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New study finds Raleigh-Durham the smartest metro in US

Daily_beast_us_smartest_city It's yet another top-in-the-country ranking for our not-so-humble region. Sometimes folks get weary of these list-driven accolades -- which, frankly folks, are in the online world just a heck of a good way to generate pageviews and ad bucks for a site like The Daily Beast.

But, hey, who doesn't like seeing themselves called the smartest region in the US?

Not that it would be smart to accept such praise on face value. After all, the metric -- which looks at factors ranging from educational attainment to universities to non-fiction book sales -- isn't perfect, and it's be dumb for those of us in the purported "America's Smartest City" to accept that there's any one measure.

On the other hand, I'm in the midst of a three-day familial visit in my hometown of Orlando, a place that's been Mickey Mouse when it comes to education for years. And after watching non-stop TV commercials last night hawking some moron named "Bubba the Love Sponge" -- a guy whose antics appear to make the groanworthy "Bob and the Showgram" folks in Raleigh look like positive Rhodes Scholars -- well, the Daily Beast nailed their bottom-of-the-list ranking for my hometown.

So maybe they're on to something.

Of course, as is typical in these surveys, Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill and -- apparently -- even Fayetteville got thrown into the Ronco Metro-Blender ("it slices! it dices! it regionalizes!") to put the data together. But yes, even with that our region edged out San Francisco (#2) and Boston (#3) for the top slot on the survey.

The rankings used per-capita measures to balance out metros of disparate size; then, as the Daily Beast's Clark Merrefield says:

[We] divided the criteria into two halves: Half for education, and half for intellectual environment. The education half encompassed how many residents had bachelor’s degrees (35 percent weighting) and graduate degrees (15 percent). No credit was given for “some college,” or “some grad school”—we rewarded those who finished the race. The intellectual environmental half had three subparts. First, we looked at nonfiction book sales (25 percent), as tracked by Nielsen BookScan, the nation’s leading provider of accurate point-of-sale data, which tracks roughly 300,000 titles each week. We focused on nonfiction as an imperfect proxy for intellectual vigor, because overall sales are dominated by fiction works that, while entertaining, aren’t always particularly thought-provoking. We also measured the ratio of institutions of higher education (15 percent), as defined by the federal government—different than just measuring college degrees, this acknowledges that universities don’t just churn out diplomas, but instead drive the intellectual vigor of cities. Finally, many studies link intelligence and political engagement, so we weighed this, too, as measured by the percentage of eligible voters who cast ballots in the last presidential election (10 percent).

The comments on the post have been the typical grousing you'd expect to see -- though the most amusing grumbling comes from the N&O's Jay Price, who does some hometown ego-boosting of his own:

There were the usual issues with not quite understanding the three corners of the region when discussing Research Triangle Park. Unbelievably, Duke University and UNC-Chapel Hill get a nod, but there is no mention of N.C. State University. What part of the word "Triangle" is it that all these national rankers don't get?

What say you, dear readers? Has Tina Brown's news site nailed the Triangle's reputation with this ranking? Or, do you agree with the comment at the Beast of one ex-pat from the region, who groused about our towns besting the Bay Area?

Maybe I should be proud that my hometown in NC town beat out my adopted hometown of the SF & the Bay Area. But this is nuts. Didn't the study account for the dark side of a place? As much as I adore Chapel Hill, Raleigh and Durham--along with Asheville these are the bright spots on a dark continent of NC--the redneck/Jesse Helms/neocon element of RDCh should bring the scores down, a lot, shouldn't they? That dark element is alive and well throughout the South.

And if they say the Bay Area isn't as politically engaged as RDCh, they're nuts. Of course, SF/SJ's local governments are pretty great already, and maybe we don't have to work so hard. In NC, you have to work all day and all night just to make sure the guys in office don't embarrass you.


The Gourmez

I was incredibly amused yesterday with how many local tweeters promoted the article by saying either "Raleigh is the smartest city" or "Durham is the smartest city," leaving either one or the other city out of the ranking and ignoring Chapel Hill entirely (which the article did, too, while simultaneously mentioning UNC Chapel Hill as one of the reasons for the ranking). Is the Triangle generally an accepted blanket term for the region or do people have issues with that, too? I can't ever keep the discussion straight.


Here's another set of data points for your consideration, courtesy of the excellent blog "Calculated Risk". They illustrate the result of what has to have been one of the dumbest mass delusions in recent human history:


Using Charlotte, NC as a good-but-less-than-perfect substitute for the Triangle region, it appears that folks around here mostly avoided the most extreme excesses -- I think that's a kind of intelligence that is often in short supply.


I understand how Tina Brown feels. I spend my weekends in Eastern North Carolina and it is an entire different universe down there.
On the other hand, I left Durham a few years back and moved to a small town in Missouri. The biggest employer was the Assemblies of God world headquarters. I felt like I had been dropped into the Twilight Zone. I did not realize how wonderful it was to be surrounded by smart, educated and engaged people until I lived somewhere where the percentage of those people was so much smaller than it is here.
I couldn't wait to get back here and I won't willingly leave again.

Kevin Davis

@Toby: That's an intriguing find. The lists (house value crashes/bubbles vs. "smart" cities) don't correspond perfectly -- SF is near the worst and Dallas near the best on this list, both unlike the smart cities tally -- but there seems to be a relative correlation in many cases.

John O

I had a friend who used to work for the chamber of commerce in Omaha, NE.

Omaha, as you know, often shows up highly on these lists. But as someone who spent a decade living in Omaha, let me just say, it doesn't exactly deserve many accolades.

Anyway, the chamber used to routinely get shaken down FOR MONEY to be placed higher on lists.

Sometimes this would involve pre-purchasing 10,000 "promotional" copies of the magazine in which the results were going to appear. Sometimes this would include a $50,000 series of donations to a specific "not-profit."

When the same tops-list appeared the next year, often the list maker would tell the Omaha chamber that some new city (say Tacoma...) had really "improved" since last year, and that Omaha would need to "step up" in order to stay highly ranked.

Suffice it to say, it was all very shady.

Now I'm sure that Durham / Raleigh deserve many of these placements. I moved here partially because, after doing extensive research, I found this to be true. We *do* have an incredibly well educated population. We *are* a super "livable" metro.

But I think we're showing up on these lists a little too often to be merely accounted for by our awesomeness-- especially since so many of these lists are shake-downs.

And that makes me ask, who is it in the Wake Chamber of Commerce (or some other group? City Hall? ) that is paying to get us onto these lists?


"it slices! it dices! it regionalizes!"



"But wait, there's more! If you buy that Raleigh-Durham is one city we'll throw in Chapel Hill and Fayetteville* for free! Act now -- operators are standing by -- and supplies are limited!"

*Last week when the Wall Street Journal chose "Raleigh-" (and when the accompanying picture showed Brightleaf, I guessed this to be Raleigh-Durham) as the 7th best next hot youth-magnet city the rationale included expansion of Fort Bragg. Go figure.


"It slices! it dices! it regionalizes!"

I'm resigned to the fact that our fair city of Durham will forever be lumped in with its regional neighbors, never to be fully understood by the outside world. But part of me is OK with that.

I also wanted to point out that so many of these lists are 1. subjective and 2. created merely as generators for page views and media attention.


Let me first say that I don't live in Durham, but I enjoy the city a great deal, particularly the older neighborhoods. With that out of the way, I think we need to realize that when taken as one city (Chapel Hill, Durham, Cary, Raleigh, etc) to the exclusion of the others, we don't stack up very well. As much as boosters of each community could like to believe otherwise, the whole of the Triangle region is greater than the sum of the parts. We can be a successful region while also maintaining and celebrating the unique identities of our cities and towns.

FWIW, I don't think it's an accident that the WSJ picked Brightleaf for the photo op. It's part of what sets Durham apart from anyplace else.

Kevin Davis

@ChiefJoJo:DURHAM ROOOLZ RALEIGH DROOOOLZ!BULL ACORN!Seriously, I dont disagree with what youve said.  I do think were stronger as a region than we would be independently.  I find it fascinating how much the individual character has come to develop in each city, far more than Id have expected in a region of our size.
For me, Durham is a city Im comfortable and happy living in.  I dont think Id feel the same way about living in other cities in the Triangle.  And thats OK; we can be good neighbors, and share in the accolades.
One source I suspect of some of the defensiveness that arises lies in a suspicion that, well, Regionalism = Raleighism.  Debates over transit and stormwater that are taking place right now between the cities inevitably get mired in that perspective.  Heck, I find myself lost in it frequently, too.
(Though as a point of order: the quote on NCSUs omission from the Daily Beast story came from the NO, not me.)


"I'm resigned to the fact that our fair city of Durham will forever be lumped in with its regional neighbors, never to be fully understood by the outside world. But part of me is OK with that."

This will always be true, but nothing unique to here. San Jose and San Fran (one metro area) are very different in appearance and culturally yet people still don't seem to realize outside of the area how Silicon Valley is actually a different place than San Fran. It's just how it is.

damien guarniere

If the Raleigh Durham Chapel regon is the smartest regon in the US we are in trouble. We have life long politions and a governer who (was lt gov under our last joke/crook of a govener Mike Easley) got elected on the obama wave and because her last name is perdue and voters used little though in her policies for governing our state and instead used word association with chicken production. If we do have smart people here it no thanks to public schools. The good old boy democratic system is alive and well and they lie in both parties Dem and Rep parties. No one votes and people say it won't change so why try. Public transpertation is a joke and people stick within ther own comfort zone. Not to much racial diversity or comingling between the races and all races are guilty of this lack of reaching out to others not in there race. Drive at your own risk but if you have a record be prepared to be stoped and harrased because that is the type of profiling that is accecpet. Not to mention or district attornies determin which judge you will go in front of (judge shoping) I believe the only state in the Union that allowes this practice. How fast we forgot about the duke lacross case with an over zelous DA who shut down the 1 lacross team in college sports just to get re-elected in a perdomintaly black city. Openminded people are not the norm they are the exceptin in this area and that souther hospitaly you get in your face while gossip is what is done behind your back. How can you call a state that vote for George W. Bush not once but twice into office and only went Obama way once we knew he was going to win. I agree this is just a way to decieve the public into believing that this area is a great place to live. In some ways it is but we have a long long way to go and until people come out of there comfort zone the sheltered residentes of Research Triangle will have a rude awakeing when our state debt is unable to be fixed and there gov grants are taken we have no real industry any more except higher education and all of the education can't help you if there not jobs to work. Until we stop lawyers from running our country and have people running for office who are not in it for themselfes we will continue with the rich getting richer and the rest of us fighting amongest ourslefs for crums.

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