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America's dirtiest cities

John Makely / msnbc.com

Travel + Leisure readers give New York City the dubious honor of No. 1 dirtiest city in America.

In July, Atlanta became the latest city to ban smoking in public parks, with frightening fines — up to $1,000 — for offenders. But keeping butts off green spaces came too late to help Atlanta’s ranking as the No. 5 dirtiest city in America.

Slideshow: See all of America's dirtiest cities

As part of the annual America’s Favorite Cities survey, Travel + Leisure readers ranked 35 metropolitan areas on the features most enticing to travelers, such as the vibrant culturecutting-edge dining and great shopping — as well as how safe, and tidy, a city feels. Atlanta moved up a full four spots in the ranking of dirtiest cities from the previous year’s survey, and Baltimore moved up three spots to No. 3. But the dubious honor of No. 1 dirtiest went to New York City. 

The cities that scraped the bottom of the cleanliness category may show signs of grit, grime or muck, but they all have some basic features in common: they’re big, and most have a bustling nightlife. Partiers tend to be on the younger side — and that may add to the disarray in cities like No. 4-ranked Los Angeles. 

“Studies have consistently found that youths and young adults are the most prone, or willing, to litter,” says Steve Spacek, author of the “American State Litter Scorecard,” which has highlighted the less-than-pristine conditions in dirty cities across America. 

To be fair, though, plenty of “dirty” cities are working hard to mitigate the squalor. Boston recently installed 400 solar-powered trash compactors on city sidewalks to keep cans from overflowing. In Las Vegas, a new city ordinance decrees that those guys handing out adult “advertisements” on the Strip sidewalks now have to pick up dropped flyers every 15 minutes.

Plenty of people, meanwhile, are willing to accept a little dirt in exchange for a great city. “New Orleans is a living, breathing antique,” says Cindy Denney, a talent manager in the Crescent City, which went from No. 1 to No. 2 this year. “What makes it great is also what makes it funky — old wood, mismatched bricks and peeling paint, from daily heat and moisture. We pay more attention to cuisine, music and football than we do dirt.”

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