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MAY 25, 2011 4:33AM

America's Smartest and Dumbest Cities

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The Daily Beast has an annual list of smartest and dumbest cities in America.  Last year, we took that list and examined the per capita incomes of both the smart and dumb cities.

Not surprisingly, we found that the smart cities had a much higher per capita income than the dumb cities.

But there's more to life than just money.  So we decided to take a more recent list and see whether smart cities are better for your quality of life.  We will use three measures to determine this.  First, we'll look at the median household income.  Money may not buy you happiness, but it sure helps you put a roof over your head and food on your table, and those things are critical to your happiness.  I don't think there are too many homeless and starving people who are happy.

Next, we'll look at the crime rate.  You may have a nice house and eat nothing but the best foods, but if you have to worry about getting mugged walking down the street or someone stealing your car, that doesn't do you a lot of good.

Finally, since jobs are a big concern for most people these days, we'll look at the unemployment rate.

This is obviously an imperfect analysis, but for a rough cut, it's okay.

So, what are the smartest and dumbest cities in America?  According to the Daily Beast, the smartest cities are:

  • Boston
  • Hartford
  • San Francisco
  • Raleigh-Durham
  • Denver
  • Seattle
  • Austin
  • Minneapolis-St. Paul
  • Washington, DC
  • Rochester, NY

And the dumbest?  Well, those cities are:

  • Las Vegas
  • San Antonio
  • Fresno, CA
  • Houston
  • Memphis
  • Orlando
  • Tampa
  • Louisville
  • Miami
  • Greensboro, NC

We got our data from three different sources.  The median household income for 2010 came from Fannie Mae's site

Crime data came from CQ Press.  Crime rates higher than the national average are indicated by positive numbers and those lower than the national average have negative numbers.

Finally, the unemployment rate data came from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  The data is for March 2011, which is the latest data that's available.  For comparison's sake, the national average that month was 9.2 percent.

So what did we find?  The average median household income for the Daily Beast's ten smartest cities in America was $81,960, led by Washington DC's $103,500.  For the ten least smart cities, median household income averaged $59,920, with Fresno's $52,200 the lowest.  That's a difference of 37 percent, and the median household income in Washington is almost double that of Fresno.

When it came to crime, the ten smartest cities averaged a rating of -10.83.  The safest city here was Raleigh-Durham, which came in with a rating of -33.51.  San Francisco was the laggard among the smartest cities, with a crime rating of 43.40.

Inhabitants of the ten least smart cities were more likely to be victims of crimes.  The average rating here was 41.14.  Here, the safest city was Louisville, which came in with a rating of -1.18.  The worst city to live in among this group was Memphis, with a rating of 117.58.

Finally, when it came to unemployment, the ten smartest cities had an average unemployment rate of 8.0 percent.  The Washington DC area led again, with an unemployment rate of 5.8, or almost 50 percent below the national average.  San Francisco was the loser among this group, with an unemployment rate of ten percent.

Among the least smart cities, the average unemployment rate was 11.0 percent.  Fresno was the worst city among the group, with an unemployment rate of 18.4 percent.  The best city here was San Antonio, with an unemployment rate of  7.3 percent.

Put it all together, and it's clear that when it comes to quality of life, you do a lot better in a smart city than one that's not as smart.  And if you look at the criteria the Daily Beast used, it's not surprising.  Those with college degrees and graduate degrees tend to make more money than those without, and that's half the rating.  The other half came from intellectual factors.  Here, the Daily Beast used book sales,  the number of institutions of higher learning, and libraries per capita.

Obviously, both the Daily Beast's rankings and our analysis are rough cuts.  There are some brilliant people in Las Vegas and there are some stupid people in Boston.  And you could get your car stolen in Raleigh Durham while it stays where you parked it in Memphis.

Still, the overall message is that smart cities tend to be good for you in many ways.  And that shouldn't be a surprise to anyone.

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