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10.24.10

America's Smartest (and Dumbest) Cities

For the second year in a row, The Daily Beast crunches the numbers for America’s 55 largest cities, ranking their brainpower from first-to-worst. How does your hometown fare?

The continuing economic malaise just reinforces a perennial fact: A city’s potential lies mostly with the ingenuity and brainpower of its citizens. Regions with intellectual vigor are more likely to bounce back; those without risk a stupor. As The Daily Beast again plays scorekeeper on which cities have what it takes, intellectually speaking, and which fall short, that chasm can be seen in stark relief when comparing the prospects at the top and bottom of our list.

Gallery: America’s Smartest Cities: From First-to-Worst

First, a few ground rules. We only ranked metropolitan areas (major cities and their suburbs) of 1 million people or more, using Census data, with the definition of each greater metropolitan area defined by Nielsen’s Designated Market Area. In a few cases, using Nielsen’s DMA definitions meant combining data from two or more Metropolitan Statistical Areas. That gave us 55 cities. All data was organized on a per-capita basis so that a resident of Nashville Tennessee, and Los Angeles, California, had equal weight.

This year’s methodology is similar to last year’s inaugural list, with a couple weighting refinements, and one major change: as our civic engagement quotient—a proxy of a city’s willingness, and ability, to invest in intellectual culture—we dropped voter turnout in favor of libraries per capita. Overall, we divided the criteria into two parts: Half for education, and half for intellectual environment. The education half encompassed the percentage of residents over age 25 who had bachelor’s degrees (25 percent weighting) and graduate degrees (25 percent), compared to the overall population over age 25. The intellectual environmental half had three subparts. First, we looked at year-to-date nonfiction book sales (16.7 percent), as tracked by Nielsen BookScan, the nation’s leading provider of accurate point-of-sale data, which tracks roughly 300,000 titles each week. We also measured the ratio of institutions of higher education (16.7 percent), as defined by the federal government—different than just measuring college degrees, this acknowledges that universities as driver of intellectual vigor of cities and rewards cities with college populations. Finally, libraries per capita (16.7 percent) measures how willing and able a city is to educate the general public, as well as the no-cost opportunities for the public to educate itself.

Once we had all these comparable, per-capita figures, we ranked the cities in each category, assigning 10 points to those near the very top, and 0 to the bottom, with scores in between dropped into a broad bell curve. We then added the totals and multiplied by two, which made for a perfect score of 200, a wash-out score of 0, and an average score right at 100—close to the exact parameters of a classic IQ test.

Behold, our second annual ranking of America’s smartest cities, complete with The Daily Beast’s civic IQ total for each. There was some sizeable movement from last year. Congratulations to Fresno, which moved up from last place (it’s now third-from-last). Besides a new bottom-dweller, there’s also a new No. 1, as well. Who reigns supreme? Click here.