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Most Steampunk City?

Yes, some cities are steampunk hotspots, but ranking them is an exercise in absurdity

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

You see them almost every day: Online lists that rank cities on various measures of socioeconomics or lifestyle: "Best Places to Retire," "Worst Places to Start a Business," "Most Walkable Cities," etc.

Steampunk Wombat

A blog might inform you that Pascagoula, Mississippi, is one of the "10 Best Towns for Raising Wombats," based on the number of wombat obedience schools and the local supply of wombat food. Of course, two months later, a different blog might tell you that Pascagoula is one of the "10 Worst Towns for Raising Wombats" due to the harsh regulatory climate for marsupials.

As clickbait, these lists are irresistible. People want to see how their local burg stacks up against other places, or maybe they want to pursue their lifelong dream of raising wombats for fun and profit.

Which brings us to August 2013, when Movoto, a real estate blog, ranked "The 50 Most Steampunk Cities in America." The author chose eight criteria for determining steampunk cred, some reasonable and others ridiculous, such as "high walkability" and the number of formal wear stores.

The top 10, in order, were Atlanta; Winston-Salem; Orlando; Las Vegas; San Francisco; Portland, OR; Sacramento; Denver; Cincinnati; and Minneapolis.

Predictably, and justifiably, the list drew many derisive comments. Note, for example, that two cities near the bottom of the list, Irvine and Anaheim, are in Orange County, CA, which is arguably the birthplace of steampunk as a literary genre. (Three pioneering steampunk authors, K.W. Jeter, James Blaylock, and Tim Powers, were students at Cal State Fullerton in the 1970s, and Jeter would later coin the term "steampunk.")

The Los Angeles area in general seems to be penalized for its lack of walkability. Never mind that L.A. is home to The League of S.T.E.A.M., and it was Hollywood that gave us "The Wild Wild West," one of the prototypes of steampunk.

Minneapolis is No. 10 on the list, but St. Paul slides way down to No. 39. Which points out another flaw in these rankings: Looking at individual cities rather than the larger metro areas.

New York City is No. 28, but with 8.6 million people within its borders (and 20 million in the metro area), it probably has more steampunk enthusiasts than Movoto's "top 10" cities combined. You can make similar arguments for L.A. (No. 35) and Chicago (No. 47). (Chicagoland Steampunk Society has nearly 500 members in its public Facebook group, and Steampunk Chicago has more than 2300.)

Steampunk Hotspots

Ranking America's "most steampunk" cities seems absurd, but it's clear that some places are steampunk hotspots. My own assessment is based largely on two criteria: organized steampunk activity and the presence of steampunk events, plus a dollop of subjective judgment.

This list is in alphabetical order (it is not a ranking) and it is not intended to be all-encompassing. Because the Movoto blog post was limited to American cities, we're leaving out non-U.S. steampunk havens like Toronto, Vancouver and London. I've already mentioned New York, L.A. and Chicago, so they're not listed here.

Arizona — Phoenix and Tucson both have active steampunk communities, and the Arizona Steampunk Society boasts nearly 3000 members on Facebook. Tucson hosts the Wild Wild West Steampunk Convention in March.

Atlanta — Atlanta's designation as the "most steampunk" city is open to debate, but it's clear that the region is a major hub for steampunk events, as well as geek culture events in general. In addition to AnachroCon in February and Atlanta Steampunk Exposition in November, the city hosts Dragon Con, a giant multi-genre convention held over Labor Day weekend. Other events include WHOlanta, for Doctor Who fans, in May, and April's 221B Con for Sherlock Holmes enthusiasts.

Boston — The area in general is a haven for geek culture, and nearby Waltham hosts the giant Watch City Steampunk Festival. Waltham is also home to the Charles River Museum of Industry & Innovation.

Ohio — We're listing the entire state because most of the big cities have steampunk groups that gather at the International Steampunk Symposium in Cincinnati. The Ohio Steampunk Society, with about 700 members on Facebook, serves as an umbrella.

Orlando — Orlando is home to what may be the world's most spectacular steampunk attraction, The Toothsome Chocolate Emporium & Savory Feast Kitchen at Universal CityWalk. The Edison in Disney Springs is another notable attraction. The Central Florida Steampunk Association boasts about 2300 members in its Facebook group.

Sacramento — Sacramento is California's sixth-largest city, but it has one of the state's most active steampunk communities. The Sacramento Steampunk Society has more than 3000 members in its Facebook group, and area residents play a big role in Clockwork Alchemy, the major steampunk convention for the San Francisco Bay area.

St. Louis — The city known for beer and baseball has an active and engaged steampunk community. Steampunk St. Louis has more than 1300 members in its Facebook group, and they regularly schedule outings and photo shoots. The Big River Steampunk Festival is held over Labor Day weekend in Hannibal, Mo., about 100 miles north of the city.

San Diego — Within the geek community, San Diego is known mostly for Comic-Con, but it also plays host to two steampunk conventions: Gaslight Gathering in April and Gaslight Steampunk Expo in October. The San Diego Steampunk Facebook page has close to 1500 followers.

San Francisco Bay Area — The San Francisco area is the hub for the Maker Movement and Burning Man, both of which overlap with steampunk (Burning Man is held in Nevada's Black Rock Desert, but the parent organization is headquartered in San Francisco). The region is home to artist collectives such as Obtainium Works and Five Ton Crane that have created some of the most iconic steampunk projects: The Steampunk Treehouse, Nautilus Submarine Art Car, Neverwas Haul and more. San Francisco also has several steampunk-themed eating and drinking establishments, and even a steampunk-themed cannabis dispensary.

Seattle — As the home base for Abney Park, Nathaniel Johnstone Band and other acts, Seattle is arguably steampunk's "Music City." It also hosts the Steamposium convention in October, and smaller steampunk events are held elsewhere in western Washington. Seattle Steamrats is an active local group with about 1400 members on Facebook.

Tampa/St. Petersburg — The Tampa Bay Steampunk Society has about 1700 members, and the region is set to host Aethertopia, an immersive steampunk convention scheduled for July at the (air-conditioned) Florida State Fairgrounds.

Steampunk City
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