Solving Cities

5 smartest cities in America

5 smartest cities in America

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"You're better off coming to the city than sitting on your parents couch," said New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Short of a national IQ test, few metrics provide insight into the intelligence of a city the way college degrees do. Obviously, a diploma doesn't guarantee intelligence (or employment), but compared to non-graduate population, college graduates exhibit longer life expectancies and higher incomes.

For those in local government, the latter figure is particularly important. "And higher regional income can translate into a higher tax base, better public services, and more private amenities," said Alan Barube, a senior fellow at Brookings Institute, May 31.

This might help explain why public figures like New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg are encouraging the Class of 2012 to move to urban areas after commencement.

"So if you haven’t found a job yet," Bloomberg told Cornell University graduates on May 26, "You’re better off coming to the city than sitting on your parents couch." As comfortable as the sofa is back home, it's hard to disagree.

Which cities hold smarties like you? Here's a list of the top five:

5. Madison, Wis.

Home of the state’s flagship public university, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison boasts the highest percentage of college-educated residents in the Midwest. According to the Brookings data, 43.3% of city residents there have a college degree. That’s good news for local companies like American Family Insurance Group.

4. San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, Calif.


The Bay Area may never have become the economic powerhouse it is without the help of institutions like UC-Berkeley, San Francisco State University, and Mills College. Today, 43.4 percent of area residents have a college degree: a figure that powers Fortune 500 companies like Visa, Wells Fargo, Charles Schwab, the Gap, and Clorox.

3. Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, Conn.

Nestled in between New York City and academic institutions like Yale University and the University of Bridgeport, the Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk area has the highest concentration of college graduates in the Northeast: 44 percent. While this figure certainly benefits local companies like Pitney Bowes, Xerox, and WWE, many residents still make the 45-minute commute to New York City each day.

2. San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, Calif.

Home to Stanford University, Santa Clara University, and San Jose State, as well as tech giants like Google, Facebook, and Twitter, it’s no surprise that Silicon Valley has the highest concentration of college graduates in the State of California. According to Brookings, 45.3 percent of area residents hold a college degree. As those in the Valley know, it's not diplomas aren't scarce. Rather, it's the real estate. The area’s manicured corporate headquarters and high incomes have made real estate in the area the second most expensive in the nation.

1. Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, D.C.-Virg.-Md.-W.V.

Always high on the “Most Well-Read Cities in America” list, the D.C. metro area is home to the highest percentage of college-educated residents in the country. According to Brookings, 46.8 percent of residents there hold a college degree. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that some of the nation’s top-ranked universities – Georgetown University, Howard University, and George Washington University – aren’t far away.

[New York Times]

Flickr: Abraham Williams/Flickr, Philipe L/Flickr, Shinya Suzuki/Flickr, Michael Vito/Flickr, and Rob Shenk/Flickr

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Claire Lambrecht

Contributing Writer

Claire Lambrecht has written for the New York Times, Slate, Salon, The Nation, and CBS MoneyWatch. Previously, she taught English as a Teach for America Corps Member and Fulbright English Teaching Assistant. She holds degrees from Cornell University, the University of Hawaii, and the Arthur M. Carter Journalism Institute at New York University. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure