More on Smart Cities

Oct 26, 2014 by

[This post was originally published in June 2012]


In the previous post, I wrote about a ranking of “smartest cities” in the U.S. published by the Business Journals website. The ranking was based on a complex index that involves several components, among them the percentage of four-year college graduates and the share of adults holding advanced degrees. Unsurprisingly, America’s best-known college towns, such as Ann Arbor, Michigan, Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Berkeley, California, occupied top spots in the ranking. As one of our readers correctly pointed out, it is rather unsurprising to see college towns at the top of the list if “smartness” is measured by college attendance. “Best-educated cities” is probably a better way to characterize this ranking.

Recently, a more direct metric for measuring the “brain performance” or cognitive capacity of various locales has become available. Developed by Lumos Labs, the metric is based on their cognitive training and tracking software, Lumosity. It covers some 20 million members who use the company’s online games to assess and attempt to improve their cognitive performance. Though on the face of it the games may seem to be just like other games one might play at the office, they are not. According to the Wall Street Journal:

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

To measure the brain power of various metro areas, Lumosity scientists tracked the cognitive performance of more than one million users in the United States on their games, mapping them by using IP geolocation software. Individual scores in five key cognitive areas—memory, processing speed, flexibility, attention, and problem solving—from players in 169 metro areas were recorded (only areas with more than 500 observations were included in the calculations) and normalized into a basic brain performance index controlling for age and gender. This allowed the firm to control for the proportion of younger people or college students. According to Daniel Sternberg, the Lumosity scientist who developed the metro brain performance measure, “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 map of the index, created by Zara Matheson of the Martin Prosperity Institute, is posted above.

According to this metric, the list of the “brainiest” metro areas also includes many college towns. 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), Rochester, New York (University of Rochester, Rochester Institute of Technology), Gainesville (University of Florida), Lansing (Michigan State), Burlington (University of Vermont), Pittsburgh (Carnegie Mellon University, Duquesne University, and the University of Pittsburgh), and Syracuse (Syracuse University) all number among the top 25 (the full list can be found here). Most of the metro areas in the top 25 are relatively small, with the only large ones being San Francisco (in 5th place), the Twin Cities of Minneapolis-St. Paul (10th), Boston (11th), and Austin (12th). This is because smaller metro areas are likely to have a more homogenous population than larger ones. Individual cities within a metro area may have very different results, especially in regard to large urban aggregations, such as that of New York City, which encompasses large parts of New Jersey and Connecticut, and that of Boston, which includes much of the rest of Massachusetts and parts of New Hampshire.

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