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America's Brainiest Cities - Neighborhoods - The Atlantic Cities

FRIDAY JUNE 08, 2012



America's Brainiest Cities

In a knowledge economy, we are often told the smartest cities and nations do the best. But economists typically measure smart cities by education level, calculating the cities or metros with the largest percentage of college grads or the largest shares of adults with advanced degrees. Others (like me) do it by charting the kinds of work people do and the occupations they hold, differentiating between knowledge or creative workers and others who do more routine manufacturing and service jobs. But a new measure seeks to track the "brain performance" or cognitive capacity of metros in a different and potentially more direct way. This metric, developed by Lumos Labs, is based on their cognitive training and tracking software, Lumosity. It covers some 20 million members (and 320 million individual game plays) who use the company's online games to assess and attempt to improve their cognitive performance. This, writes the Wall Street Journal:

might not sound much different than other games you might play at the office. (Minesweeper, anyone?) The difference is tracking. The games offer a scorecard of your performance and let you follow changes in performance over time, so you can see if you're getting better or backsliding. You can also choose what skills you want to improve. If you're having trouble remembering things, for instance, you might ask for memory-boosting games. So, while it may seem like just

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another game, it can home in on skills you're trying to sharpen for work—and improve them.

To measure the smartest cities, Lumosity scientists tracked the cognitive performance of more than one million users in the United States on their games, mapping them across U.S. metros using IP geolocation software. Individual scores were recorded in five key cognitive areas: memory, processing speed, flexibility, attention, and problem solving.The data was normalized into a basic brain performance index controlling for age and gender. Only metros with more than 500 observations were included. The data cover 169 metros. The map below from Zara Matheson of the Martin Prosperity Institute maps the this brainy metro index across U.S. metros.
(Click the

map for a larger image)

With the help of my colleague Charlotta Mellander, I correlated the Lumosity data on brain performance with conventional measures of educational attainment, knowledge workers and other factors. The Lumosity data were significantly associated with both the share of adults with a bachelor's degree or greater (.56) and the percent engaged in knowledge and creative work (.45). Higher cognitive performance scores not surprisingly were also associated with higher rates of innovation, greater concentrations of high-tech industry and higher per capita incomes. Here are America's 25 brainiest metros, according to Lumosity's metrics:

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1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13. 14. 15. 16. 17. 18. 19. 20. 21. 22. 23. 24. 25.

Charlottesville, Virginia Lafayette, Indiana Anchorage Alaska Madison, Wisconsin San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose Cedar Rapids-Waterloo-Iowa City & Dubuque, Iowa Honolulu Johnstown-Altoona, Pennsylvania Champaign & Springfield-Decatur, Illinois Minneapolis-St. Paul Boston-Manchester (Massachusetts/New Hampshire) Austin Rochester, New York Gainesville, Florida Fargo-Valley City North Dakota Lansing, Michigan Santa Barbara-Santa Maria-San Luis Obispo Burlington-Plattsburgh (Vermont/New York) Pittsburgh Syracuse, New York Baton Rouge, Louisiana Columbia-Jefferson City, Missouri La Crosse-Eau Claire, Wisconsin Harrisburg-Lancaster-Lebanon-York Pennsylvania Springfield-Holyoke, Massachusetts

There's a lot of college towns on the list. Charlottesville, Virginia, home to the University of Virginia, takes first place. Lafayette, Indiana, home to Purdue University, is second, while Madison, Wisconsin, home to the University of Madison-Wisconsin, is fourth. Iowa City (University of Iowa), Champaign, Illinois (University of Illinois), Austin (University of Texas), Gainesville (University of Florida), Lansing (Michigan State), Burlington (University of Vermont), and Syracuse (Syracuse University) all number among the top 25. MORE: As well as my former hometown of Pittsburgh in the 19th spot -- which, as our savvy commenters point out, I overlooked in the original version -- and Rochester (with just over a million people) too in 13th place. The result is not driven principally by college students, according to Daniel Sternberg, the Lumosity data scientist who developed the metro brain performance measure. "Since our analysis controlled for age, the reason they score well is not simply that they have a lot of young people," said Sternberg. "Instead, our analysis seems to show that users living in university communities tend to perform better than users of the same age in other locations." The only large metros to make the list are San Francisco (in fifth place), the Twin Cities of Minneapolis-St. Paul (10th), Boston (11th), and Austin (12th). "Smaller metro areas likely have a more homogenous population than very large metro areas, like New York City, which encompasses large parts of New Jersey and Connecticut, or Boston, whose metro includes much of the rest of Massachusetts and New Hampshire," notes Sternberg. "If we could drill down and look at the individual cities within each metro, we would expect to find large differences between cities within a given metropolitan area. With that said, it's actually quite impressive that San Francisco and Boston do as well as they do."

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Keywords: Higher education, Smart Cities, map, Data, College towns

Richard Florida is Co-Founder and Editor at Large at The Atlantic Cities. He's also a Senior Editor at The Atlantic and Director of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management. He is a frequent speaker to communities, business and professional organizations, and founder of the Creative Class Group, whose current client list can be found here. All posts »

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kent williams

I have questions about the methodogy. 1. Are the game players are self-selecting? 2. Computer use and computer game play are by no means universal. Large swaths of the population -- especially low income -- have limited or no access to computers with internet connections. How do you correct for that?

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As an Iowan -- still a little sore about the whole Stephen Bloom debacle -- I'm skeptical of including Cedar Rapds, Waterloo, Iowa City, and Dubuque all in one grouping. I live in Iowa City and it's 90 minutes on the highway to Waterloo, and 2 hours to Dubuque, and all 4 of those places have really distinct ethnic, socioeconomic and cultural makeup. It would be like lumping in Stockton with San Francisco.

Linda A Howell

West Lafayette, not Lafayette, is home to Purdue University. Just saying. Perhaps the author meant to refer to the Greater Lafayette area rather than to Lafayette.

Ted Malone

The article does say it is metro areas


As for lerger cities making thew list, needless to say that San Fran and Boston both a have many world-class universities. Also, they do have a high proportion of students per 1000 people.


Baton Rouge is home to LSU, Southern University, and multiple community colleges. I think it qualifies as a "college town"!


yet more lib bias, which assumes that the overeducated and arrogant are smarter than the rest.

William A Yarberry Jr

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I'm not sure I understand the term "over educated." Typically that is used to describe someone doing a job for which they are over qualified, e.g., working a McDonalds when they have a masters degree. If you are as conservative as you claim, have you not read the Christian Bible, which clearly suggests that wisdom is a good thing. Are you suggesting that we dumb down the population to make them "better citizens?" You should think rather than merely react.


I think it takes an impressive level of arrogance to be able to disregard statistics like you do.

dev null

Why is it that conservatives seem so anti-intellectual? When did education become a dirty word?


funny thing is that most conservative "leaders" are very well educated. ironic isnt it? Btw - I'm an independent voter.

Haley Huff

I want to point out that you mentioned the 1st, 2nd and 4th for college towns. Anchorage is home to the University of Alaska Anchorage. It is a four-year institution with master's programs.

Richard Florida

Thanks folks. Great points. I was just using illustrative examples of "college towns" - most of the metros on the list are college towns in some sense.

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Ted Malone

While UAA is a fine school, it is not the central focus of the city the way Purdue is to Lafayette. What is the connection between these two? It's me. Just moved to Lafayette from Anchorage. BTW, Purdue is in West Lafayette, but I suppose it is the greater Lafayette area.


The supposed correlation between education credentials/income with intellect has temporarily rendered me nauseous and incoherent. Just looking at the map, it seems like there is a stronger correlation between colder weather and intellect. And it would be just as foolish to draw that correlation. And, in 2012, charts on present income do not take into account government indebtedness and the higher education bubble. Moving to a place of more concentrated education credentials, and income, is similar to a chart of where-to-buy-a-home, set in 2007;

Richard Florida

The association between educational attainment and regional growth, innovation and income is well-established in the literature. Human capital and skill, numerous studies find, are the principal drivers of regional growth and development. There is a debate on the role of weather and climate. Some find warmer climate (esp warmer January temperatures) to be associated with higher levels of growth, but this is subject to debate. There is broad consensus on role of educational attainment however.


Really? Because the "where-to-buy-a-home" charts in 2007 listed Florida, Vegas, and California's inland empire as the top areas. Not exactly places known for high concentrations of post-docs.


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I'm dumbfounded by this. Probably because I'm not in a so-called brainy city.


really.... johnstown/altoona. im pretty sure we have more unemployed in the area to make up for the rest of the state. hospitals, schools, everything in this area is a joke as well. I do not agree with number 8.

Ara Rubyan

Michigan State is located in East Lansing, not Lansing. So there's that.


They're in the same metro, and since Lansing is the largest city in the metro, it's referred to as the Lansing Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA)--i.e. metro. Look at the sizes of the boxes on the map. The Lansing MSA has 3 counties

Freddie DeBoer



Ugh. Selection bias. Mr. Florida, you're an academic. You're a researcher. C'mon. Any undergrad that was half awake in his/her basic research methods class could explain why you cannot conclude that these are "America's brainiest cities."

Richard Florida

Thanks for your comment. The term "brainiest cities" is drawn from the Lumosity measure

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of cognitive or brain performance. It is meant to be suggestive, not literal.

Freddie DeBoer

I agree. It's funny, though, how many people complain about the methodology and then turn around and say "based on my own anecdotal experience, THIS is true."


Yes, that is funny. But, it speaks to a general lack of scientific understanding in society at large. Everyone coming out of high school should have an understanding of some basic research methods and scientific thinking. [/steps off soapbox] As for the article, I'm a fan of Florida's work, but I wonder if this was a momentary lapse or a case of needing to get something out quickly to shut the editor up.

Richard Florida

Hmmmm .... Not really. It is a very interesting piece of work by Lumosity researchers which sheds light on an aspect of urban-regional structure and skill providing data on cognitive performance as opposed to educational attainment or occupational skill. My team ran the correlates and found the measure to be robust (in relation to educational attainment and occupational skill) and thus worth reporting. That's all.


Thanks for the reply. My initial beef with the article, or at least how it was presented in the headline, was that the sample, those that use the Lumosity software, is likely a very different population than the population at large, resulting in selection bias. Until we demonstrate that they are a representative sample of the larger population, then I don't think we can say that this ranking of cities is accurate. While their scores are correlated with other brainy measures, even the

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highest of them, a .56, while high for the social sciences, still leaves almost 70% of the variance unaccounted for when looking at the r2. I suspect that selection bias is one factor that plays a prominent role in that. Apologies for the unintended snark. Things never come out right on a keyboard while multitasking. Anyway, I really enjoyed your book, Who's Your City, and think that you're doing some really cool work, so it's a pleasure to have a virtual conversation with you.

Ashley Lopez

Research Triangle Park is less brainy than Pittsburgh?


I know that surprises me too.

Vicki Trusselli

who knows at least the city i live at the moment Austin is on the list. Not the city i moved from Los Angeles whom i would of thought would be there.

Greg Scoville

Could be that Lumosity advertises on TV in metro areas, thus skewing the response rate to those SMSAs?


Living in number two (Lafayette/West Lafayette/Purdue), I've never even heard of Lumosity until this article.

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I love these pieces. Invariably posters clamor to whine about why their city (or ?) didn't make the list. "There are a lot of smart people here!" "The Research Triangle!" Criminy -Microsoft is in Seattle Metro, as is a prominent university, and it's not on the list. There are a lot of variables, people.


I wonder how Los Alamos NM got left off this list. It has one of the highest percentages, if not the highest, of PhDs of any place in the country. They are employed at the National Labs, which should qualify as creative work. I guess they do not play video games.

Meghon Ross

#22, Columbia, MO, was omitted from the paragraph listing college towns. It is home to the University of Missouri, Columbia College, and Stephens College.

Richard Florida

Meghon - I was just citing some examples, as other note, many/ most are college towns ...


sure, but you see it's a confused metric. You specifically call out cities like Pittsburgh and Rochester (with a pop of 1m) as "college towns" and don't mention Columbia which is a true college town in that it has a metro population of only 175k, a huge percentage of which are affiliated with the university and colleges. The city of columbia is virtually a shell encasing its schools. most cities contain a college if not a university so if you don't apply any more precise criteria than that then they're ALL college towns.

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Wow, no one commented on the stark difference between north and south in the eastern half of the country? Or the troubling extremes in California?


What "troubling extremes in California?"


Umm, yeah, this is retarded. Has anyone stopped to think that maybe the population of people who choose to PAY for online "cognitive games" may be considerably stupider than their peers? What's more likely: Charlottesville, Lafayette and Anchorage are more intelligent and intellectual than Cambridge, Palo Alto, and New Haven? Or that this study is stupidly, horribly flawed, and a PR stunt to boot?

Tom Bellinson

I would have to agree that some of the smartest people I know are too busy making a difference to have time to play online games. This seems like walking into the aviary at the zoo, doing a study and determining that African Grey parrots are the smartest animal at the zoo. No, they're just the smartest animal in the aviary. This study just shows where the smartest online game players are. To infer more is "unscientific."


Living in Anchorage currently, and having lived for significant lengths of time in Boston and Champaign, I really have to agree with Boourns76. The population here is more apt to pay for online "cognitive games" to show how "smart" they are than actually go out in the world and learn, study, create and thrive.

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Miss Dixie

I love how when people have a prejudice to believe certain areas MUST be deemed the smartest, but when they're shown data to disprove it, they cry foul. The world doesn't all revolve around Harvard, Yale & Stanford. Funny, many of the people running Wall Street went to those schools, and look at our economy now.


A very belated reply that is unlikely to be read. "... but when they're shown data to disprove it, they cry foul..." Pot, meet kettle. Let me also introduce you to my friends SAT Scores, Median GPAs, Post-Graduate Employment Rate, Median Post-Graduate Salary. Collectively, they like to be called "Data" and they insist very strenuously that "Best Game Players Among Paid Subscribers of a Very Obscure Company Releasing a Study in a Public Relations Release" is not a part of their little clique.

John Floyd

Having studied in both Iowa City and Cambridge, MA, I can assure you, Miss Dixie, that Cambridge is indeed a bit more sophisticated and worthwhile for the sophisticated than is Iowa City.

Freddie DeBoer

So in other words, in a thread complaining about bad methodology, your argument is "I used to live there so I know." Right. You guys can't complain about bad methodology and then say "I know what's true just because I know."


I live in Michigan and I'd say there is no shortage of brains in the Midwest. We just need to use

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those brains to find ways to move forward.


Yes, I agree, although Lansing likes to claim how the highly intelligent people there are gainfully employed, the unemployment is low and it is a growing metropolis. This is not the case. Most people have to travel outside of Lansing due to the limited jobs and undesirable employers there. This is also the state capital and a political ploy to paint a unrealistic picture.


Not buying this. Sampling nowhere near random. Sample depends on what companies sign their employees up for this thing.


/thread. That's basically what Florida should have written, but somehow never managed to even mention. Although I'm not sure what you mean by companies signing employees up.

Washington Irving

I think it's significant how well the Midwest is represented in this list. For a region searching for anwers and an economic future, signs like this should not go unnoticed.

David Michael Williams

There are a few more college towns on that list. Off the top of my head I see: Anchorage (University of Alaska), Columbia-Jefferson City (University of Missouri), La Crosse-Eau Claire (University of Wisconsin-La Crosse), and Springfield-Holyoke (Mount Holyoke). State capitols seem to be well represented too.

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Santa Barbara--home of the University of California Santa Barbara, one of the nation's top research universities, and an array of other, smaller colleges.


Yes, and "Johnstown/Altoona, PA" is probably Penn State University.

Michael D'Angelo

In addition to Penn State main campus, it also has the largest Pitt and Penn State satellite campuses and I'm pretty sure that Indiana University of Pennsylvania (PA's largest state school) is in that market as well.

John Springer

Nope - The Johnstown Metropolitan Statistical Area is all of Cambria County, the Altoona Statistical Area is all of the adjacent Blair County. These two areas often get lumped together as one large, mostly rural, area. It does NOT include Penn State, which is the State College Statistical area (all of Centre County) or IUP, which is off in Indiana County, and not in a Metropolitan Area at all. You get Penn State Altoona Campus, the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, and Saint Francis University in Loretto, and that's it. No graduate schools at all.

Washington Irving

I noticed the same thing. Assuming Springfield-Holyoke MSA covers the NorthamptonAmherst area, this is probably the highest concentrated collegiate region (UMass, art

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schools, et al). LaCross-Eau Claire is a traditional collegiate magnet for the Minneapolis to Milwaukee corridor (UW-Eau Claire, Viterbo, et al).

Richard Florida

Yes, of course. Good comment. I was just picking out some examples, not listing them all. The bigger metros can also quality as "college towns" at some level. The list covers them all.

Anne-Marie Angelo

Surprised the Research Triangle, NC didn't make the cut.

Karen Demerly

West Lafayette, Indiana, is home to Purdue University. Different city.

Anthony M Zabonik

They're referring moreso to the greater Lafayette area, which would include West Lafayette

Flolivia Newton-John

Lafayette and West Lafayette alike are full of pedants.

Freddie DeBoer

Pedant="people who want stop being smarter than me"

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Karen Demerly

I'm just finding it funny that some Lafayette residents are snubbing their noses at the west side, when I would assume (like most of us who live here) that they mean the greater Lafayette area. However, if you're going to mention the home of Purdue, I think it should be West Lafayette. A Lafayette pedantic. :-)

Matthew W. Hall

Florida doesn't want to look bias against a place he used to live so people don't think he is privileging his personal experiences over 'the data'.


Damn, Florida! What is it with you and ignoring Pittsburgh. One of the top 25 metros in the USA and it doesn't count as a larger metro? The city is packed full of colleges but doesn't count as a college town either? You even used to live there and teach at one of those universities and yet every time it shows up on a list you post, you never bring it up or analyze the implications. Pittsburgh is one of America's great cities and a model for rust belt revitalization. Its ugly stepchild status in your writing is unwarranted.

Richard Florida

Good catch. Will of course add my terrific former hometown. Doing it ... now...


wicked smaat

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