Move over, Baltimore. D.C. is the new Charm City.

At least, that’s according to the editors of Parenting magazine, who earlier this week crowned D.C. with the top spot in their 2011 Best Cities for Families list. Astute Parenting readers will note that D.C.’s improvement over last year would make the Nationals and Redskins jealous: D.C. jumped from 71st place all the way to the head of the class. Last year’s winner, Arlington, wasn’t so lucky this time around: our neighbor sank to 70th.

But Arlington hasn’t been blighted in the last year, and last we checked, parents aren’t tripping over themselves to enroll their kids in D.C.’s schools. In fact, the Parenting data showed that D.C.’s high school graduation rate dropped. Violent crime in D.C. hasn’t plummeted. So why the sudden flip-flop?

Stephanie Wood, executive editor of Parenting, explains that D.C. won this year’s title thanks to the introduction of a new “Charm and Culture Index,” which ranks cities based on the quality of their kid-friendly restaurants, museums, libraries, farmers markets, and colleges. Last year’s rankings put more emphasis on education, but this year, the number of Matchbox restaurants counts as much as the number of high school graduates.

“Education stats around the country are like comparing apples and oranges,” Wood says. “The numbers are not as reliable as you might think.”

Parenting created the new charm index based on the demands of its mom research panel. So is the secret to a city’s success now found in murky judgments about the freshness of local vegetables and which restaurant has the best macaroni and cheese? Not quite, according to Wood. All of the categories on the list track hard data.

“There’s nothing subjective about it,” she says.

The data on the District may be solid, but the winning entry highlighted a few family-friendly spots that don’t actually lie within the city’s borders. Gravelly Point Park, which Parenting touted for its “front-seat views of the takeoffs and landings at Reagan National Airport” is in charmless Arlington. And most of the Capital Crescent Trail, which offers “a great bike trip that is off the beaten track,” runs through Bethesda and Silver Spring—two cities so terrible they didn’t crack the top 100.

When I point out that D.C.’s victory was aided by the attractions of its apparently crass neighbors, Wood says it’s hard to make distinctions between cities that are so close to one another.

Tell that to Arlington, where they’re number 70. Here in D.C., parents are too busy enjoying Gravelly Point to care.

Photo by randomduck via Flickr/Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0