Last week, Forbes published a list of the ten most toxic cities in America. The magazine used a variety of techniques to get at which city is hardest on your body, but essentially it came down to two things: air quality and water quality. Since fear-mongering has become the instinctive angle for most media organizations these days, we decided to take a different approach. So, here are the prettiest, nicest places in those blighted urban areas Forbes is wagging their finger at. Meet us at the park! (Just bring your own gas mask.)
#1 Philadelphia, Pa. - Rittenhouse SquareThe City of Brotherly Love may have the worst water of all these toxic cities, but the loveliness of Rittenhouse Square should push those ugly thoughts to the back of your skull. Filled with green grass, trees, and benches, the square makes for a great lunch break spot. The famous lion and goat statues attract visitors as well. And dog walkers take note: Rittenhouse Square is prime real estate for exercising your pooch.
#2 Bakersfield, Calif. - The Park at River Walk43 unhealthy air quality days in 2009 earned Bakersfield the number two spot on Forbes' list. Pick a day when the air isn't quite so laden with awful things and head to the Park at River Walk, a 32-acre stretch of land along the Kern River. The park houses a large amphitheater and offers lots of access to water thanks to the 3-acre lake that surrounds it.
#3 Fresno, Calif. - Woodward ParkThe pounds of on-site toxic releases reported in 2009 in Fresno totals 338,00. Yikes. Still, the 300-acre Woodward park is a beautiful spot, with amenities including an authentic Japanese garden, a fenced dog park, and an equestrian trail. The park is also a prime birdwatching spot, attracting lots of enthusiasts each year.
#4 New York, N.Y. - Robert F. Wagner, Jr. ParkA spot that doesn't get its due recognition, Robert F. Wagner, Jr. Park in the Battery boasts an incredible view of New York Harbor. From the park the water looks crisp and blue, giving no indication of the haloacetic acids polluting it. The open lawns are perfect for stretching out on, so bring a blanket. Idle with a book and watch the sun slip into the water.
#5 Baton Rouge, La. - Baton Rouge ZooAt the Baton Rouge Zoo you can forget all the millions of pounds of on-site toxic release reported in the capital of Louisiana. First opened in 1970, the zoo is the first in its state to be accredited by the American Zoo and Aquarium Association. The first black rhino born in Louisiana was born in the Baton Rouge Zoo, and it consistently comes in at the top spot for best attractions in Baton Rouge.
#6 Los Angeles, Calif. - Venice CanalsThere's the smog, the reports of arsenic in the water, the 3.8 million pounds of on-site toxic releases, and all those broken, broken dreams, but Los Angeles contains pockets of beauty, none so peaceful as the Venice Canals. For a great, atypical place to stroll and count the ways to love L.A., the Canals are about as perfect as you can find. After the '92 renovation, the Canals reclaimed a spot in the hearts of many. With the real Venice sinking certainly into oblivion, L.A.'s canals may someday command Euro-style levels of tourism. But for now, you can admire the watery urban beauty undisturbed.
#7 Houston, Texas - Hermann ParkLots of folks from outside Houston think of it as a city of hot smog and haze. If you listen to lots of UGK, you probably associate it with styrofoam cups full of purple drink. If you have an eye for pretty green spaces, you associate H-Town with Hermann Park, the 425-acre park in the heart of the city. The park contains a zoo, a golf course, a lake, a playground, a garden center, and even a little railroad line. Presumably all the railroad cars on the Hermann Park line have candypaints.
#8 St. Louis, Mo. - Missouri Botanical GardensSpread across 79 acres, the Missouri Botanical Garden lives up to its goal as being an ideal, public location to display and study plants. Toxic releases be damned, these are some hella nice flowers! The crown jewel of the Gardens is the Climatron conservatory, a sort of Diseny-esque building that calls to mind Epcot-style architecture. With 1,400 species of plants and a variety of tropical birds, the Climatron will make you forget you're in America, let alone St. Louis.
#9 Salt Lake City, Utah - Temple SquareNot making Joseph Smith jokes here will be almost as hard as it is for Salt Lake City to keep their number of unhealthy air quality days down. But we will do our best, as Salt Lake City surely does. That said, Temple Square in the city of the LDS is truly a sight to see. This 10-acre cluster of buildings and green spaces is homebase for the LDS, and, unsurprisingly, the grounds are well-manicured and pleasant. Tours of the property are available in 40 languages. Mormons are no strangers to proselytizing.
#10 Riverside-San Bernardino, Calif. - San Bernardino National ForestSo you'll have to journey a bit outside the blighted cityscape of the Inland Empire to reach the San Bernardino National Forest but it's definitely worth the trip. This lush, mountainous haven is the sort of epic landscape that can have a near-religious effect on the viewer. Bonita Falls is one particularly divine location, a 495-foot high, triple-tiered waterfall that is only visible from January to May. Please go.