That smarts!

hanks to pitiful Mississippi, Texas is usually not first in obesity, high-school dropouts, teenage pregnancies, and other barometers of social malaise. And now San Antonio can be grateful to Fresno and Las Vegas for avoiding the title “Stupidest City in the United States.” A ranking of the 55 smartest cities posted earlier this month on the website places San Antonio at #53, below any other metropolitan area in this benighted state and all but two in the entire country. Houston ranked #46 and Dallas #48. At #12, even hip, quick Austin lacks the smarts of the cerebral leaders: Raleigh-Durham, San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose, Boston, Minneapolis-St. Paul, and Denver.

The Daily Beast explains that it compiled its rankings by factoring in — on a per-capita basis — bachelor’s degrees, graduate degrees, book sales, and institutions of higher education. Concentrating on the 55 largest metropolitan areas, it also took account of the percentage of eligible citizens who voted in the last presidential election. The results, quantified on a scale from zero to 200, constitute the intelligence quotients of each community. The IQ computed for Raleigh-Durham, home to North Carolina’s reverberant Research Triangle, is 176; that of San Antonio, home to more gun shops than book stores and more palm readers than epistemologists, is a pathetic 26. But at least we beat out wretched Fresno, whose IQ barely registers, at 3. The smart money might be in Las Vegas, but its people scored a meager 11.

The Daily Beast survey identifies the natural habitat of what Richard Florida famously called “the creative class,” the alert and innovative men and women who provide the engines of economic and cultural development. Cities that lack a critical mass of intelligent, inventive people sink ever deeper into a morass of mediocrity. Stigmatized as centers of stupidity, they suffer brain drain as their brightest children emigrate to cities that encourage talent to flourish. If it does not serve as a healthy wake-up call to improve our collective IQ, the ranking of San Antonio at #53 augurs worse. It signals to residents and prospective residents: Creative class dismissed.    

Defending his beleaguered city, Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin told Fox affiliate KMPH: “This is a flawed study that uses indicators that don’t accurately measure the intelligence and capability of the people in our city. Nevertheless, Fresno must always stay focused on improving the community’s educational attainment. It’s the single biggest determinant of any
city’s success.”

San Antonio’s mayor, Julián Castro, failed to respond to my request for a reaction to his city’s abysmal ranking. But Castro is a bright fellow with an expensive education, and, like Mayor Swearengin, he surely realizes he has more to gain by attacking the survey than insulting the intelligence of his constituents. How, nevertheless, to raise the collective IQ of the nation’s seventh-largest city? One might begin by recognizing that San Antonio’s public schools have been criminally mismanaged, its  25-percent rate of illiteracy ( is an unacceptable embarrassment, its library system and public university are chronically underfunded, and its wealthiest philanthropists are more interested in football than smarter civic investments.

The Daily Beast admits that its rankings are a work in progress, that it continues fine-tuning the instrument used to measure municipal smartness. Since each language embodies its own distinct wisdom, adding percentage of bilingual residents to the algorithm would result in a more accurate assessment of urban smarts. It would probably also vault San Antonio above Dallas and Houston. Nor does The Daily Beast take into account artistic intelligence, which could be measured by factors such as:

• Percentage of residents who have ever seen a film by Ingmar Bergman, Jean Renoir, or Akira Kurosawa

• Ratio of nail salons to museums

• Percentage of residents who can distinguish between an oboe and a bassoon

I am not sure whether adding those criteria would raise San Antonio’s municipal IQ, but I suspect that the following gauges of smartness would not improve this city’s standing:

• Percentage of drivers who use signal lights when turning

• Per-capita consumption of cheeseburgers and buffalo wings

• Ratio of Hummers to hybrids

• Average number of sentences per paragraph in the local daily newspaper

• Percentage of residents who can name their state representative

• Percentage of school-board members who push creationism in biology classes

• Percentage of residents who believe that Barack Obama is foreign-born, Muslim, or Nazi

• Average minutes on newscasts devoted to anything other than crimes, fires, accidents, weather, and sports

Victory by the Spurs bolsters local pride but does nothing to enable San Antonio to overtake Louisville as the 52nd smartest city. Smart people know that a smart city is more than the sum total of the smart people in it.  It is not enough for individuals to savor Proust and Goethe within the fastness of a gated community. Bicycle lanes and soccer fields are a wise investment in the physical health of the citizenry, but the smartest course of action is to maximize the opportunities for all to exercise their minds. •