Last summer, I created an index ranking large U.S. cities (population 250,000+), somewhat on a whim, but somewhat with the intention of making it something serious. After sitting on it all this time, I want to release it on my blog after having updated a few variables. I will be interested in doing something beyond self-publishing in the future, but for now I just want to share it.
The idea is overall livability, but with a very minor libertarian spin. A common trope is that government intervention may be undesirable, but it is necessary to provide public goods or economic growth or certain amenities beneficial for well-being. What I did was to construct an index ranking cities where there are no such tradeoffs, places where you have public goods provided, vibrant economies, desirable amenities, but also small government. Each of those four – public goods, economy, amenities, and policy – are equally weighted in the index.
To this end, I took the philosophy that I would only measure outcomes. If a city has low pollution but not much in the way of green public transportation, it still gets credit for low pollution. If the city doesn’t have a strong reputation for public schools, but still ends up with a lot of college educated people, it still gets credit for having a lot of college educated people.
One strange thing that happened, which I promise was not my intention, was that my hometown of Boston ended up as number 1. The two policy indexes I use rate Massachusetts and Boston each as having average policy, while Boston rates well in the other three components of the index. That’s enough to beat the others.
The top 10 cities are,
- Boston, MA
- Denver, CO
- Portland, OR
- Nashville, TN
- Raleigh, NC
- Aurora, CO
- Houston, TX
- Tampa, FL
- Lincoln, NE
- Seattle, WA
A pdf of the top 20 with a little more detail can be found here.
The bottom ten cities are (where “1” is the worst),
- Stockton, CA
- Riverside, CA
- Fresno, CA
- Bakersfield, CA
- Long Beach, CA
- Anaheim, CA
- Santa Ana, CA
- Sacramento, CA
- Buffalo, NY
- Detroit, MI
That’s a lot of California, but it is possible for California cities to do well in the index. San Francisco, for all its problems, still ranks as 21/79, and San Jose ranks 28/79.
Each component of the index (raw data not given) are scaled 0-10 such that 10 is “good.” The detailed ratings in spreadsheet form can be found here. For something complete that’s easier on the eyes, download this pdf.
Now I will go through and explain what is actually in the index, in useful but not excruciating detail.
“Weather” is broken into three subcomponents, the average January low, average yearly snowfall, and the average July Heat Index (the high adjusted for humidity). The weights are one each for January low and snowfall, and two for the heat index.
Proximity to Water. 10 if on the ocean, 5 if a brief drive to the ocean, 2.5 if major freshwater (like the Great Lakes) is nearby, otherwise 0.
Globalization. Derived from GaWC 2012. This is meant to give cities credit for scale. It also implicitly gives extra credit for centers of metropolises (e.g. San Francisco, New York City, Dallas) for standing out amongst its large suburb cities (e.g. Oakland, Jersey City, Arlington).
Airports. Ten if in the metro area there is a large hub, 6.67 if a medium hub, 3.33 if an international airport, otherwise 0. See here for definition.
Sports. I created an ad hoc sub-index based on the presence of the NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL, top attended College Football, College Basketball, Women’s College Basketball, and College Hockey, NASCAR, MLS, WNBA, and AAA baseball. Each of these were given somewhat arbitrary weights.
Arts. Number of Arts & Entertainment establishments per capita, according to census.
Food. Number of Restaurants & Hospitality establishments per capita, according to census.
State level policy. The Mercatus Freedom in the 50 States index.
Local Policy. The local component of Stansel 2013.
Pollution. The prevalence of PM-10.
Traffic. Average commuting time to work, according to census.
Education. Percentage of the population with Bachelor’s degrees, according to census.
Cost of Living.
Cost of Living-Adjusted Income per capita (both were included because they capture different things)
5 year per capita real growth rate.
The unemployment rate.
Some of these variables gave surprising results, especially for the food and arts variables, although in the extremes they appear to be correctly measuring what I was trying to measure. The one variable I could not find was something for scenic beauty, which perhaps makes the middle of the country a little overrated and California and Denver underrated. But to my knowledge workable data for that simply does not exist and I could not ad hoc something as I did with proximity to water.