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City Vitals: New Measures of Success for Cities

Urban leaders seeking success in the new economy should stop paying attention to ubiquitous city rankings and start focusing their attentions on four dimensions of success: talent, innovation, connections and distinctiveness. CityVitals lays out the rationale for the things cities must be really good at doing today and a new set of metrics — 20 in all — to measure their progress.

The 64-page booklet, developed by Portland-based economist Joseph Cortright in partnership with CEOs for Cities, includes data on the top 50 metro areas in the U.S. for each of the 20 measures. It also looks at each city’s Metro Performance (economic indicators) and its Core Vitality (the strength of the city’s urban core).

“Every week it seems a new ranking of cities makes the headlines,” said Carol Coletta, president and CEO of CEOs for Cities. “Unfortunately, few of those rankings are relevant to what makes cities successful today. CityVitals gives urban leaders a much richer picture of what’s going right and what’s going wrong in their cities and uncovers their best opportunities to improve.”

To be successful today, cities have to develop their own unique formula that addresses the four dimensions of urban success: talent, innovation, connections and distinctiveness,

said Cortright. “No single city performs best on all these metrics. And these metrics are very different than the traditional recipes of cutting taxes and building convention centers or arenas.”
CityVitals enables urban leaders to assess their city’s performance on each of these four dimensions, to plot strategies to build on strengths and offset weaknesses, and establish a distinctive, winning and competitive strategy, he said.

An Explanation of the Four Dimensions, Metro Performance and Core Vitality:

The Talented City
The indispensable asset in a knowledge economy is smart people. Cities are places where people build knowledge through education and experience. Cities attract smart people and create opportunities for them to develop and apply what they know. Measured by:

  • College Attainment
  • Creative Professionals
  • Young & Restless
  • Traded Sector Talent
  • International Talent
The Innovative City
The ability to generate new ideas and to turn those ideas into reality is a critical source of competitive advantage not just for businesses but for regions, as well. Economies and regions advance by a process of trial and error. Those places that generate many trials of novel products and services are most likely to move ahead. Measured by:

  • Patents
  • Venture Capital
  • Self-Employment
  • Small Businesses
The Connected City
Cities thrive as places where people can easily interact and connect. These connections are of two sorts: the easy interaction of local residents and easy connections to the rest of the world. Both internal and external connections are important. Internal connections help promote the creation of new ideas and make cities work better for their residents. External connections enable people and businesses to tap into the global economy. Measured by:

  • Voting
  • Community Involvement
  • Economic Integration
  • Transit Use
  • International Students
  • Foreign Travel
  • Internet Connectivity
The Distinctive City
The unique characteristics of place may be the only truly defensible source of competitive advantage for regions. In a world of global competition, a strategy of “pretty much the same, maybe cheaper” is a recipe for mediocrity and economic stagnation. Measured by:

  • Weirdness Index
  • Culture/Cable Ratio
  • Restaurant Variety
  • Movie Variety
Metro Performance:
For each metropolitan area, key indicators of economic well-being are examined: per capita income and the rate of poverty. Urban areas that do well in generating and attracting talent, encouraging innovation, building connections and capitalizing on distinctiveness are the best positioned to improve the income of their residents and to reduce poverty, especially in the long run.
Core Vitality:
A strong urban core also plays a critical economic role. The urban center of metropolitan areas is the focus of cultural activities, civic identity, governmental institutions and usually has the densest employment, particularly in financial, professional and creative services. Urban cores are also the iconic centers of cities, where interaction and connections are strongest. To measure the vibrancy of urban centers, the income, educational attainment and poverty levels of the urban neighborhoods within 5 miles of the center of each region’s central business district are computed.