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The Future Metropolis Index: U.S. Cities With The Best Urban Policies

A new study breaks down the different factors that make a city livable (innovation, sustainability, safety). Where did your city rank?

Want to live in a city that’s innovative, sustainable, vibrant, efficient, and eminently livable? Move to San Francisco. That’s the conclusion of the Future Metropolis Index, a study commissioned by Zipcar that examines the 36 largest cities in the country through the five dimensions listed above.

Innovation was measured based on the amount of wireless hot spots and universities per 10,000 residents; sustainability was ranked on the miles of bike lanes and paths, as well as percent of hybrid cars; vibrancy was measured based on the amount of park acres and arts-related jobs and business; efficiency rankings were based on the number of workers using public transportation and public transportation trips as a percent of the area’s population; and livability was measured based on unemployment, violent crime rates, and property crime rates.

These are arbitrary measures—a lot more goes into a city’s sustainability than the amount of bike lanes and hybrid cars, and innovation comes from much more than wireless hot spots and universities. Widespread use of public transportation also doesn’t necessarily indicate a quality transportation system, as the long-suffering users of San Francisco’s large but mediocre public transportation system can attest. But the measures do provide at least an outline of whether a city is future-forward or not.

San Francisco comes out on top thanks to its many parks, arts-related businesses and jobs, high percentage of hybrid cars, and widespread use of public transportation.

Cities on the East and West Coasts generally dominate the index—Seattle, Washington, D.C., Portland, Boston, and New York follow behind San Francisco. But El Paso wins out for livability. The city has the country’s lowest homicide rate and second lowest burglary rate.

While the Bay Area is home to the Silicon Valley innovation hotbed, Atlanta gets the top spot for innovation because it has the most universities and wireless hot spots per 100,000 residents. In fact, San Francisco isn’t even on the top five for innovation. Pittsburgh, Boston, Washington, D.C., and Denver trail behind Atlanta.

The East Coast dominates innovation, while the West is tops for sustainability. Tucson, Portland, San Francisco, Albuquerque, and Seattle make up the top five.

Zipcar’s study also points out the seemingly obvious: Optimism about job creation is higher in metro areas than elsewhere. This surely has something to do with the fact that there are simply more businesses—in boom and bust times—in cities than elsewhere. And that’s true in almost all of the cities surveyed, regardless of the amount of bike lanes or wireless hot spots.

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  • Guest

    Look which state has all of its major metropolitan areas in the rankings... And it's not on either coast...

  • Sacramennah

    Zipcar is based in San Francisco. Zipcar has done very very well in San Francisco. Zipcar wants to know where to expand their business, so they design a survey. Is it any wonder that San Francisco is near the top? Internally useful for them, but externally for the rest of us, not so much.

  • Marc Brenman

    Weird.  Public transportation use as a proxy for efficiency?  No rating for diversity?  And the slideshow puts Albuquerque in Minnesota...

  • Guest

    I wonder if any of the people griping about the metrics actually took the time to read the report's criteria. It was based on metrics a company called ZipCar believes are it is in plain english in case you missed it: "...Methodology Overview (cont’d) Cities were evaluated on the following
    dimensions as they are values that align with Zipcar’s mission:..." In other words, they created the criteria by which they wanted to evaluate the statistics for themselves.

  • spijim

    In the original report it says specifically that east coast cities dominate in transportation, with SF being the only west coast city to grace the top 5. 

  • Keith

    If the West Coast trumps the East Coast on transportation sustainability, then there's clearly a problem with the index.

  • adn

    Minneapolis or St. Paul aren't in the top 36 largest cities by population, folks. Although Metropolitan Statistical Areas might have been a better metric, and these metrics are totally arbitrary.

  • brad_dfl

    No Minneapolis or St. Paul. Very myopic. It is hard to take this seriously.