Benchmarking City Performance

Our City Vitals research delivers a detailed set of statistical measures for urban leaders to understand their cities’ performances in six key areas — Connections, Innovation, Talent, Your Distinctness, Core Vitality and Metropolitan Performances — in comparison to the 130 largest metro areas in the United States. FREE for Members; PDF: $25; Printed: $40



Edward Glaeser notes in Triumph of the City: “Our ability to connect with each other is the defining characteristic of our species.” We know that cities thrive as places where people can live, work, play, and connect. It is through these connections that regions prosper. Internal connections among residents and firms, and external connections with the global economy are essential for a city’s prosperity and vitality. There are numerous ways cities connect, from physical connections (roads, airports, railroad), to virtual connections, to interpersonal connections. We measure the Connected City by examining voter participation, community involvement, economic integration, transit use, walkability, foreign students, foreign travel and internet connectivity.



Innovation and generation of new ideas play an important role in regional economic growth and prosperity. Many factors, including but not limited to the aggregation of talent, clusters of innovative firms, key research institutions, and a business and social culture amenable to change and risk-taking, have been found to be correlated with a city/region’s potential for generating new ideas. Regional competitiveness is based on the fact that generating new ideas is not evenly distributed across space. Invisible and weightless, ideas cannot be measured directly, but the footprints they leave in the economic landscape can be traced by measuring the number of patents, the amount of venture capital, the number of the self-employed, and the number of small businesses.



The indispensable asset in a knowledge economy is smart people. Cities are places where people build knowledge through education and experience. As Ed Glaeser notes in Triumph of the City, “all great cities have something in common… [they] attract smart people and help them to work collaboratively.” Cities attract smart people and create opportunities for them to develop and apply what they know. Talent, which we measure by educational attainment, the number of creative professionals, the migration of well-educated young adults and the number of foreign-born college graduates, reveals the underlying intellectual capital a region can draw on to build its economy and to weather the inevitable shocks of competition and change.



The unique characteristics of place may be the only truly defensible source of regional competitive advantage. While globalization has allowed regions to connect more frequently and efficiently with faraway places, regions understand that it is important to be unique, distinctive, and authentic while maintaining a global presence. Regions that create their own distinctively authentic cities and identities create a sense of place and a brand that can transcend their own advocacy efforts. As Dolly Parton notes, “Find out who you are and do it on purpose” (Parton, n.d.). There are many dimensions to distinctiveness and each city has its own set of unique characteristics, so it may be difficult to compare adequately metropolitan areas and cities on distinctiveness. We measure the Distinctive City using four indicators: the weirdness index, culture, internet search variety, and ethnic restaurant options.



The success of a regional economy heavily depends on the vitality of its urban core or central city. Vibrant metropolitan areas have strong centers that are hubs of economic, social, cultural, and recreational activities. Strong cities attract talent, foster creativity and innovation, and appeal to business startups. Conversely, metropolitan areas with weak central cities have lower economic performance. An assessment of the vitality of the urban core is conducted by analyzing a series of measurements illustrating the performance of the core. Here, we define the urban core as the central city as defned by the U.S. Census Bureau Principal City. We use three performance indicators to measure Core Vitality: income, college attainment, and poverty.



CEOs for Cities works with cross-sector urban leaders and policy makers to benchmark and accelerate their city’s and region’s economic performance. In order to measure metropolitan performance, we present five measures that reflect the four dimensions of success outlined in City Vitals; these dimensions are connections, innovations, talent, and your distinctiveness. The five performance measures included in Metropolitan Performance are population, per capita income, poverty rates, vehicle miles traveled, and greenhouse gas emissions.


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