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Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Know your neighbors

Sunday's Boston Globe included an interesting story in the Boston Works section, by Diane E. Lewis: "Skilled workforce key to Hub's expansion."

Lewis based her story largely on the work of economist Edward L. Glaeser, director of the Rappaport Institute for Greater Boston at the Kennedy School of Government. His April 2005 report, "Smart Growth: Education, Skilled Workers, and the Future of Cold-Weather Cities" found that climate was the largest factor determining the growth of a city's population. This is from the newspaper article:
"Cold weather areas such as Boston face steep obstacles to growth," says Glaeser. "Cities with average January temperatures under 30 degrees Fahrenheit grew in population only one-third as quickly from 1960 to 1990 as did cities with average January temperatures above 50 degrees."
The second biggest factor is education of the population, though Glaeser notes that the link might not be causal -- smarter people might chose to live in faster growing urban areas.

These factors explaining growth are important. Glaeser finds that the booming cities with well-educated populations have the fastest economic growth rates. Indeed, his research dovetails nicely with the work of the scholar Richard Florida, who found that an urban area's creativity is key to its prospects for productive growth. Lewis quotes Florida in her story:
"The nation's geographic center of gravity has shifted away from traditional industrial regions toward new axes of creativity and innovation," he writes. "The creative class is strongly oriented to large cities and regions that offer a variety of economic opportunities, a stimulating environment and amenities for every possible lifestyle."
While the Globe was most interested in Boston's rank (and it is a cold weather city), I'm interested in all the data.

So, what cities have the smartest population base? For urban areas with populations over 250,000, these are the top ten, ranked by percent of residents with at least bachelor's degrees:
1. 51.6% Seattle
2. 49.5% Raleigh, NC
3. 48.6% San Francisco
4. 44.2% Washington, DC
5. 42.5% Minneapolis
6. 42.2% Boston
7. 40.8% Denver
8. 40.2% Austin, TX
9. 39.7% St. Paul, MN
10 39.5% Lexington, KY
The data originate from the US Census Bureau.

The biggest surprise on the list, at least for me, was Lexington, KY. My home city, Louisville, was not among those listed. Obviously, Louisvillians should be jealous of Lexingtonians on this scale.

The differences among the top and bottom cities are certainly striking. Glaeser lists #15 as a tie between Portland, OR and San Diego: 36.8%. The list then skips to the bottom 16 (of 67): #52 is a tie between Anaheim, CA and Corpus Christi, TX: 21.5%. The other cities coming in at around 20% or lower include St. Louis, Memphis, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Las Vegas, Miami, Cleveland, and Newark (only 11.4%).

Readers, plan your next move accordingly.

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