Smart (and Other) Cities

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Is San Antonio dumb?

Lately the Texas city has become weirdly concerned with this particular question, following The Daily Beast’s annual publication of America’s smartest (and dumbest) cities.

Among the 55 largest metropolitan areas in the United States, San Antonio ranked 54th. The city protests. According to an article by Roy Bragg in the San Antonio Express-News:

Authors of “America’s Smartest (and Dumbest) Cities” compared college degrees, book sales and libraries per capita in the 55 largest metropolitan areas, adjusted the numbers for population differences, and came up with its second annual list of the brightest and the dimmest. For the purposes of this list, Boston’s collective IQ is 176.68; San Antonio’s is 40.

The ranking was not well received by local officials, who poked holes in it. The methodology used was questionable, said state demographer Lloyd Potter, a UTSA faculty member.

“What are we really measuring here?” Potter asked. “Are we measuring smart? What does that mean? They don’t provide a definition of what ‘smart’ is.” College education, he said, only shows how educated a population is. “Do you have to be intelligent to get a degree? Yes. Can you have a population that’s intelligent but not educated? Yes.”

Only 16 percent of the San Antonio-area metropolitan area population has completed college. In Boston, in contrast, it’s almost 25 percent. But then, as the article points out, “that doesn’t mean they’re dumb; it just means they didn’t go to college.”

(Sigh) Well right, but it’s pretty important to take into account college degree completion when figuring out the intellectual atmosphere of a city. One official from the city’s Chamber of Commerce protested that “We have over 120,000 students in class — that’s a community college, or a public or private university — every single day. That’s not a dumb city. That’s a smart city.”

So what is a dumb city?

San Antonio is right to point out that this isn’t exactly a scientific project. The real problem here is that it’s all about cities. Educated people tend to congregate in these places because that’s where professional jobs are located. The truly less educated parts of the country are in rural America, and that’s actually most of the country, by land mass at least.

But San Antonio’s not getting off that easily. The Daily Beast didn’t just look at the percent of the population that had completed college. San Antonio also had 1,266,000 book sales last year. In the Raleigh/Durham, North Carolina (fourth smartest in the country according to the article) area—which actually has almost 500,000 fewer people—residents bought 647,000 more books.

So maybe San Antonio’s not dumb. What is it? Less “intellectually curious”? [Image via]

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer