This survey—our fifth "places rated" effort—evaluates the qualities that make a destination unique, measuring "integrity of place." It is not a popularity contest, but rather an assessment of authenticity and stewardship. Thus the lesser-known town of Red Wing, Minnesota, can rate higher than immortalized-in-song, once-opulent Galveston, Texas.
Because evaluating an entire destination involves such unquantifiables as aesthetics and cultural integrity, we decided the best measure is informed human judgment. And so we assembled a panel of 280 well-traveled experts in a variety of fields— historic preservation, ecology, sustainable tourism, geography, travel writing and photography, site management, indigenous cultures, archaeology.
We asked panelists to evaluate just the places with which they were familiar, using six criteria weighted according to importance: environmental and ecological quality; social and cultural integrity; condition of historic buildings and archaeological sites; aesthetic appeal; quality of tourism management; and outlook for the future.
Experts began by posting points of view on each destination—anonymously, to ensure objectivity. Then, after reading each others' remarks—a variation of a research tool called the Delphi technique—panelists filed their final stewardship scores. For the list of panelists who participated in this survey, see our credits page.
The resulting Stewardship Index rating is an average of informed judgments about each place as a whole—including all its many faces. Like the scores posted by Olympic judges, our experts' ratings reflect both measurable factors and the intangibles of style, aesthetics, and authenticity. And like an athlete, each historic destination rated here has a chance to improve.