This is the second post in a four-part series on the economic performance of America’s cities. Today, we cover education and talent.
Talent, or what economists refer to as human capital, is a key driver of economic growth. A wide body of studies documents the role of education in the economic growth of cities, regions and nations. But, talent has increasingly concentrated in a relatively small number of cities, leading to a growing divergence in talent across places.
To get at this, I worked with a team of researchers to analyze the economic performance of American’s 50 largest core or principal cities over the five-year period of 2012 to 2017. Economist Todd Gabe crunched the numbers, using the U.S. Census’s American Community Survey.
To provide context, we did a rough comparison of these 50 cities to America’s 53 large metros (with more than 1 million people). We excluded two metros, Charlotte and Grand Rapids, Michigan, because they experienced significant boundary changes that would have affected their results; that leaves a comparison group of 51. It is important to note that eight of the 50 largest cities do not belong to any of the 53 large metros, and that not all of these metros have cities that number among the 50 largest. Our city-to-metro comparisons are for illustrative purposes only.
Today, we cover trends in highly educated people—those with college degrees and those with advanced degrees—across America’s 50 largest cities. Karen King, my colleague at the University of Toronto School of Cities, helped analyze the data and make the comparisons, and my CityLab colleague David Montgomery created charts.
The number of college graduates provides the most basic measure of a particular type of talent or human capital. The chart below shows the share of adults with a bachelors’ degree or higher across America’s 50 largest cities and the table below shows the top ten cities with the largest and smallest shares. The leading city has roughly four times the share of the lagging city. In the six top cities, more than half of adults have a bachelor’s degree or higher; in the lowest ranked city just 15 percent do.
The leaders on college grads are a veritable who’s who of leading tech hubs. Seattle tops the list with more than 60 percent of adults having graduated college, with San Francisco; Washington, D.C.; Raleigh; Austin; and Minneapolis rounding out the top six. In the remaining four cities—Portland, Denver, Atlanta, and Boston—nearly half of adults have graduated college.
The list of the cities with the highest share of college grads overlaps considerably with the list of leading metros, with eight places showing up on both. Atlanta ranks ninth of the cities but 15th of metros. San Jose ranks first among metros (with a 43.4 percent share of college grads), but 13th of the 50 largest cities.
The cities with the smallest shares of college grads are a combination of Rust Belt cities, like Detroit, Milwaukee, and Memphis, and less-skilled Sun Belt cities like Las Vegas, Fresno, and El Paso.
There is less overlap between cities and metros with the lowest shares of adults with a bachelor’s degree or high. Just Las Vegas, Memphis, San Antonio and Jacksonville show up on both lists. Detroit is the lowest ranked city but ranked 13th among large metros (with a 31.1 share of college grads). Louisville is the fifth lowest ranked metro (with 28.8 percent college grads) and ranks 15th among cities (with a 29.9 percent share).
The superstar cities of New York and Los Angeles rank much lower down the list, New York ranks 18th with 37.3 percent college grads, and Los Angeles ranks 24th with 34.4 percent. Chicago ranks 17th with 38.8 percent. Interestingly, San Jose in the heart of Silicon Valley ranks outside the top ten; it is 13th with 43.4 percent of adults having graduated college—about the same as Charlotte or Oakland.
The pattern is rather different in the next chart, which tracks the growth in college grads between 2012 and 2017. Now Miami tops the list with nearly 50 percent growth, far outpacing second place Austin, which has 35 percent growth. Fort Worth is next, with 30-plus percent growth. And the remainder of the top ten—Las Vegas, Denver, Charlotte, Boston, Mesa, Nashville, and Seattle—clock in with between 25 and 29 percent growth.
There is considerable difference in the cities that are growing their share of college grads at a fast clip and the metros that are doing so. Rust Belt metros like Pittsburgh, St. Louis, and Cincinnati, as well as Orlando and Tucson—a city with a very low share of college grads—number among the top ten metros for their growth. Miami, which is the large city with the fastest growth rate for college grads, ranks 33rd among large metros with just 9 percent growth of college grads.
The gap between the fastest and slowest growing cities is considerable. The city with the slowest growth in college grads, Arlington, Texas, registered barely any growth at all. Tulsa had just 6 percent growth, and the rest had between 10 and 13 percent growth, less than half that of the top ten cities. Interestingly, Washington, D.C., and New York number among the ten large metros with the slowest growth rate in number of college grads.
Next we turn to a more refined measure of talent, the share of adults who hold graduate or professional degrees. The divergence between the leading and lagging cities is incredible—with the leading city having a concentration of advanced degree holders that is five times greater than that of the lowest ranked city. In the leading cities, roughly 20 to 33 percent of adults hold advanced degrees, while just 6 to 10 percent do in the lowest ranked cities.
Here, the leading cities are again a who’s who of leading tech or knowledge hubs. Washington, D.C. tops the list by a significant margin, followed by Seattle, San Francisco, and Boston. Atlanta, perhaps surprisingly, ranks fifth. Minneapolis, Portland, Denver, Austin, and San Diego round out the top ten. Nine of the top ten cities with the highest shares of graduate degrees are the same as the cities with the highest shares of bachelor’s degrees and above, the lone exception being San Diego, which ranked just outside the top ten at 11th in share of college grads.
The superstar cities of New York and Los Angeles rank further down the list: New York is in 15th place with 15.7 percent of adults holding advanced graduate degrees, and Los Angeles in 33rd with 11.6 percent.
Five places—Washington, D.C., Seattle, San Francisco, Boston, and Denver—overlap both the city and metro list of places with the highest shares of adults with a graduate degree.
The bottom ranked cities are a combination of Rust Belt and Sun Belt cities. Despite images of its resurgence, Detroit takes the bottom spot, with just six percent of its adult population holding an advanced degree. Milwaukee is the other Rust Belt city among the bottom ten, in fourth place. The preponderance of the bottom ten are Sun Belt or Western cities including Fresno, Mesa, Jacksonville and Las Vegas, and four Texas cities—El Paso, Fort Worth, Arlington, and San Antonio. Three places—Las Vegas, Jacksonville and San Antonio—appear on the bottom ten list for both cities and metros.
The pattern is quite a bit different when we look at the change in adults with advanced education. Again, the divergence is incredible, with the leading city growing talent at a ten times faster rate than the most laggard city. The top ten cities have growth rates of between a third and almost half compared to growth rates of 5 to 16 or so percent for bottom ten cities.
Perhaps surprisingly, Miami again tops the list of cities on the growth in adults with graduate degrees, with a whopping five-year growth rate of nearly 50 percent, or ten percent a year. Only it, Austin, and Charlotte appear on both this list and that for growth in adults with a bachelor’s degree and above. The top ten includes tech hubs like Austin, Raleigh, San Jose and Seattle, but also Charlotte, Omaha, Fresno, Indianapolis, and Sacramento.
Four of the top ten cities with the fastest growth in graduate degrees also number among the top ten metros on this score, the tech hubs of Austin, Raleigh, Seattle and San Jose. Miami, which has the fastest growth in adults with graduate degrees, comes in 37th among large metros with just 10.4 percent. Rust Belt metros like Pittsburgh, St. Louis and Memphis along with New Orleans stand alongside tech hubs like San Jose, Austin and Seattle, among the top ten metros with the fastest growth in advanced degrees.
The cities with the slowest growth in advanced degrees are a mixed bag. There are Rust Belt cities like Milwaukee, Chicago, and Louisville, but also Sun Belt and Western cities like Tulsa, Albuquerque, Atlanta, Tucson, Arlington, and Dallas. None of the cities with the slowest growth in advanced degrees overlaps with the list of metros with the slowest growth.
Once again, the superstar cities of New York and Los Angeles rank significantly further down the list. Los Angeles is 31st with 20 percent growth, New York 39th with just under 20 percent growth (lagging even Detroit). A number of leading tech hubs, which rank high up the list in concentration of highly educated talent, also experienced slow growth in graduate degrees. Washington, D.C., clocks in at 21st with 25 percent growth; and San Francisco ranks all the way down at 34th with 20 percent growth.
Our next post looks at yet another measure of talent, examining how the nation’s 50 largest cities stack up on the share of the workforce that is part of the creative class.
CityLab editorial fellow Claire Tran contributed research and editorial assistance to this article.
There are more than 3,000 local jails in the United States and another few thousand courthouses. In some people’s eyes, these institutions are monuments to public safety; to others, they represent the forces driving mass incarceration. This fall, a building will open in Oakland’s Fruitvale neighborhood that hopes to become a different sort of community landmark, dedicated both to keeping the community safe and to breaking the cycle of poverty and imprisonment.
For years, the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, a local nonprofit focused on community-building and reducing incarceration, and the Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC United), which fights for fair wages for restaurant workers, collaborated to develop the concept for Restore Oakland, a nonprofit hub and community center. In a 20,000-square-foot building catty-corner from the Fruitvale BART station, Restore Oakland will house local organizations and provide job training and housing assistance. A fine-dining restaurant called COLORS—whose staff will include formerly incarcerated people—a café, and a kitchen with space for entrepreneurs to run incubators will open on the ground floor.
Restore Oakland is named for the restorative-justice work that will take place there: This is an approach to dealing with crime that brings together the victim and the wrongdoer to resolve the harm caused, outside of court. At least two youth-oriented restorative-justice nonprofits, Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth (RJOY) and Community Works West, will have office space in the building. They partner with the Alameda County District Attorney’s office to divert cases involving people aged 15 to 24 into community conferencing, and have them meet the people they’ve harmed before charges are finalized; and with probation officers, to ease the transition into the community and reduce recidivism.
After a soft launch this July, nonprofits are already filling the rooms. The restaurant and facilities will be fully operational by September.
“Too often, when people think of the term ‘public safety,’ they’re thinking of punishment and prisons,” said Zachary Norris, the executive director of the Ella Baker Center. “We felt a need for something equally tangible, equally visible, in concrete, brick, and mortar form.”
For Bay Area nonprofits contending with rising rents, laying a long-term stake in anything brick and mortar has been difficult. The Ella Baker Center has occupied nine different office spaces over its 20-year history. Securing an eviction-proof gathering hub could be transformative for the city, Norris says, and the nonprofits that serve it: “If we’re going to have strong communities, we need strong community-centered institutions.”
The project was funded in part by an anonymous donation of $1 million, Next City reported, and supported with new-market tax credits. In its previous incarnations, the building had been a nightclub and a department store; most recently, it had been filled with a rabbit warren of small shops and cobweb-filled rooms. When the Ella Baker Center and ROC purchased it, they turned to the Oakland-based activist architect Deanna Van Buren, co-founder of the architecture and real estate non-profit Designing Justice + Designing Spaces.
Van Buren has built her career around the idea of a world without prisons. Her firm’s past projects include the Near Westside Peacemaking Center in Syracuse, New York, and The Women’s Mobile Refuge Center, which will shelter San Francisco women who were recently released from jail or have experienced domestic abuse. In 2018, she was the recipient of the University of California, Berkeley’s Berkeley-Rupp Architecture Professorship and Prize.
“One of the big dreams out of this space is: what would it look like to have a place where anybody in this neighborhood, instead of calling the police, this is a space they come to,” Van Buren said, as she took CityLab on a tour of the building. “It’s an opportunity for folks to work together, and talk together, and work with non-profits.”
Restore Oakland will be the only dedicated hub for restorative justice in the entire U.S., Van Buren and Norris say. Oakland is hyper-diverse, but the legacy of incarceration there has disproportionately impacted African Americans: According to city data, black Oaklanders are almost 13 times more likely to be arrested for a felony than white Oaklanders, and 8.6 percent more likely to be in jail. The city has long been, and remains, a center for anti-incarceration activism.
In the city’s Temescal neighborhood, the prison abolition group that Angela Davis co-founded, Critical Resistance, just acquired a 7,000-square-foot store that once sold baby goods. It plans to turn it into a “real-life Wakanda Institute,” according to KQED. Oakland Ceasefire, launched in 2012, uses “group violence intervention” to reduce gun violence; the Alameda County Bar Association credits it, along with more targeted policing by Oakland’s police department, with getting Oakland to its “lowest number of homicides in almost 20 years” in 2018.
Today, a lot of local rehabilitation work and organizing takes place in homes or in decentralized office buildings scattered around the area, says Reetu Mody, Restore Oakland’s interim executive director. But with the heightened risk of immigration enforcement raids, Mody says people have been more reluctant to open their doors.
Restore Oakland will offer a safe, collaborative meeting environment for those activists, she says. Building on the legacy of the Civil Rights Movement, much of which was planned in the basements of churches and libraries, the center features several meeting rooms on the basement floor. “There is something [important] about knowing you’re doing subversive work underground,” said Mody.
Causa Justa/Just Cause will operate a housing rights clinic on the first floor; the Ella Baker Center, RJOY, and Community Works West have offices on the second floor.
Van Buren has baked restorative-justice principles into the design of Restore Oakland. A room for conflict resolution and action planning has two entrances, and two adjacent spaces where people can cool off and speak privately. It’s pale blue, a color chosen for being calm and soothing. One wall is a chalkboard; on the day I visited, organizers had sketched concentric circles representing the ripple effects of healing on a community. “Change the narrative,” someone had written in pink capital letters; “fostering growth,” read another note, a flower blooming beneath it.
The restaurant, too, is meant to fulfill a twofold promise: providing more points of connection and giving people pathways into stable work through a training kitchen. “We’re finding that in most of our projects, food is an anchor,” said Van Buren.
Government efforts to reduce mass incarceration have often been tantamount to “shifting deck chairs on the Titanic,” the Ella Baker Center’s Norris says: Ankle monitors and probation have supplanted investments in economic justice and opportunity. At Restore Oakland, Norris hopes that the web of resources will get to a more holistic solution.
Though he hopes that the model can be replicated across the Bay Area and the country, Restore Oakland’s location—adjacent to the Fruitvale BART station, deep within East Oakland—is significant. It’s at the Fruitvale BART station that 22-year-old Oscar Grant was killed by a police officer in 2009, and around the corner that a new Transit Village has risen in an effort to stymie gentrification.
“[Fruitvale] is one of the most diverse neighborhoods within an already really diverse City of Oakland,” said Norris. “We think it’s a great place to demonstrate that you can do development in the interest of people.”
But Restore Oakland is not just open to people in the immediate vicinity—because of displacement and migration, the center will serve clients from farther afield. “I don’t think we’re going to define … who’s part of the Bay, or what is Oakland,” said Mody. “So much of what Oakland is was created by people who are being forced to leave.”
I once woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of metal banging against a wall. Someone was yelling, but, in my half-asleep state, I waved it off as an unruly neighbor returning drunk from a party. When the noise didn’t stop, I listened closer. “Help!” he was yelling. My neighbor who uses a wheelchair had fallen. I got up and called 911 for him. That was perhaps the only time I was thankful for the thin walls of my condo building.
Having thin walls is a reminder that cities are jam-packed with people. While city living can be lonely, we’re rarely alone, even in our own homes. At times, the things we hear are eye-opening, offering an unsolicited glimpse into the private lives (sometimes too private) of our neighbors—and vice-versa. We can be drawn to their quirky habits, like one Redditor who, responding to a trending thread this week, said his neighbor likes to sing opera while doing the dishes. Another user recounted an “argument about money … [that] ended with a slammed door and one of them on a piano, hitting the keys like a maniac.”
The noise can disrupt your routine, and if gets repetitive enough, it can gnaw away at your sanity. In college, the guys above us were relentless with their late-night partying. Then randomly, we’d hear what seemed like someone taking a hammer to marble: First a loud thud, followed by what sounded like a cascade of tiny rocks tumbling down. To this day, it remains a mystery. Surely, they couldn’t be chiseling stone at 6 a.m.?
Confronting neighbors about the noise is, as CityLab has written, a delicate art form, especially for a non-confrontational person like me. My next-door neighbor used to watch action films late into the night, his TV volume so high that I could feel the explosive rumbling in my room. After days of serious contemplation—am I being too sensitive?—I finally grabbed my hoodie one night, put on my best smile, and politely reminded him that some people had work the next day. We now greet each other warmly in the hallway.
It’s a good reminder that not all interactions through paper-thin walls have to be confrontational. Sometimes it can even help to acknowledge the strangeness of it all, as in this comment from another Redditor: “Someone sneezed. We said bless you. They laughed.”
Last week was Beach Week at CityLab, and I lamented the lack of fast, reliable, and affordable public transportation to our nation’s sandy shores. Twitter users shared similar woes from where they live, like Emily in Chapel Hill, North Carolina:
Then there’s this, from Jon in Brussels. Must be nice:
The California Beach Cruiser turned beachgoers into bike riders. ¤ Seriously, how did the clueless mayor in Jaws get re-elected? ¤ The vulnerability of Rockaway Beach. ¤ These are the maps that made us. ¤ Trans teens, unsheltered and unsure. ¤ Where do the workers of Martha’s Vineyard sleep? ¤ Hey Siri, find my friends. ¤ Keep English out of French, s’il vous plait. ¤ Scooters do many things, but they’re not ruining your historic town. ¤ The fictional map that brought me out of the blue.
Nipsey Hussle understood cities better than you. (Streetsblog L.A.) ¤ Cheesecake Factory is the restaurant America deserves. (L.A. Times) ¤ Crossing the DMZ to become a K-pop star. (Washington Post) ¤ Anthony Bourdain’s best hits. (Entertainment Weekly) ¤ Grab a bat; competitive wiffle ball is a thing! (The Ringer) ¤ How the e-bike changed a woman’s life. (New York Times) ¤ The evolution of America’s national park branding. (Fast Company) ¤ That time Philly bombed its own people. (Vox) ¤ Caught in the cross-fire of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy battle: bubble tea. (Fortune)
@kimzimm985 captured the CN tower between buildings in Toronto. @metromapas
Showcase your photos with the hashtag #citylabontheground and we'll feature it on CityLab’s Instagram page or pull them together for the next edition of Navigator.
Woods Bagot has created a design for a new Melbourne Business School in Australia. Made for one of the country's best business schools, the project will be adjacent to the current Melbourne Business School campus at 200 Leicester Street. Once completed, it will become the new address for the School as well as related activities in graduate business and economics education at the University of Melbourne. The proposal aims to build a new campus in the heart of Melbourne's emerging knowledge district.