41memphis

This seems to be a theme among America’s third-tier cities.

40. Jacksonville

40jacksonville

Why smoky? The Okefenokee Swamp.

39. Milwaukee

39milwaukee

Apparently the last 2 actually fit. It’s cold – it’s nearly in Canada, and it is highly segregated.

38. Providence

Sorry Providence, not enough people cared enough to Google anything about you.

EDIT: Some Rhode Islanders have helpfully pointed out that their state is so small that Providence and Rhode Island are basically synonymous.

37. Virginia Beach

I had no idea Virginia Beach was the #37 metro area in America. Seriously. I would say they need to work on their branding, but it’s the headquarters of America’s Navy, so I don’t think they want the publicity.

EDIT: I have learned that this is a metro agglomeration similar to the Inland Empire that encompasses Virginia Beach, Hampton Roads, Norfolk, and Newport News.

36. Nashville

36nashville

Looks like the same theme as Louisville – but hotter.

35. Austin

35austin

Ok, I think Austin wants to fit in with its stereotypes.

34. San Jose

34sanjose

Spot on from what I hear.

33. Indianapolis

33indianapolis

Apparently the one thing people think of when they think of Indianapolis is the fabulous SoBro Cafe.

EDIT: Some helpful Indianapolisians pointed out that SoBro is also refers to the South of Broad neighborhood.

32. Columbus

32columbus

Poor Columbus, OH – they could go for some brand disambiguation.

31. Las Vegas

31lasvegas

Like Austin – I think Las Vegas embraces their stereotypes.

30. Kansas City

30kansascity

The last suggestion says it all about Kansas City.

29. Cleveland

29cleveland

Cloudy? Hmm – maybe Cleveland is still trying to shake this image.

28. Cincinnati

28cincinnati

Conservative and racist?

27. Sacramento

27sacramento

Hot?

26. Orlando

26orlando

Orlando-ites: this is spot on FWIW.

25. San Antonio

25sanantonio

Windy?

24. Portland

24portland

Ok, I think Portland has some sort of brand management going on here. They want to fit their stereotypes (err, maybe not the white part – but the others definitely).

23. Charlotte

23charlotte

Charlotte: so boring that book characters overtake them in Google AutoSuggest.

22. Pittsburgh

22pittsburgh

Bravo Pittsburgh! You have overcome the Cleveland/Buffalo/Middle America perception.

21. Denver

21denver

Denver is sending mixed signals here.

20. Baltimore

20baltimore

The Wire was set in Baltimore. I’m not sure that helped things.

19. St. Louis

19stlouis

St. Louis: you and Memphis need to get together and hash out a plan here.

18. Tampa Bay

18tampa

Total surprise – my stereotype was one of retirement homes.

17. San Diego

17sandiego

I’d loved to be proved wrong by San Diego. It looks interesting, and is definitely California’s under the radar city.

16. Minneapolis

16minneapolis

How is it that so many people are wondering why Minneapolis would be cold?

15. Seattle

15seattle

Warm?

14. Detroit

14detroit

Hmmm. The urban conundrum that is Detroit.

13. Phoenix

13phoenix

Yes – Phoenix is extremely polluted – being out in the desert doesn’t help things.

12. Inland Empire

12sanbernardio

I didn’t even know this was that big of a metro area.

11. San Francisco

11sanfrancisco

I’ve heard that those fit for the most part.

10. Boston

10boston

Double-expensive – that’s my impression as well.

9. Atlanta

9atlanta

My city! Yes – Atlanta has a large gay community. Yes, it is a big city. I’m not sure what the sentiment of “ghetto” is – but there are some very under-developed and high-crime areas in the Southwest and West of the city (both on the way to the Airport and Downtown). And Atlanta can have a couple cold days in the Winter…but it’s pretty hot overall.

8. Miami

8miami

I’ve never really had a pre-conception of Miami – I’d be interested to hear from someone who lives there.

EDIT: Great to see some perspectives of Miamians in the comments. Be sure to check them out.

7. Washington DC

7washingtondc

Very revealing. Expensive and poor. There’s a dissertation for you.

6. Philadelphia

6philadelphia

From my sources – Philadelphia really is a love it or hate it kind of city.

5. Houston

5houston

Houstonians: These are very true.

4. Dallas

4dallas

Windy? Otherwise, dead-on.

EDIT: Texans have informed me that their state is so windy that they get paid a lot of money to put up wind farms. Today I learned.

3. Chicago

3Chicago

Yep, dead on.

EDIT: To reiterate the introduction, when I say “dead on” or “spot on” – I am saying that the stereotypes of the Googling public at large conforms to my personal stereotypes. Like all stereotypes, they are wrong and do not describe reality.

2. Los Angeles

2LosAngeles

I think LA has more appeal than these – but I totally see where they come from.

1. New York City

1newyorkcity

I’d say New Yorkers would agree (and would have fun comparing these to LA’s).

That’s all for America, but you can do this with anything – cities, people, things, companies, etc. Here’s a few more international cities I looked at.

Toronto

57toronto

I always think of Toronto as the Dallas of Canada for some reason.

EDIT: I have learned that Toronto has some very passionate residents who have persuaded me that actually Calgary is the Dallas of Canada, and that Toronto is a world-class city that I must visit (which I certainly will). Kudos to Toronto for the civic pride! (And to Dallas – I’m not saying that you are the Calgary of the US at all. And to Calgarians – talk to the Torontans).

Sao Paulo

56saopaulo

Spot on from what I hear.

Shanghai

55shanghai

Cold? Yeah – I think of Shanghai as hot, but if I looked at the actual weather, it would throw me off.

EDIT: Yes, I checked and Shanghai does get quite cold during the winter.

Hong Kong

55hongkong

Spot on in my opinion.

Paris

54paris

Spot on from what I hear.

London

52london

Spot on from what I hear.

Tokyo

51tokyo

And I think Tokyo wins the city stereotype contest.

Comments

      • TS says

        Why is Baltimore so…hated by its white suburbanites would have been my first guess.

        • Nate says

          Yeah – I know Atlanta has that rivalry with its suburbs as well. Sad that everyone can’t just get along and build a better metro area.

  1. Jason Haremza says

    As a Buffalo native, I can’t figure out why anyone thinks it’s expensive. One of the great benefits of living in cold, depressing places is they tend to be cheap.

    Also, not sure why Toronto would be Canada’s Dallas. Calgary, Alberta is definitely Canada’s Dallas: impressive skyline and a western economy built on cows and oil. I would say Toronto is more like Canada’s Chicago: Great Lakes location and cultural inferiority complex compared to older, most established eastern cities (New York/Montreal).

    • Nate says

      Thanks Jason – that’s a really cool insight. Totally see that. I do hope to visit Toronto and see what it’s really about. And yeah – really odd stereotype about Buffalo. Speaking of which – what do you think about the Bills moving over the water? Is Toronto a Buffalo rival or twin?

      • says

        As nearly as I can tell, they’re rivals. Buffalo has nearly the same relationship to Toronto that Philadelphia does to New York, or Baltimore does with DC, or even Providence and Boston, except there isn’t the same kind of commuter shed that (say) Hamilton can provide Toronto.

        However, like Rochester, Buffalo is saturated with Toronto media (and vice versa: many of the public broadcasting donors to stations in those cities are from the Toronto area). A lot of my educated friends from western New York speak with an accent that’s very nearly Canadian to me.

        • says

          …Actually, now that I think about it, the relationship between Toronto and Buffalo seems a lot like that between San Diego and Tijuana.

          • Nate says

            LOL – love the comparisons. Thanks for the comment. I can just imagine the influence of Canadian media too.

    • says

      I’m guessing that “expensive” here often maps to “too expensive for my wages”. In that case, very cheap cities will still be expensive to someone whose wages are low. But you’re right, Buffalo is VERY inexpensive to me.

  2. Sam says

    Toronto=Dallas? This is a fascinating article, but uhh??? Not at all?? Toronto is a major world city in the league of New York, San Francisco, Paris, and London. I would really recommend looking into it if you have time! Toronto is such a vibrant, exciting, diverse city, and it has such a vast and eclectic variety of neighborhoods that it’s one of the most fun in the world to explore. Americans hardly ever realize that there’s a monolithic global powerhouse right across the lake from Upstate New York!

    • Sam says

      Forgot to also say that this was really really fun to read! Thank you for doing this by METRO area rather than by city limit population. I’m so sick of reading articles about American cities that leave out Minneapolis-St. Paul because they don’t have giant city limits.

      • Nate says

        Thanks Sam – and yeah, totally agree. As an Atlantan (city is only 10% of metro area population), articles like that annoy me as well.

    • Nate says

      Yeah – that’s just my initial perception. But I hear it’s an amazing city (and ya’ll almost beat out Atlanta for the ’96 Olympics from what I read). I definitely plan on visiting. What are a few places I should not miss out on?

      • Sam says

        Well I don’t actually live in Toronto, but I’ve been a few times! Queen West is fun to explore, definitely check out Kensington Market and St. Lawrence Market, and take the ferry to Toronto Islands. The Harbourfront is undergoing major renovations right now and should be really cool when it’s done. CN Tower obviously is a big tourist draw. Entertainment District has a big party scene, Yorkville has big shopping. I really like Casa Loma and the Annex because they remind me of the part of Minneapolis I grew up in.

    • D-May says

      Why the hate for Dallas? Does Dallas not have “a vibrant, exciting, diverse city, and […] a vast and eclectic variety of neighborhoods” that are fun to explore? Oh and if you are looking for a “world class city”, then welcome to the “Texas Century”.

      Or have you just never been here and simply base your beliefs on articles you read about Dallas by other people who have never been here.

      Believe it or not, getting compared to Dallas isn’t necessarily an insult.

      • Nate says

        :) No hate here D-May – that’s why I tried to make it clear that these were my stereotypes and perceptions – gotta confront them before changing. I do have that perception of Dallas (same as others have stereotypes for my amazing city of Atlanta). I’d love to (and plan on) getting out to Dallas and seeing what it’s really about. I’ve heard you guys have an amazing arts district, beautiful streets, some great restaurants. Thanks for the comment!

  3. eddie says

    I have family in both Chicago and Atlanta, and I really have to say: Chicago > Atlanta

    • Nate says

      Trolling the Atlanta author? :) I hear Chicago really is amazing. It’s on my list to actually visit soon.

      • Alex Oconnor says

        Any yet you say “dead on”. For one Chicago is not very windy compared to other areas in the US. It is less windy for instance than Boston of New York. It is not that cold, sure Jan and Feb can be but the average high year round is about 64 degrees over the year with a low in the 40’s That is based on the most recent 30-year data. It is not all that violent for a large city..though more violent the NYC and LA. It is incidentally substantially less violent than Atlanta for instance.

        So perhaps you should rephrase “not dead on”

        either that or reserve your commentary until you can back it up with experience.

        • Nate says

          I said “dead on” in that the stereotypes that Google AutoSuggest spits out line up with what my, and many other people’s, stereotypes about Chicago are. Those stereotypes, like all stereotypes, do not line up with reality. This exercise was just about exploring how other people perceive other places – whether based on hearsay, media, or actual experience. Not at all about what those places actually are. Seriously, no hate towards Chicago at all.

    • kyle says

      I can’t compare Chicago to Atlanta having never been to Atlanta, but as a Milwaukeean (who begrudgingly agrees with some of the stereotypes of my own city posted here) I visit Chicago any chance I get and it’s an incredible place. Nothing second about the second city in my opinion, and I far prefer it to the sprawl of Houston or L.A., though those might be apples and oranges.

      • Nate says

        Thanks for the comment Kyle! And yeah – I’m very interested in visiting Chicago. I’m definitely jealous of its density and mass transit from afar.

  4. cat says

    Most cities in Texas can get extremely windy. I am from West Texas which is way more windy than both San Antonio or Dallas could ever dream to be, however, those cities can still get very windy.

    • Nate says

      Thanks for the comment cat! Yes – I’ve now heard that it’s also paying off with a wind energy boom out in West Texas. Fascinating.

  5. Anne says

    Why is Omaha Steaks so expensive?
    Why is Omaha pot limit?
    Why is Omaha famous?

    Omaha Nebraska = pot + steaks? Hmmmm.

  6. Tina says

    Ha! Great read! I’ve been to almost all of the cities on the list. I did travel nursing for two years and drove cross-country and now travel several times a year for work. Most of them are spot-on in my opinion! I am from Louisville and i think that one is pretty funny! I love my city, but can’t really figure out why? i’ve been told it’s like a great little eclectic European town with a great personality. And in regards to Miami I have been there a few times and it’s all over the map. And I have a work collegue who lives there and had her whole life and she says that everyone from there hates it, but doesn’t leave? Hhhmmm….

    • Nate says

      Thanks for the comment Tina – that’s all really interesting. I’ve heard the same about Louisville from friends who used to live there. Beautiful area too.

    • Nate says

      Yeah – thanks for pointing that out Fred, I’ll have the picture link edited shortly.

  7. Ex DFWer says

    I just moved away from Dallas. It’s a wind tunnel, especially if you live higher up in a condo. All I could hear during winter was the wind howling day AND night. I’ve never experienced that elsewhere. I also probably helped create that auto-fill.

    • Nate says

      That’s really interesting to find out. I’ve also since heard that wind has been bringing big benefits to Texas in the form of wind energy.

  8. Virginia Postrel says

    The one thing I know about Sacramento, aside from that it’s the state capital, is that it’s hot. It’s famously hot, at least in California.

    • Nate says

      Hi Virginia – that’s interesting to me. For whatever reason I think of Sacramento as pretty far north (hence cold) – but it’s really not. It’s on the same latitude as DC. I’m sure it also has a sort of microclimate too.

  9. indy says

    SoBro isn’t just the name of the restaurant, its the shortening of a really popular Indianapolis neighborhood – South Broad Ripple.

    Very interesting project though I wish more people searched for Indy – its a pretty nice little city.

  10. Richard Carle says

    Why is the author of this article so
    boring
    ignorant
    smug
    in love with “spot on”?

    • Nate says

      Hey Richard, I’m the author here – that’s just a colloquial phrase I used in the article. Cheers!

  11. Macartisan says

    Seattlites start talking about heat waves, sunstroke, and global warming whenever the thermometer tops 75 degrees.

    Several years ago, people in Chicago were dying in a 105-degree heatwave. Seattle had solid cloud cover and temperatures below 60 for three months. First sunny day, 72 degrees, the local newsies were wandering around asking (in a non-ironical way) if people were aware of the symptoms of heatstroke.

    “Why is Seattle so warm?” is the rain-bleached Seattlite’s version of “Oh, look, the sun’s out.”

  12. says

    Wish Fresno CA was here. I have my own list for it (hot, anti-pedestrian, anti-bike, allergy-inducing, class-divided, over-hipstered, and corrupt) but would love to see what other Fresnans would say.

    • Nate says

      Hi Jamie! It looks like Fresno is #56 largest metro area, so just barely outside the top 50. But I’ll have to add it in when I make edits. Thanks! Go Bulldogs!

  13. Nikos says

    For Providence, you should really google “Why is Rhode Island so…?” It will give you a much more accurate view of our tiny little city-state.

    • Nate says

      So – liberal, expensive, small, and corrupt? :) Thanks for the comment – I just learned that the official name of the state is “State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations” – cool to know!

  14. hb says

    from Miami-
    sounds about right…just missing:

    why is Miami full of bad drivers
    why is Miami full of people that don’t speak English (I am fully for being able to speak multiple languages but there are certain parts of the county where if you don’t speak Spanish, you are not going to be able to anything/get service)

    • Nate says

      Thanks for the comment hb! Sounds like Miami would be a good place to help me really learn Spanish and defensive driving skills…

    • thestik says

      Came here to say this and also add vain/shallow to the list. I attended college and worked in Miami for two years. Seeing that much self-absorbed behavior was atounding in ways I didn’t think were possible.

      • hb says

        How the hell did I forget that! I was going to put something about fake boobs too but that’s more the beach.

        • says

          Miami can be a traumatizing place, so I can understand if your subconscious managed to block it out. I can’t trash Miami too much, because I did learn a lot of useful information when I was there. Still, it’s a place where you’ll get jaded at a very quick pace.

          • Nate says

            Thanks for the insight thestik. I’d still love to visit, but from your and others feedback, it seems like Miami has a truly unique vibe for good and bad.

      • says

        Actual conversation overheard on Lincoln Road:

        “They all got butt implants!”
        “…That’s retarded.”
        “No, seriously, they did!”

        And I cried into my $10 bowl of nonetheless mediocre ramen.

  15. BGVA says

    FWIW, Virginia Beach showed up:
    -famous
    -so expensive
    -for lovers
    -tourist attraction

    1) The beach and military…the former is known for being a family-friendly, lower-cost alternative to places like Miami or Hawaii…
    2) Military allowance plays into it a bit…the low salaries for civilians doesn’t help
    3) “Virginia is For Lovers”
    4) See #1…

    Hope that helps!

    • Nate says

      Sweet! Thanks BGVA – I’ll add that in with the other edits. I’ll have to visit Virginia Beach. I really had no idea it was so big. I hear that it’s even getting an NBA team (maybe).

      • says

        I grew up there, and here’s what I got:

        Why is Virginia Beach so expensive?
        Why is Norfolk so flat?
        Is Virginia Beach Southern?
        Why is Hampton Roads so ghetto?
        Why is Norfolk so susceptible to coastal erosion?

        I would have added “integrated”, but I think that’s an element of the city a lot of people don’t pay attention to when they live there. Again, I assume the military.

      • BGVA says

        Heh. The NBA team turned out to be a leverage move for the Sacramento Kings’ former owners. Hampton Roads is always a bridesmaid, never a bride for stuff like that haha

  16. CAHereo Yorka says

    To cool! I know many of us play games with informal versions–factoids included.

    ..of course I’m from a stunning example of the great Country City called Columbus, Ohio.

    We are a “purple cow-town” with great entertainment/community/thriving arts and great people live here from all over the flat world!

    I must throw in lots of great parking…Go Bucks!!!!

  17. cowsaysmeow says

    I see someone popped in with a comment about Sacramento being hot and yes, it’s true – I’m not sure about winter months, but during the summer it regularly gets to be in the 90s-100s, and it doesn’t snow there.

    I’m surprised that the Google gods consider San Diego cold though – from what I remember the weather doesn’t vary much at all, but generally hovers between 70 and 80 year round. Maybe 60s in winter. *shrugs*

    -Former resident of polluted and popular LA, current resident of gay and dirty SF.

  18. Jay says

    Funny idea. All seem to be fairly bang on except for Toronto and Dallas. I lived in both. Dallas is no Toronto. Heck, Dallas is no Vancouver or Montreal either. Toronto is a lot more like New York or Chicago. Two other places I’ve also lived in.

    • Nate says

      Thanks Jay – from all the feedback I’ve gotten, it sounds like I’ve totally underestimated Toronto. Can’t wait to visit and see what it’s all about :)

  19. says

    Why is Prague so…. Cheap…. Popular… Cold… Beautiful

    Just thought I’d add Europe’s most visited city by Europeans to the list.

    • Nate says

      Love it – thanks for the contribution Bob! Never been – but Prague definitely looks beautiful!

  20. Jim K says

    #36: “Boring” is more likely to refer to the TV show ‘Nashville,’ which has indeed been faulted by critics for its pacing.

  21. says

    Salt Lake’s air really only has issues during the months of January (wintertime inversion) and July (summertime ozone), and even then it’s not an everyday occurrence. I don’t mean to trivialize the problem, as when our air gets polluted it’s a magnificently serious issue. But ninety-five percent of the time our air is just fine.

    • Nate says

      Thanks for the insight Leo! That’s really awful that it happens at all. Glad to hear that it’s not everyday, and that hopefully it will be resolved at some time.

  22. Jonathan says

    Google results are not universal. You won’t get the same auto-suggests and I will. And they will not be the same next week. I typed in the cities, and while some of the words were the same, more than have of the auto-suggests were different from what is listed here.

  23. Megan says

    The thing about Portland is that while it’s weird and great and liberal, the population demographics aren’t terribly diverse, especially in comparison with other large cities. Those wondering why Portland is so white may actually have a valid curiosity of why a city so well-known for its acceptance of other cultures and lifestyles is so predominantly white.

    As for Salt Lake’s wide streets, chalk it up to some good city planning back in the day. It definitely comes in handy during rush hour traffic.

    • Nate says

      Interesting – thanks for the comment Megan! I wish Atlanta could have borrowed Salt Lake’s city planners back in the day :)

  24. Harvey Jerkwater says

    The Washington DC ones make complete sense if you live here. It’s a cliche, but it’s true: DC is two cities. One is mostly white, wealthy, and safe. It’s the city west of 16th street. The other is mostly poor, black, and dangerous. It’s most of the city east of 16th. Check out this map of recent homicides in the District and then look on this site for a demographic map of the city, and note the correlations between the two. Kinda hard to miss.

    • Nate says

      Wow – great insights Harvey. Thanks for the comment! It’s amazing how data visualization can really show stark truths.

  25. Zman says

    Hartford is also the name of a company, hence the stock reference. SoBro in Indianapolis refers to South Broadripple – similar to SoHo in NYC referring to South of Houston. Regardless, SoBro in recent years has become fairly bro.

  26. KarenP says

    I’m shocked not to see “why is Houston so boring”! Although, any city that sports a liquor shop, church and sex toy store all in the same 1/2 mile may not be considered boring by everyone.

    • Nate says

      Oh wow! Sounds pretty crazy – I’m wondering if the tourist bureau is wanting to publicize that block though :)

  27. says

    I think Virginia Beach (or Hampton Roads, I guess) is confusing for the same reason San Bernardino (or the Inland Empire) is confusing: there’s a conurbation of between seven and fifteen municipalities with roughly equal population in search of a center. Or so the story goes. I grew up there and kind of think of it as a nice place to raise a family, or a plant, but no place to fall in love.

  28. Fred says

    Why is America so:
    Fat
    Great
    Divided
    Powerful

    Why is the US so:
    Violent
    Rich
    Stupid
    Dependent on foreign oil

    Why is the USA so:
    Powerful
    Bad at Soccer
    Rich
    Awesome

    Why is the United States so:
    Powerful
    Concerned about Food Safety
    Rich
    Much in Debt

    Why are Americans so:
    Stupid
    Mean
    Sensitive
    Tall

  29. pkalina says

    No, Cleveland really is cloudy, because of its location on on Lake Erie. And, in the winter, the east side of Cleveland gets at least a little lake effect snow almost every day unless Lake Erie freezes.

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