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Smart Cities

Smart Cities Can Be Measured by The Amount of Human Capital

By Jacob Langenfeld

Smart Cities

The total education attainment of a place translates into its "human capital," which can be used to determine how "smart" a Smart City is.

Andersen Ross/Getty Images
Updated July 14, 2011
Perhaps the most fundamental part of determining how "smart" a city ranks when compared to others is to identify the level of human capital that the city's inhabitants possess. Human capital is the amount of competence and knowledge that a person holds that can be used to produce something of economic value. For example, think of a bachelor's degree: It teaches a person valuable skills and abilities that translate easily into a job. Going to college for a degree in engineering will teach someone the skills and theories necessary to be successful in a job as an engineer. That degree has enhanced and enlarged that person's human capital.

There are many ways for defining human capital and several of them are utilized when attempting to measure a smart city. For instance, Forbes took a look at the percentages of a city's population with a Bachelor's degree all the way up to a professional degree for various cities as a way to determine human capital. Similarly, The Daily Beast combined those metrics with IQ scores of residents and the number of nonfiction book sales that the cities had recorded. These measurements are combined into a way to define the amount of human capital in a city and by doing so allow us to measure intelligence for the city as a whole.

Seeing that many of the smartest cities have a large number of residents with college degrees in their population, lists with a multitude of college towns may be exclusive in that they leave out larger metropolitan areas. Cities such as Boulder in Colorado, Chapel Hill in North Carolina, and Iowa City in Iowa frequent many of these lists since close to half of the populace have a Bachelor's degree or more due to the graduates, professors and other degree-wielding individuals living in the city.

This can sometimes become problematic when listing smart cities since many large cities with more modest percentages of Bachelor degree wielding individuals are more likely to be inferior. To solve this, we can separate smart cities by population. This gives us a more thorough and fair analysis of cities throughout the nation. Large cities can be compared with similar-sized cities while college towns can be measured with other college towns.

Other smart cities have grown up and prosper around industries that require a more intelligent workforce to accomplish the work that needs to be done. Think of our nation's capital, Washington D.C. Since the city has naturally grown up with the federal government it has been the go-to place for policy makers, lobbyists, and many lawyers. Because of this, the city has demanded an intelligent workforce. Unsurprisingly, the city boasts a young labor pool when compared to other cities where 17.5% of the population is between the ages of 20-29 years old-the perfect age range for those finishing up a college degree to go on to find work.

Creative types tend to cluster in areas where there is a strong and smart community for their industry. The smartest in the film industry are mostly located in Los Angeles, and the idea of working and succeeding with the best of the best in such a place attracts thousands every year. The same can be said for aerospace engineers in Seattle, biotechnology scientists in San Diego and musicians in Nashville. The urban economist Richard Florida has an informational map for cities and their strongest industries.

An interesting example for measuring how smart a city stands is to examine how literate the city is. For example, Central Connecticut State University took a look at six different measurements for a city (bookstores, educational attainment, internet resources, library resources, newspaper circulation, and periodical publication) and combined them to measure the degree of literacy for each city. Not surprisingly, most of the cities in the top 10 for their list are also cities that frequent other lists of smart cities making this measurement a seemingly reliable one. As an example of one of these lists, what follows are CNN Money's top 10 "Brainiest" Large-Sized Metropolitan Areas for 2010:

  1. Washington, D.C.
  2. San Francisco, California
  3. San Jose, California
  4. Raleigh, North Carolina
  5. Boston, Massachusetts
  6. Austin, Texas
  7. Minneapolis, Minnesota
  8. Denver, Colorado
  9. Seattle, Washington
  10. New York City, New York
Looking outside of educational attainment, cites may be labeled "smart" in the way they are built, maintained and governed. For instance, improvements in governmental systems, urban planning, transportation infrastructure, architecture, and communications are led by innovative individuals who have the minds and means to make for a more efficient city.

Competition is also important for cities to take advantage of because of the benefits that can be reaped from using the best and smartest resources in order to help build and maintain a city. Human capital is a worldwide resource and some of the smartest minds are from outside of the United States. By being able to harness the ideas, innovations, and proposed efficiencies of another country's people, some cities have made strides in investment to better create a more livable city with a thriving population.

For example, the former mayor of Chicago, Richard Daley, proposed high speed rail lines that would connect the city's international airport with the heart of the city itself, The Loop. This innovation has been brought on from China's expanding high speed infrastructure and its efficiency in delivering people from one city to the other. While Daley's hopes are on a much smaller scale and don't involve actually connecting American cities together, the hope is still in place to make an improvement in how the city functions. The hope is to garner private investment from Chicagoan companies, as well as some foreign companies as a means to fund the project.

Time has recently released an exploration on what accounts for an intelligent city. The various articles give an interesting insight in the innovations that contemporary cities have tried and what they hope to accomplish through the means of technology and human capital.

Jacob Langenfeld is an undergraduate at the University of Iowa studying economics. He aspires to continue researching demographic and economic trends within a geographic context while teaching others what he learns in an elated fever. His work can also be found on New Geography.

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