Detroit by the Numbers

Now's as good of a time as any to ask yourselves how you are helping Detroit be a more successful, competitive city.

Have you, for instance, taken an international trip the past few years? (For the moment, let's exclude the short hop to Canada. Think further, like across the pond. Or even better, Bangalore.) Do you vote, like 64.7% of Detroiters did in the last presidential election? Volunteer in your community? Have good access to Wi-Fi?

If so, you're off to a good start since one component of a successful city is connectivity, and all these are all measures of connections — to your community and, in this global economy, beyond.

Are you reading this while riding a bus? In that case you are being quite helpful, and Detroit thanks you.

Less than 5% of non-poor households in Detroit use public transit, according to a new research report called City Vitals that benchmarks the Top 50 metros in four categories — talent, innovation, connectivity and distinctiveness — that measure a city's success.

“Cities thrive as places where people can interact and connect,” says Joe Cortright, author of the 68-page report. The research is a project of CEOs for Cities, a group of mayors, business execs and others interested in helping their cities be more successful and competitive in this changing world.

While it's interesting to see how Detroit fares in various categories, you might be asking what's the point, exactly? City Vitals was prepared for urban leaders to understand how their cities perform against all others in the Top 50. "It's a benchmark against your peers," says Cortright, who notes that they avoided ranking cities overall. The report is not saying which city is best; rather, "it identifies strengths, weaknesses and position to assess core vitality."

And, in the process, it makes for compelling reading. (For a full report, e-mail and in the subject line write CityVitals. or go to

Global vibes and innovation

But back to you and how you're helping.

Are you by chance an international student? That would be helpful, in a category where Detroit fares well. It's a good sign of how we build understanding and provide a basis for commerce in the global economy, according to Cortright. While the typical metro has 17 foreign students per 1000, Detroit has 20.7, ranking it #17 against the other 49 metros. In a related area, Detroit ranked 16th in the percentage of population over the age of 25 that has a college degree and was born outside the country (13.9%). Quite cosmopolitan. Miami was #1 at 42.7% followed by Los Angeles with 33%.

Have you invented anything lately? If so, you're in good company in this category that measures innovation. Detroit cracked the top 10 in patents, placing 10th as measured by the number of patents per 100,000 population. (12.4) Patents, explains Cortright, measure the rate at which a region's economy creates economically valuable new ideas. San Francisco was #1 with an impressive 33.7 and Oklahoma City ranked last with 1.8.

Being smart doesn't necessarily translate into being innovative, cautions Cortright. (Being smart, you already knew this.) "A thousand years ago, China's levels of education and scientific knowledge far exceeded that of Europe, but a society and a culture that was averse to change and innovation meant that this knowledge was not translated into economic progress," he explains. Despite the flat world today, he continues, certain places are hotbeds of innovation with strong clusters of talent, innovative firms, key research institutions and a business and social climate conducive to change and risk-taking. These places — San Francisco is tops here — account for a disproportionate share of these valuable new ideas.

Let's turn to venture capital, another indicator of innovation. Detroit ranks #33 with $135 of new venture capital per 10,000 population. San Francisco was off the charts with $10, 641. (Are we tired of hearing about that place yet?) In another measure, new businesses, Detroit held its own with 16.7% per 1000 population while West Palm Beach was #1 with 22.2%.

"Communities in which it is relatively easy to start new businesses or where there is a culture that supports risk-taking are more likely to give rise to the kinds of innovations that lead to economic growth," Cortright asserts. Makes sense. Detroit only ranked 37th with 7.7% of the adult population who are self-employed.

In a more impressive showing, Detroit was strong in the powerhouse category of talent, ranking #13 in the area of creative professionals. Although it is true that we are all in our own way creative, the Super Creatives are "the mathematicians, scientist, artists, engineers, architects and designers who have wide discretion in their jobs to use accumulated knowledge to develop, design, and deliver new products and services." Score a big one if you're one of the 8.5% of the population that falls into this prized category.

If you really want to score big, fall into the college-educated, 25-34 age
Group. (ding!ding!ding!) Young, well-educated workers are mobile, which makes them an important indicator of trends in the workforce, education and availability. Detroit is typical of a large metro here, with 4.2% of the population in this desirable niche. Number one on the list is Raleigh/Durham with 7.9% followed by Austin, San Francisco/San Jose/Oakland, Boston, Atlanta and Denver (6.3%).

Not weird enough for you?

Do you prefer ethnic food over fast food? Would you choose an offbeat or foreign film over a blockbuster? Go to a play instead of watching cable at home? All helpful and signs of distinctiveness in a city. Here Detroit didn't fare so well, but before you get huffy (which is not a very distinctive trait), consider this is probably the trickiest to measure category. Take the Weirdness Index, for instance, or how far a city deviates from the norm. The San Francisco metro was a very weird #1 as based on consumptive patterns, which varied most from the national average. Detroit clocked in at a way-normal #33. Next time you're out for the evening consider Indian food over a chain restaurant and a movie with some subtitles. "Borat" does not count.

Detroit was next to last — ouch — in Wi Fi with only 5.2 Wi Fi spots per 100,000 population. Austin topped the list with 37 spots while Richmond was mid-range at 13.1 Wi Fi spots. Like the man said, the report shows strengths and weaknesses. For all you entrepreneurial types out there, read: Opportunity.

Model D-troiters

So there you have it. You now have some idea of how much you're contributing to the success of your city.

Let's say you're a self-employed, patent-holding, college educated 30-year-old scientist who traveled to Hong Kong last year and just saw the latest art film after eating in a Lebanese restaurant that offers free Internet. We have one thing to say to you: excellent job. Okay, two things: Think you could convince a few of your friends to join you?

Bonus points if they're from San Francisco.

Tracy Certo is editor of Model D's Pittsburgh-based sister publication, Pop City.


Students at Lawrence Tech's Urban Design Program


Orchid Thia Restaurant

City Vitals Cover

Wayne State University Students at the Purdy Library

All Photographs Copyright Dave Krieger except City Vitals Copyright Jonathon Greene

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