CEOs for Cities

Tracking 29 indicators of urban success.

There's no universally accepted definition of urban success in the 21st century. But a new report offers up more than two dozen indicators that cities might want to use to measure themselves.

Through a variety of lenses, City Vitals 2.0 looks at the country's 51 largest metropolitan areas to try to show in which areas cities and metros are doing well and how they might be able to catch up in others. The report is from CEOs for Cities, the "civic innovation lab" focused on building and improving U.S. cities.

Using 29 different indicators, the report examines a host of factors that play a role in determining the economic and cultural health of a metropolitan area. Topics include connectivity, innovation, talent, distinctiveness, vitality, and more.

One key indicator is community involvement, measured as the percentage of the population that reports volunteering for community activities. Salt Lake City comes out on top, with more than 42 percent, followed by Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington and San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara. Entrepreneurship is measured as the percentage of residents who are self-employed. The metro areas of Miami, San Francisco, and San Diego have the most self-employed residents. Another metric looks at the ratio of ethnic restaurants to fast-food restaurants. New York, San Francisco, and Boston come out on top on that measure, while Birmingham, Memphis, and Louisville fall to the bottom.

The point of all these rankings and indicators, according to report author Joe Cortright, is to "illuminate and better define the discussion of what it takes to build a successful metropolitan economy." There's no "winner" in all of this, though CEO for Cities found that a handful of metros are often at or near the top across multiple measures, including San Francisco, Miami, San Jose, New York, and Chicago.

Rankings aren't always the best way to understand metropolitan success and vitality, and this report doesn't claim they are. Still it is interesting – and maybe even instructive – to see how metros stack up against one another through these various indicators.

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