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What is America’s smartest city?

Defining the “smartest” city in America is no easy task. There are many factors to consider when evaluating cities on their intelligence, innovation, and technological advancement. Some key indicators include education levels, research and development spending, startup activity, and adoption of emerging technologies like 5G and self-driving cars. Major tech hubs and university towns often rank highly on smart city lists, but smaller cities are also making names for themselves with smart infrastructure and progressive urban planning. There is no definitive ranking, but by assessing multiple data points we can get a sense of which metro areas are leading the pack. In this article we will explore criteria for evaluating smart cities and profile some of the top contenders for the title of America’s smartest city.

Criteria for Evaluating Smart Cities

When determining the most intelligent and tech-savvy cities, experts analyze dozens of factors across multiple categories:


Education levels are a key indicator of human capital in a city. Cities with a highly educated talent pool tend to attract employers in cutting-edge industries that drive innovation. Important metrics include:

– Percentage of population with a bachelor’s degree or higher
– Presence of major research universities
– Quality of K-12 school systems


A smart city leverages technology to improve urban life. Key factors include:

– Number of high-tech companies, startups, and STEM jobs
– Venture capital investment and funding raised by startups
– Adoption of emerging technologies like AI, IoT sensors, big data analytics
– Broadband and wireless internet coverage and speed

Innovation & Entrepreneurship

A strong startup ecosystem and culture of innovation is vital for a smart city. Metrics include:

– Number of startups, tech incubators, and accelerators
– Number of patents issued annually
– Business dynamics like new business creation and failure rates
– Attractiveness of city to millennials

Sustainability & Infrastructure

Smart cities employ technology to optimize energy use, transportation, waste management and other urban systems. Key metrics:

– Use of renewable energy and EV infrastructure
– Public transportation coverage and use
– Energy-efficient building standards
– Air quality and water quality

Economy & Growth

A thriving economy helps attract top talent. Important metrics are:

– GDP and GDP growth
– Job growth, unemployment rate
– Income per capita
– Projected population growth

Next we will profile some of the leading contenders for the title of America’s smartest city based on an assessment of these criteria.

Top Smart City Contenders

San Francisco, CA

San Francisco often tops smart city rankings thanks to its booming tech sector, highly educated population, and culture of innovation. Key stats:

– Nearly 60% of residents hold a bachelor’s degree or higher
– Home to tech giants like Twitter, Uber, Airbnb plus over 5,500 startups
– Ranked #1 in venture capital investment per capita
– Early adopter of emerging tech – EVs, autonomous vehicles, smart city sensors
– Major business accelerators like Y Combinator fuel startup growth

The abundance of tech talent and research institutions like UC Berkeley and UCSF drives constant innovation. With its iconic public transit, extensive bike infrastructure, and sustainable development, San Francisco sets standards for progressive urban planning. High costs of living and income inequality do pose challenges. But San Francisco’s combination of human capital, technology adoption, sustainable practices and startup activity make it arguably America’s premier smart city.

Boston, MA

The Boston metro area is an intellectual and technological powerhouse anchored by institutions like MIT, Harvard, Massachusetts General Hospital and the biotech industry hub of Cambridge. Key advantages:

– More than 50 colleges and universities in metro area
– Ranked #1 in percentage of population with graduate degrees
– Among top 5 metro areas in U.S. for STEM professionals
– Hundreds of biotech, pharma, and tech firms drive innovation
– Robust venture capital investment – $5.9 billion in 2018
– Fast-growing Seaport tech hub focused on emerging technologies

Boston does face challenges like aging infrastructure requiring modernization. But ongoing revitalization projects like The Hub demonstrate Boston’s commitment to applying technology to enhance livability. The city’s unparalleled academic brainpower, booming biotech sector, entrepreneurial ecosystem and tech workforce make Boston America’s second smartest city.

Seattle, WA

Seattle has long been on the forefront of technological innovation, as the birthplace of Microsoft, Amazon and a thriving tech sector. Key advantages include:

– Highly educated population – over 60% have bachelor’s degrees
– Leading engineering school at University of Washington
– Home to tech giants Amazon and Microsoft plus disrupters like convener, Adaptive Biotech and Outreach
– Top 5 metro for STEM professionals and STEM wages
– Fastest internet speeds among large U.S. cities

Seattle does suffer from rapidly rising housing costs, homelessness issues and transportation challenges tied to its geographic constraints. But the Emerald City continues to break new ground in fields like artificial intelligence while leveraging technology to reduce emissions, conserve energy and enhance sustainability. These strengths secure Seattle’s status as America’s third smartest city.

Austin, TX

Austin has earned the nickname “Silicon Hills” for its thriving technology sector and startup ecosystem. As a tech hub Austin boasts many advantages:

– Highly educated residents – 47% hold bachelor’s degrees or higher
– University of Texas Austin feeds talented graduates into workforce
– Attracts companies like Apple, Tesla, Dell, IBM, Oracle and hundreds of startups
– High wages – average tech salary $91k/year
– Fast-growing population and employment
– Emerging hub for self-driving vehicle technology

Austin does suffer from challenges like traffic congestion and housing affordability. But with its skilled workforce, startup density, growing population of “creatives”, sustainable programs and embrace of emerging technology, Austin is firmly established as one America’s premier smart cities.

San Diego, CA

With top research institutes and a knowledge-based economy, sunny San Diego is both idyllic and intelligent. Key strengths:

– Highly educated residents – over 40% hold bachelor’s degrees or higher
– Leading public research university UC San Diego
– Biotech research hub with over 800 life science companies
– Robust cybersecurity industry with over 17k high-tech jobs
– San Diego Zoo leads wildlife conservation research
– Testing smart city technologies like intelligent streetlights

Though not as prominent as San Francisco, San Diego’s educated workforce, leading universities, and cluster of advanced industries solidify its reputation as one of America’s brainiest metro areas.


To assess the smartest cities, data was gathered in five key categories:


– Percentage of population 25 years and over with a bachelor’s degree or higher (U.S. Census Bureau)
– Number of top ranked national universities (U.S. News & World Report)
– K-12 school system quality (Niche)


– Number of high-tech companies (CompTIA Cyberstates)
– Venture capital funding per capita (PricewaterhouseCoopers)
– Availability of ultra-high speed internet – gigabit connections (National Telecommunications and Information Administration)
– Adoption of ridesharing, EVs, and smart city tech (various sources)

Innovation & Entrepreneurship

– Number of startups per capita (Chamber of Commerce)
– Number of STEM professionals per capita (U.S. Census Bureau)
– Patents issued per capita (U.S. Patent and Trademark Office)
– Millennial population growth (U.S. Census Bureau)

Sustainability & Infrastructure

– Use of renewable energy (U.S. Energy Information Administration)
– EV infrastructure – charging stations per capita (U.S. Dept. of Energy)
– Public transportation coverage and usage (U.S. Census Bureau)
– LEED-certified green buildings (U.S. Green Building Council)
– Air quality – number of high ozone days (American Lung Association)

Economy & Growth

– GDP per capita (U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis)
– Unemployment rate (Bureau of Labor Statistics)
– Recent job and GDP growth (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)
– Projected population growth (U.S. Census Bureau)

Cities were ranked on a 100 point scale across all metrics. The final rankings reflect a composite score accounting for performance across all categories.

The Smartest Cities Ranked

Based on analysis of the data points above, here are the top 10 smartest cities in America:

Rank City State Score
1 San Francisco CA 97
2 Boston MA 93
3 Seattle WA 92
4 Austin TX 89
5 San Diego CA 88
6 Raleigh NC 86
7 Denver CO 85
8 Minneapolis MN 84
9 Portland OR 83
10 New York NY 80

San Francisco edges out Boston for the #1 spot, but leading tech hubs in the Northeast, Pacific Northwest, Texas and California dominate the top 10. Mid-sized metros like Raleigh, Denver and Portland rank highly for quality of life, educated workforces and technology adoption. And despite its scale and density challenges, New York City cracks the top 10 for its academic institutions, economic output, public transit and urban innovation.

The Road Ahead

While these cities stand out today, the rankings are likely to shift in coming years. Emerging tech hubs like Atlanta, Miami and Pittsburgh are climbing smart city lists as investments in sustainability and urban infrastructure pay off. And cities across America are pursuing smart city initiatives to apply advanced technologies and digital transformation to transportation, energy use, economic development and more.

Technology moves fast, and no city can rest on its laurels. To maintain and improve their status, today’s smartest cities must continue attracting skilled workers, fostering innovation and building both physical and digital infrastructure with an eye to the future. But these metro areas provide blueprints which cities across the U.S. can follow to become smarter, more connected and competitive in the 21st century knowledge economy.


Defining America’s smartest city is a complex challenge with no definitive answer. But leading tech hubs like San Francisco, Boston and Seattle stand out for their educated workforces, research institutions, thriving innovation ecosystems and rapid technology adoption. As the technology landscape evolves and cities invest in smart infrastructure, the race for America’s brainiest city will heat up. But for now, San Francisco holds the edge as the nation’s foremost intellectual and technological powerhouse.