Living in the Bay Area, the Movoto gang is constantly amazed at the certifiable geniuses we bump into around town. Recently, one of our bloggers had the enlightening experience of going to a bar trivia night near the Berkeley campus. It was, to be perfectly honest, an awe-inspiring experience getting drubbed by students and professors alike. This brain show led us to think about what city in the country has the smartest population—the literal smartest city in the States. Instead of wondering, we put on our glasses and went at it.
What Did We Find?
It turns out that Pittsburgh is kind of a big deal when it comes to being smart. The home of the Pirates, a surprisingly cunning mascot, beat out Orlando for the top honor. According to our data, here are the 10 smartest cities in America:
- 1. Pittsburgh, PA
- 2. Orlando, FL
- 3. Washington, DC
- 4. Atlanta, GA
- 5. Honolulu, HI
- 6. Tampa, FL
- 7. Seattle, WA
- 8. San Francisco, CA
- 9. Cincinnati, OH
- 10. Miami, FL
While not all these cities on this list surprised us—we’re looking at you Washington, D.C.—the inclusion of other cities were surprising, namely Cincinnati and Orlando. Neither city has shown up often on our multitude of top 10 lists.
If you’d like a breakdown of how we came up with our list and an explanation of the criteria we chose, pull out your composition notebook and get ready to take some notes.
How Did We Do It?
As with our previous Big Deal Lists, we looked at the 100 most populous cities in the country, and then ranked each city from 1 to 100 based on each criteria. After we slogged through data entry, we calculated The Big Deal Score, the average score a city received across all our criteria. The city with the lowest average score earned the title of smartest city in the country. For more details you can check out this page, which explains our process in more depth.
For this list, we looked at six pieces of criteria. We’ll explain why we picked them in the next section along with cities that ranked high in these areas. Here’s our criteria:
- Universities and colleges per person
- Libraries per person
- Education level
- Media per person (newspapers, TV, radio, magazines)
- Museums per person
- Public school rank
Now let’s take a look at what cities earned the lowest (best) score across our categories.
Why universities? It’s a simple answer. Universities act as an incubator of knowledge, and not just for the students who attend the school. The general public also sees the benefits of universities through community projects such as free seminars, to name just one example. A smart city needs areas that focus on education and exploration. Pittsburgh took the top spot in this section followed by St. Louis and Baton Rouge.
Libraries can be similar to universities, though we aren’t saying you can get your Ph.D in the stacks. What we mean is libraries give a city’s residents a place to borrow free media. Sure, people can plow through CDs and movies, but they can also check out non-fiction books and even technical manuals. Also, let’s not forget free community workshops. If these don’t scream smarts, we aren’t sure what “smart” means.
In this section we looked at the number of libraries in a city’s library system. Buffalo ranked the highest in this category. Cincinnati and Miami came in second and third, respectively.
Education level was, pardon the pun, a no-brainer. For this section we looked at the number of residents in a city with a bachelor’s degree or higher. Our thought was that a higher percentage of educated residents equates to a higher willingness to learn.
Being smart isn’t all about being educated—it’s also about being able to continually educate yourself. This is one reason libraries factored into our list. In the same vein, this is why we chose to include the number of local media outlets available in each city. This includes newspapers, television stations, radio stations, and magazines. The concept is that residents in a city with access to more media will be better informed in all sorts of areas. At the very least, these folks will be able to keep track of their hometown.
It’s hard to argue that museums don’t benefit a city’s population. Whether the museum focuses on a single topic or hosts traveling exhibits, museums are academic institutions that educate the public. A city with multiple museums is a city that’s supercharging its residents’ collective brain power.
When creating this list, we debated whether to include public school scores to the list of criteria. In the end we decided that cities with strong school systems were better preparing their children—and by extension the city—for the future. For this category, we relied on data collected from GreatSchools.org, a not-for-profit organization that ranks school districts across the country. Irvine earned the top spot in this section. Close behind was Scottsdale and then Chesapeake, VA.
What should you take from all this? While the Bay Area has its fair share of brains, be wary of trivia nights in Pittsburgh. I’m sure they’d be able to answer this head-scratcher no problem: Which country shares the longest border with France?
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