Kriston Capps is a staff writer for CityLab covering housing, architecture, and politics. He previously worked as a senior editor for Architect magazine.
Why travel at all when the most reasonable, thoughtful people on the Internet have rated the world's metropolises for you?
One of my favorite bits in all of comedy is Eddie Izzard's stand-up take on St. Paul's epistles to the Corinthians. Izzard walks his audience through the gumption it takes to write a letter to an entire city. "Dear Corinthians," Izzard pens. "As you can tell from my preamble, it's going to be quite a long letter. Here we go: Don't do bad things, only do good things. Always treat your neighbor like someone who lives near to you. Never put a sock in a toaster." And he goes on.
In Izzard's formulation, no one from Corinth actually wants a letter from the apostle. ("Whose idea was it to be a pen pal with St. Paul, anyway?") So Izzard pens a response—from the Corinthians. "Dear Paul (Saint, apparently)," he says, speaking for Corinth. "Who are you? Why do you keep sending us letters? You arrogant bastard, to send letters to an entire city. What do you want us to do, put this up on a board or something?.... Love and kisses, The Corinthians."
Saintlike isn't a term I'd use for Yelp reviewers. So I tip my hat to Rookie's Emily V. Gordon, who brought to my attention that Yelp reviewers are taking it upon themselves to review whole cities. Hundreds of terribly entitled reviewers are reviewing cities across the nation, as recently as yesterday. And they've been at it for some time. Where does someone get off, reviewing an entire city?
As you would expect from Yelp, each review is coherent, reasonable, and immensely useful. Some of them could be scripture.
"Visitors and locals alike visit the capital of the United States," writes one Rabia J. of Boynton Beach, Florida, in a glowing five-start review of Washington, D.C. "Washington has many places to visit and see while you are there no matter what your personality is like."
"It's an awesome city. But too many rats," says Sal F. of New York City, in a recent and fairly typical blurb on one of the great civilizations in human history. "Otherwise would be 5-stars."
Only yesterday, Daniel S. of Henderson, Nevada, left a review of Chicago. "You are the windy city that has blown cherished memories that I will never forget," he writes. Daniel S. would know: He boasts eight Chicago check-ins. Daniel S. is a tough critic, though. Chicago—the city that gave us the skyscraper, Al Capone, deep-dish pizza, Roger Ebert, the Bean, Yeezy—merits just four stars. "Although you are nicknamed the Second City, you are a first rate City all the way."
The earliest review of a major city that I could find was a five-star take on Los Angeles. Yelp user Joan S., who earned her Elite badge nine years ago, recognized the innovative step she was taking. "Now here is a grandiose aspiration: to describe the entire city in one paragraph or so," she wrote in her March 2005 review. "Actually, it's quite simple because L.A. really is not a complicated place." There you go.
A city review on Yelp can serve as a kind of meta-review for all the places that a Yelp reviewer might otherwise star (or not). Consider Melissa A.'s two-star take on San Francisco from August:
Here is the inclusive list of locals I met that were not total jerk-faces: the staff at Local Edition; Brandon who works at Tanguito; my server at Denny's; Tom who drives for Bauer's Intelligent Transportation; Miguel, my cab driver on the last night there who called me "meja" and said "mucho gusto" to me as I was exiting his cab; that one nice bartender at E&O Asian Kitchen; the bartender Rye; Mike, one of the captains for Hornblower Cruises & Events; all of the staff and vendors at all the Yelp parties I attended; the local and nearby Yelpers and Yelp staff; the Southwest airlines counter person when I was leaving who was just your average SWA-level of nice who almost made me cry he was so nice.
That's just economical. This being Yelp, though, Melissa A. also reviewed some of those establishments.
Los Angeles (3.5 stars over 173 reviews), Chicago (4.0 stars over 154 reviews), New York (4.5 stars over 121 reviews), San Francisco (4.0 stars over 119 reviews), Boston (4.5 stars over 85 reviews), New Orleans (4.5 stars over 72 reviews), and Austin (4.5 stars over 72 reviews) all boast strong Yelp reviews, as you might expect. Smaller cities appear to garner proportionately fewer reviews: Phoenix has 17 reviews; Washington, D.C., counts 14; Denver's got just a dozen. And a few cities don't have any Yelpers telling them what's what, including Dallas, Minneapolis, and Salt Lake City.
More than enough do, though, to make Yelping an entire city a thing. Search for "City of St. Louis" under "Find" (and "St. Louis" under "Near") to see the tragic two-star average for St. Louis—the meanest mean I could find. All four reviewers of Buffalo, New York, on the other hand, agree that Buffalo is a perfect city.
It may just be an American thing: There are no Yelp reviews of London, for example. And poor Paris has just three reviews—two of them by Californians, one from a New Yorker. But it's definitely a special thing for Yelpers. Under many if not most cities, you'll find testimonials by users who saved up their milestone posts for a city review: Jeff S. of Providence reserved his 300th review for Boston. Kristine R. of Redwood City spent her 300th review on New York City. Fox E. of Clarence, N.Y., saved his 500th review for Buffalo.
A special occasion for some. Unfortunately, not every Yelp review of a city rises to the level of poetry.