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The 15 Cleanest Big Cities in America

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Cities are teeming with people, and that usually means corresponding levels of litter and pollution. But not always, according to a recent study.

National yard services company LawnStarter recently took a look at the dirtiest cities in America. The flip side of that is they also identified the cleanest cities.

Their study, based on nearly two dozen metrics related to pollution, living conditions, infrastructure and consumer satisfaction, ranked 87 of the biggest U.S. cities. Scoring was based on a 100-point scale and the lower the score, the cleaner the city.

Here’s a look at the communities that keep things tidy and why people might appreciate them so much.

1. Norfolk, VA

Norfolk Virginia
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Overall score: 15.78

Norfolk was one of the best cities for air quality and had the most people satisfied with their garbage disposal in LawnStarter’s study. One likely contributing factor is the city’s Keep Norfolk Beautiful initiative to “reduce litter, recycle right, and beautify Norfolk through education and volunteerism.” That includes things like community cleanup days and free cigarette receptacles for businesses.

2. Overland Park, KS

Overland Park Kansas
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Overall score: 17.07

Overland Park had the lowest share of residents who were dissatisfied with spending time in the city because of pollution, as well as the lowest share of homes with signs of mice or rats. Perhaps not coincidentally, it’s one of “The 15 Happiest Cities in America.”

3. Virginia Beach, VA

Virginia Beach, Virginia
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Overall score: 17.7

Virginia Beach was noted for the lowest greenhouse gas emissions per capita and for being one of the best cities in the nation for air quality, according to LawnStarter.

As we wrote in “7 of the Best Places to Retire on the East Coast, ” it also averages 213 days of sun every year. With so many potential beach days, it makes sense to take pride in keeping things clean.

4. Columbus, OH

Columbus Ohio
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Overall score: 17.73

Columbus had one of the lowest shares of homes reporting signs of mice or rats and scored in the top 10 on pollution.

The city launched the Cleaner Columbus Employment Program in 2020 “to provide temporary employment to residents and clean up the neighborhoods they love.” Over three weeks, workers collected more than half the total weight of litter collected in all of 2019. For 2022, the program plans to scale up to hiring workers full-time with the city.

5. Charlotte, NC

Charlotte North Carolina
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Overall score: 17.93

Charlotte ranked among the 10 best cities in three of the major categories analyzed by LawnStarter: pollution, living conditions and infrastructure.

As real estate website Movoto observes, Charlotte is “a pretty new city” and so “really clean.”

6. Greensboro, NC

Sean Pavone / Shutterstock.com

Overall score: 18.19

Greensboro ranked fourth-best for pollution and in the top 10 for living conditions.

The North Carolina city has at least three annual litter cleanup events.

7. Pittsburgh, PA

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
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Overall score: 20.18

Whether Pittsburgh is one of the cleanest cities or one of the dirtiest seems to depend on whom and when you ask. It was named one of the cleanest cities in the world in 2002 but one of America’s filthiest cities in 2019. Now it seems to be near the top for cleanliness again.

The variations in ranking may have something to do with how much pollution counts in the criteria — even in LawnStarter’s study, the city doesn’t break into the best 30 cities on the pollution metric. But that just goes to show how well it scores on everything else.

8. Nashville, TN

Nashville, Tennessee
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Overall score: 21.4

Nashville has the third-best ranking on living conditions in LawnStarter’s study. It’s also seen home values jump more than 43% since the start of the pandemic.

9. Hayward, CA

Hayward, California
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Overall score: 23.24

Hayward’s best ranking is just outside the top 10 on infrastructure, but well-rounded scores elsewhere put the city in the overall top 10 cleanest. That may be why, in early 2022, it was among “12 Cities Where Homes Are Selling in Under 6 Weeks.”

10. Indianapolis, IN

Indianapolis, Indiana
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Overall score: 23.32

“Indianapolis landed at No. 1 for refuse and recycling collectors per 100,000 residents,” LawnStarter says. It also scored in the top five for living conditions.

11. Bellevue, WA

Bellevue, Washington
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Overall score: 23.46

Bellevue tied for the third-lowest number of cockroach sightings in the past year and was also in the top five when it comes to garbage disposal and resident satisfaction with pollution levels.

12. Vancouver, WA

Mount Hood in Vancouver, Washington
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Overall score: 24.91

Not to be confused with the much larger Canadian Vancouver, also known for its cleanliness, the American version tied for second-lowest on roach sightings and tied for best air quality.

13. Murfreesboro, TN

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Overall score: 25.11

Murfreesboro ranked the best for living conditions — and the worst for infrastructure. It’s also considered one of “The 15 Best Cities to Invest in a Rental Property.”

14. St. Louis, MO

St. Louis, Missouri
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Overall score: 25.39

St. Louis had the third-best ranking for mice sightings and was just outside the top 10 for living conditions. It might also be one of the greenest cities in the literal sense: It tops the “15 Best Cities for Urban Gardening.”

15. Jacksonville, FL

Jacksonville, Florida
Sean Pavone / Shutterstock.com

Overall score: 25.45

Jacksonville ranked in the top 15 for pollution and living conditions in LawnStarter’s study. Another thing going for it: It’s among the most affordable cities for retirees.

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