Thursday, March 7, 2013

Best Cities in the South, A Ranking

In a few hours I am headed to New Orleans for the 50th anniversary conference of the Public Choice Society.  My friend Ed Lopez is the President of the Society this year and I am excited for the great conference he has organized.

I am also excited to return to New Orleans which is my favorite city in the South.  This gave me the idea to use the data we analyzed in our 2012 MTI report, which attempted to measure the "vibrancy" of every metropolitan area in the U.S., to rank southern cities.  This report used data from the Census' County Business Patterns program, which provides establishment counts by zip code for all industries.

Here are the results:


To create the table above, I followed the following methodology.  Looking at all metropolitan statistical areas in the U.S., I focus only on those in the Census-defined southern region.  Within this category, I focus only on MSAs with more than a million people.  There were 20 MSAs in the south that had a 2000 population of greater than one million.

Then, using the zip code establishment data, I calculate the number of each of four types of establishments within five miles of downtown.  So for example Nashville, with180, has by far the most registered live music performers downtown, followed by New Orleans at 22.  Washington DC has the most hotels downtown, followed by New Orleans, and Baltimore has the most bars downtown, followed again by the Big Easy.  Memphis had only one registed live music performer downtown (these data are from 2008) and 32 hotels, the lowest in both categories.

To calculate an overall measure, I ranked the cities by each category, and assigned a value of 20 to the top city and a 1 to the bottom city.  So if a city was at the top of each category (though none were), they would  have an overall score of 80.  According to this overall ranking, New Orleans and Washington DC are tied for first, while Memphis is last.

Ranking cities has become something of a cottage industry, and this my first attempt at it.  There are of course numerous criticisms of my approach, but one virtue of it is that it is based on objective data.  True, I selected the industries that I thought were important, and I'm sure reasonable people would disagree with some of my selections; for example, having a lot of bars downtown wouldn't be seen as an amenity by some people!

Nonetheless, to me at least, these rankings are intuitively reasonable, especially because my favorite southern city comes out with the top ranking!