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City Vitals 2.0: How does Pittsburgh stack up?

First some good news: Pittsburgh is ranked #8 against 50 other U.S. cities in the number of people 25 years and older with a college degree (40.5%), according to the City Vitals 2.0 report issued last week.

College attainment is one of the most important indicators when it comes to the economic success of a city. By comparison, while Pittsburgh ranks fairly high, Boston fares much better at #1 with 54.3% while Las Vegas clocks in last with only 20.1%.

This is just one category of more than two dozen presented in the City Vitals 2.0 report, a "signature research framework" from CEOs for Cities, a network of urban leaders from various sectors across the country. Their focus is working toward best practices, smart research and good ideas in making cities more economically successful.

While cities are viewed as the engines of the national economy, City Vitals is a benchmarking tool to take stock of city performance relative to other cities in the areas that matter the most: connections, innovation, talent and distinctiveness.

In some areas, it is suggested, it's best to compare cities similar in geographic location or size. And while the report is not online to view the full results--sorry about that--it is available for purchase.

How Pittsburgh stacks up
Let's start with Walkability, an increasingly valued trait in cities, where we're ranked a fairly impressive #14 in with a walkscore of 64.1. New York City was #1 with a walkscore of 85.3 followed closely by San Francisco. Jacksonville is last at  #51.

In Transit use, critical to a thriving city, we're #9, based on non-poor workers who commute via public transportation. No sense getting puffed up about this high ranking since, sadly, that is likely to change with many bus and T routes on the block.

When it comes to the percentage of workers employed as Creative Professionals--mathematicians, scientists, artists, engineers, architects and designers--Pittsburgh is in the middle, ranking #21 with 3.9% of the population. San Jose is number one with 7.6% and Memphis pulls up the rear with only 2.4%.

In Voting, we're not awful but could certainly improve: Pittsburgh comes in at  #17 with 63.6%--the number of votes cast in the last presidential election divided by the voting age population.

And we could do a lot better with Community Involvement where we rank an unimpressive and surprising #34 with only 25.9% of us volunteering for a community activity in the past year. (Bet the Pop City audience would score significantly higher in this category. Just sayin'.)

We're a middling #20 in the Venture Capital ranking--the amount of venture capital raised per 1,000 population in 2011. That could improve with 2012 factored in. See the encouraging Pop City story on Innovation Works this week.

In the category of Patents we fare a little better: #18 with 6.1 patents issued per 10,000 employees.

We rank a lowly #41 in Entrepreneurship, the percent of self-employed among us (8.8%) and in Small Businesses, we come in at #22 with 21.3%--the number of firms with fewer than 20 employees per 1,000 population. That's partly due to the number of large corporations in town.

One of our worst categories? International Talent or the percentage of metro population ages 25+ with a four year degree born outside the U.S. We're at #48 with a mere 6.8%. San Jose is #1 with a whopping 49.6% and Detroit, just for the sake of comparison, is ranked 19th with 14.8%.

We score higher,  #16, with 22.5% in International Students. (On a related note, see the Pop City article today on Global Pittsburgh's efforts to recruit more international students here.)

But we fare miserably in the category of Foreign Travel (ranking #38)--and this is as good a time as any to plug that Delta direct flight to Paris--and in Internet Connectivity (also #38). Why not kill two birds with one stone: Get online and book an international flight.

Then there's the Distinctiveness category with its rather strange, we must say, Weirdness Index. How much do we deviate from the norm? Not enough to be distinctive, apparently. We rank #45, followed by Columbus, Indianapolis and Cincinnati. See a geographic pattern there? The west coast cities of San Jose and San Francisco top this category, too. No surprise.

And in the Culture/HDTV ratio, which is the ratio of persons attending a cultural event in the past year to the number of households with hi-def TVs, Pittsburgh comes in smack in the middle at #23. (How many of us, you might ask, go to a cultural event and then come home and watch TV?) We fall down the chart in Restaurant Variety, the ratio of ethnic restaurants to fast food restaurants, ranking #39.

Finally, there is the Metropolitan Performance category which includes data in these five areas with Pittsburgh's rank and numbers following:

Population: Ranked #22 with 2,356,285
Per capita income: #17 with $43,729
Poverty rates: #41, with a poverty rate of 12.2%
Vehicle miles traveled: #41, 21.7 miles per day  (doesn't quite jibe with that Walkable score, does it?).
Greenhouse gas emissions: #31, with 2.28 tons per capita carbon emissions (the lower the ranking, the better here).

A word of caution: Obviously some indicators are better than others in determining the health and vitality of a city, of course, and there are always limitations. While a college degree is a good measure of skill, for example, it's not the only one and not meant to suggest that only the college-educated are talented, says the City Vitals 2.0 report.

But overall the data provides a means for cities to "assess candidly their relative strengths and weaknesses against their peers nationally," according to the author of the report, Joe Cortright.

For Pittsburgh that might mean setting some goals to achieve higher economic success. Such as? Attracting far more foreign-born entrepreneurs who are willing to volunteer, take the bus or walk to work, attend cultural events after dining in an ethnic restaurant and travel abroad for vacations, booking their hotels online. For starters. It would help if they were a little weird just for good measure.

Tracy Certo is publisher and editor of Pop City. She feels the need to point out that in a recent survey, more than 90% of the Pop City audience said they voted in the last presidential election.

Captions: Carnegie Mellon University; walking Downtown; public transit; Walnut Street in Shadyside.

Photographs copyright Brian Cohen
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