• 03.05.12

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.

About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more.