Can a city be smart? How do you measure its intelligence if it can be? Well, some believe that cities can have the smarts. Several lists have come out in the last year to indicate the brain power of a city. Fast Company has done one, last November, taking a very methodological, scientific approach to its rankings. Their list employs 28 indicators for measuring a city’s intelligence, using more than 15 different sources to do it. Fast Company’s approach has gotten even smarter (can this be measured?) by grouping indicators under the headings of Smart Enviro, Smart Gov, Smart Living, Smart Mobility, Smart People and Smart Economy. In their usual dramatic way, they claim smart cities were the savior of us all.
Wait a minute! Fast Company might believe they are the authority on gauging the brightness of the cities in the USA, but others have come forward with their own rankings. Central Connecticut State University (CCSU) has been putting out a most literate cities list since 2005. Their methodology is as intensive as Fast Company, but instead of using all sorts of indicators, they keep their data elements closer to direct correlations to city’s smarts. By looking at educational attainment data and individual’s access to education opportunities like newspapers, magazines, booksellers and libraries, CCSU has built a solid case for itself to be the exhaustive list.
Not so fast! Lumosity, a website where visitors play brain games, begs to differ. They have collected all their big data of game playing to put together their own list. They imply this approach is the most direct way to measure a city’s intelligence. It is a one-to-one relationship from people’s ability to play their games to their city’s collective smarts. Of course, what about all those people who don’t play those games?
It is only fair then to look at all three lists when ranking smart cities. Since it is blatant that Fast Company and CCSU put a little more thought into their rankings, they weigh higher in the calculations. Of course, we still consider Lumosity, because who knows, they might have a point.
5. Portland, Oregon
Portland’s rank on the Lumosity list propels it to the number five position on this list, although it saw its ranking fall from 33 in 2012 to 44 in 2013. It barely beats New York and Chicago. It is number 8 in Fast Company and number 11 on the CCSU literate list. Portland has been known for its green movements including its unique green roof standards. It also works on making mobility a priority by providing a green mode of public transportation and using data to help adjust signals in real time (all cities need to get this!). Portland is also developing its water front like many cities in the USA. Interesting enough, CCSU ranks Portland in its top twenty for all its criteria with the exception of printed materials like newspapers and magazines. It ranks 13th in Internet access. Could it be these two are connected? It’s highest ranking from CCSU dealt with educational attainment, which came in at four. Portland is also known for its food including some awesome doughnuts!
4. San Francisco, California
San Francisco does better with Fast Company than it does with either CCSU or Lumosity. With Fast Company, its ranking of second (it tied with another city) is in stark contrast to its 10th ranking with CCSU and its 50th ranking with Lumosity. These poor showings moves it up two spots on this list. San Francisco is known for a lot of things. You could consider it the celebrity on the list. Like with Portland, it is a very green city with over 300 LEED buildings. In recent years, the city has seen a boatload of entrepreneurs flocking to its environmental friendly buildings. Fast Company even goes as far to imply that San Francisco is the new “Silicon Valley” of north California. Of course, you can find the Golden Gate Bridge there as well as Alcatraz. Also, a boon for foodies, San Francisco has started many a food revolution. Have you been to a Toast Bar yet? You can get a great piece of toast for the low cost of $4. Fresh fruit, too. Yum!
3. Washington DC
Washington DC is number three on our list. Can you guess which list they are number one on? Let us give you some hints. It has the highest concentration of internet subscribers and loves to read its magazines (newspapers, not so much!). CCSU celebrates DC by declaring it the most literate city in the United States. Fast Company gives them fourth place while DC ranks 154th with Lumosity. One would think that they would rank higher with the brain games considering the amount of work they have accomplished over the last two years, but that is a subject for another list. If San Francisco is the celebrity on this list, DC is the museum (take that for it what its worth). It has a huge number of museums, tributes and monuments. Fast Company also reminds us that DC has a very low inequality ranking in income. The local government has grade.dc.gov where citizens can make complaints and grade the different municipal departments. The complaint is sent to the responsible agency and the departments’ cumulative grades can be found online. Now, if we can figure out how to make them better at the brain games.
2. Boston, Massachusetts
Boston loves their baseball and they are plenty smart about it as well. It seems that baseball is not the only smarts being shown in Boston as they rank number two on this list, the same ranking Fast Company gives it. CCSU ranks it eighth while it does better with Lumosity than our other cities by coming in at twenty nine. It was dethroned from its top spot on the Fast Company ranking, losing out to our top city. Along with its Red Sox, Boston has 70 universities, which is the reason they lead the nation in patents per capita and venture investing. All this higher education access does not seem to help with CCSU as it ranked Boston 27th in the number of individuals receiving bachelor degrees. Too many people are playing Lumosity to pay too close attention to the university degree. Boston is big on city government by designing a software program where residents can design apps to help the city at no additional cost to the taxpayers, which makes one wonder how much free time the smart people in Boston have if they are developing apps and playing Lumosity so much.
Seattle ranks high in all three of the lists. Fast Company has it at number one while CCSU has it second only behind Washington DC. Lumosity ranked Settle at thirty ninth in playing its brain games. Let’s just admit. Seattle is the best city in the world, bar none. One can be sure all other cities are looking to Seattle as the model to follow. After all, Fast Company points out that it has a Happiness Initiative, which measures the happiness of people living in the area. Because it is a happy city, Seattle ranks fourth in the Global Economics Startup index and shares more data sets to the public than just about any other city. Seattle is also known for its flying fish at the Pike Market, the gum wall (yuck) and wining the Super Bowl this past January. With all this, plus a downtown that has everything, how could it rank any lower than number one. Let’s all move to Seattle so we can be smart and happy!
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