Saturday, June 5, 2010

Arizona by the Numbers

I found this graph online - Tumblr, actually - and it links back to an interesting article in the Atlantic, based on a blog post by Rob Pitingolo entitled Where the Smart People Live. It's an electronic nomad, I suppose. I guess Pitingolo's idea is that the density of educated people in a given place effects the nature of the place. We usually look at these sorts of statistics in terms of percentage, which I think pays more attention to population density. For example, Phoenix only has 2,782 people per square mile, vs,  New York City, which has 26,402 people per square mile. So while it looks like a lot more people are educated in NYC, NYC has 27.4% with a bachelors, while Phoenix is 22.4%. Riverside looks like it has more educated people than Phoenix in this graph, but only 19.1% have bachelors or higher and Miami, which looks high up on the scale, is only 16.2%. What Pitingolo suggests is that our traditional ways of looking at the educational makeup of a community is flawed because there is no guarantee that educated people in a give location interact and looking at density may be more accurate. 

I would like to explore Arizona more closely on this model and try to draw some general, and perhaps anecdotal conclusions. Tucson and Phoenix have nearly identical population densities and % of educated people.
Phoenix - 2,782 people/square mile and 22.4% of people with bachelors or higher.
Tucson - 2,500 people/square mile and 22.9% of people with a bachelors or higher.

So Phoenix has 470 people with bachelors or higher/square mile vs Tucson's 573. A hundred more people with college degrees in a square mile might make a difference in the make up of the community, but they're still very close. Also, the real makeup of each city would put more people with degrees close to the big universities, not evenly distribute them throughout. Arizona State University, the main university in the Phoenix area, has its largest campus in Tempe, AZ, not Phoenix, while Tucson has all of the University of Arizona. Tempe has a 39.6% of the population with bachelors or higher and 3959.7 people/square mile, meaning there are 1568 people with bachelors or higher/square mile. Tempe is really geographically close to Phoenix - a visitor could travel between the two cities and probably not even notice. Many people live in one and work in the other. Pitingolo does also look at counties, presumably for this reason.  Scottsdale has a whopping 44.1% of the population with bachelors or higher - 1% less than San Francisco, which tops Pitingolo's city chart. Indeed, Scottsdale and Tempe are arguably two of the well-off cities in Arizona. Other cities, like Mesa and Peoria, have population densities and % educated closer to Phoenix or Tucson.

So, in Pitingolo's model, Tucson should be more similar to Phoenix or Mesa or Peoria than Tempe, but, ideologically at least, it's not. Tucson, like Tempe, is more liberal - it has primarily democrats as representatives and lots of weird artsy, hippy, New Age stuff. Certainly, Phoenix has it's cool downtown area, around Roosevelt and 7th, but it's not like Tucson. Even more surprising is how different Tucson is in nature from cities like Mesa or Peoria, both of which are conservative strongholds, though they have similar statistics to Tucson.  Perhaps the presence of ASU and U or A do something to make Tucson and Tempe more ideologically similar, but anyone who has been to both places would think they felt pretty different. To complicate things further, Scottsdale is probably the most affluent major city in Arizona and certainly the most educated, but it is also more conservative than Tempe or Tucson. So level of education, at least in Arizona, doesn't appear to correlate to how liberal or conservative a place is. Economically, Tucson is worse off than most of the cities in Maricopa County, including Phoenix, Tempe, and Mesa.

So what does Pitingolo's idea of education density tell us about a city? Well, just like the usual percentage model, it just gives us some numbers. Cities are places with identities that are also traditional, cultural, ideological, economic, and intellectual. Trying to make assertions about how best to measure the impact of educated people on a city must be done holistically. Boston and San Francisco's educated populations result from the culture of those places as much as the culture of those place result from the educated populations. And as far as this New Englander is concerned, Tucson is the best city in Arizona, regardless of what the numbers say.

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