Apparently, Most Cities Aren't Getting Any More 'Literate'

It's the District's third year atop Central Connecticut State's literacy rankings.

Image
Jeff Wilcox

The rankings of America's most literate cities are beginning to look like the table of a European soccer league: the same cities are on top every year.

In 2012, Washington D.C. was the country's most "literate" city for the third year running. The rankings, put together by Central Connecticut State University President John W. Miller, integrate data on booksellers, libraries, newspapers, publishing, and education to calculate a broader measurement of literacy.

The top ten cities look familiar. With the exception of St. Louis and Atlanta, they all make frequent high appearances on quality-of-life indexes. They are also forging a dynasty atop Miller's CCSU's literacy rankings, which have been published since 2005. Here's this year's top ten, with the 2005 rank in parentheses:

Ranking City
1 Washington, D.C. (3)
2 Seattle (1)
3 Minneapolis (2)
4 Pittsburgh (8)
5 Denver (6)
6 St. Paul (10)
7 Boston (7)
8 Atlanta (4)
9 St. Louis (15)
10 Portland (11)


The top three cities are the same as they were in 2005, and after eight years, the top ten has only two newcomers.

That's quite surprising, considering the subject material. The publishing industry, which is broadly responsible for three of the study's six categories, has changed dramatically since CCSU first published the rankings. But despite the tumult in the world of bookstores, magazines and newspapers, the rankings look very similar.

Here's 2012's top ten cities for newspapers, weekday and Sunday circulation divided by population. Their 2005 rank is in parentheses.

Ranking City
1 Newark (1)
2 Minneapolis (3)
3 Santa Ana (9)
4 Washington, D.C. (2)
4 Cleveland (11)
6 Denver (7)
7 St. Paul (15)
8 Atlanta (5)
9 Pittsburgh (9)
9 St. Louis (8)


Eight years later, this top ten, too, is much the same. Are there no movers or shakers in newspaper circulation at this level?

Another potentially volatile category is Internet resources, where the rankings are a function (per capita) of library connections, public wireless access, Internet book orders, and online newspaper reading. 2005 was a rad year on the Internet, but it was a long time ago. Gmail and Facebook were a year old and scarcely used. Twitter and Reddit did not exist.

Yet there is only marginally more change here. The 2012 rankings, with 2005 in parentheses:

Ranking City
1 Washington D.C. (11)
2 Boston (2)
3 Oakland (5)
3 San Francisco (4)
3 San Jose (8)
6 Austin (3)
7 Seattle (1)
8 New York City (16)
9 Philadelphia (27)
10 Denver (7)

 
Seven of the top ten are the same. Only one city, Philadelphia, moves into the top ten from more than ten places away, jumping from 27th to 9th.

Plus ça change...

Top image: Flickr/Jeff Wilcox.

About the Author

  • Henry Grabar is a freelance writer and a former fellow at CityLab. He lives in New York.