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Overexplained Lists

State Capitals Should Be Small And Weird

2:53 PM EST on December 13, 2023

1638, English poet John Milton (1608 - 1674) pays a visit to Italian astronomer and physicist Galileo Galilei (1564 - 1642) at the Villa D'Arcetri near Florence. Original Artwork: A painting after Lessi.
Photo by Rischgitz/Getty Images|

The Defector staff debates state capitals.

There is a debate going on in Michigan about whether Lansing should remain the state capital. The argument is that Lansing is crud, whereas Detroit is good, and therefore Detroit should be the capital of Michigan. Michigander Nancy Kaffer, writing in the Detroit Free Press, notes that Detroit is her state's "most populous and important city" and "drives a disproportionate amount of Michigan's economic activity" and is for these and other reasons an obvious choice. To which I say: a little too obvious.

States should have two types of places. Not only two, but at least two. One of them should be the state's big city. This is the place in your state that everyone has heard of—your Seattles, your Baltimores, your Los Angeleses—because it is the coolest and largest place. The other place should be the state's capital city. This should be a weird little place—your Olympias, your Sacramentos, your Annapolii—that is hard to locate on a map, that most people have never heard of, and that almost no one has ever visited. The capital city doesn't need to be a shitty place, but it should not be your state's hub of coolness or economic activity. Maybe it can borrow some small amount of coolness from a state university, but not too much. A capital city should be conceptually mysterious—a surprising name, a geographically isolated location, a weirdly hostile tribe of residents—even if that means that, on balance, it is a shitty place to visit. Bonus points for having an exotic name, or for sounding like a place where cowboys play poker in a saloon; extra double bonus points for being literally inaccessible by highway.

Here are the 50 capital cities of the United States, sorted into groups and vaguely ranked.

Good
Juneau
Olympia
Carson City
Salem
Bismarck
Cheyenne
Helena
Annapolis
Augusta
Montpelier
Baton Rouge
Frankfort
Jefferson City
Albany
Madison
Pierre
Des Moines
Sacramento

Fine
Topeka
Santa Fe
Honolulu
Richmond
Harrisburg
Austin
Providence
Raleigh
Springfield*
Montgomery
Lansing
St. Paul
Dover
Tallahassee

Meh
Boise
Salt Lake City
Charleston
Hartford
Jackson
Little Rock
Lincoln
Trenton
Concord

Bad
Denver
Phoenix
Atlanta
Indianapolis
Boston
Columbia
Oklahoma City
Nashville
Columbus

Please adjust your state accordingly.

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