While technology is critically important to improving how we manage our cities and enhance services and quality of life for local residents, one could argue that all the technology in the world doesn’t necessarily make your city “smart.” People matter a whole lot more than machines when it comes to attracting talent, companies and investors. Which is why the Resonance methodology for ranking the world’s smartest cities considers a variety of factors. First, and perhaps foremost, is human capital—that is, the educational attainment of a city’s population and the diversity of the population. We also consider the city’s economy by looking at the unemployment rate, the GDP per capita, and the number of Fortune 500 companies. With these indicators plugged in, these are the smartest cities in the world.
#1 San Jose
People: #1 | Educational Attainment: #2 | Foreign-born Population: #14
Prosperity: #4 | Unemployment: #44 | GDP Per Capita: #1 | Global 500: #15
San Francisco may get the tourists and headlines, but the money and the smarts are in San Jose. In fact, San Jose is the second-most educated city on the planet. The city’s universities, Stanford and Cal, are performance drivers all on their own. Their symbiotic integration with the tech offices in the city means the schools have access to funding and innovation like few other institutions. This, of course, is in addition to what’s widely considered to be the home of the highest concentration of venture capital in the world. San Jose nabs the #1 spot for GDP Capital and comes in at #15 for the number of Global 500 companies that call the city home. Few cities on Earth boast San Jose’s head-office recruitment firepower, where the city is not only a destination for the global engineering elite but is often the ultimate destination. The city is #1 on the planet in our People category—an enviably diverse mix of foreign-born residents and educated populace.
People #7 | Educational Attainment: #3 | Foreign Born: #32
Prosperity #12 | Unemployment: #50 | GDP Capital: #7 | Global 500: #24
America’s oldest big city draws the best in the world, from all over the world. They gravitate to Harvard, the planet’s #1 University according to our rankings, as well as Boston’s density of other world-class universities and colleges—from MIT to Boston University. A dozen Global Fortune 500 companies are based here, Including General Electric, Raytheon, and Liberty Mutual. Boston’s 2016 GDP per capita of $87,945 was the third-highest among the 40 largest metro areas, and its Q3 2017 average weekly wage of $1,367 was the fifth-highest. The city ranks seventh for GDP Capital and 50th for Unemployment. Boston ranks #7 for People, including #3 for Education Attainment and #32 for Foreign-Born residents.
People #10 | Education Attainment #137 | Foreign Born #3
Prosperity #33 | Unemployment #1 | GDP per Capita #19 | Global 500 #90
Despite being smaller in size than many of its neighboring countries, in recent years Qatar, the world’s largest liquefied natural gas exporter and host of the 2022 World Cup, has seen a surge in wealth due to fuel trade. Its capital city is one of the world’s fastest-rising and also one of its wealthiest. An astonishing 14% of the local population are millionaires; the GDP per capita is equivalent to 520% of the world’s average. Qatar is investing significant amounts in developing and internationalizing its higher education system. Doha is also the third-most diverse city in the world. Here, Arab nationals make up less than 15% of the total population, followed by other Arab (13%), Indian (24%), Nepali (16%), Fiipino (11%) and Bangladesh and Sri Lankan (5% each) nationalities. Foreign workers amount to around 88% of the population, and much has been reported about the appalling working and living conditions for many immigrants that inflate unemployment numbers regularly.
#4 New York
People #11| Education Attainment #20 | Foreign Born #16
Prosperity #5| Unemployment #99 | GDP per Capita #11 | Global 500 #4
Ever since Amazon announced plans in September 2017 to build a second headquarters known as HQ2—and the company’s promises of $5 billion investment and projected 50,000 jobs (paying an average of $150,000)—238 cities across North America officially got in line to woo the tech giant. The now seemingly obvious choice was, of course, New York—never mind that Amazon would pull the plug on HQ2 in the end. The Big Apple’s got smarts and braun to match. New York lands at #11 for People. Not only diverse in its population, New York City also scores high (#4) for Global 500 companies. As Verizon and JP Morgan Chase go about their merrily profitable ways, Google bought the Chelsea Market across from its NYC HQ for $2.4 billion, emphasizing the city’s status as Silicon Valley East. The arrival of the post-grad Cornell Tech has made the island a brainy, buzzy tech hub, with a hotel and new 40,000 square foot Verizon Executive Education Center—a Snøhetta-designed venue for conferences.
People #16 | Education Attainment #7 | Foreign Born #37
Prosperity #2 | Unemployment #156 | GDP per Capita #10 | Global 500 #3
Home to 18 universities featured in the QS World University Rankings, Paris comfortably lays claim to more world-leading institutions than almost any city on the planet. It’s no wonder the City of Lights has a place in the hearts of prospective students from around the globe. Indeed, Paris ranks #7 for Educational Attainment and #37 for Foreign Born. For the sake of its economic resilience and continued appeal as a place to live and study, the city is pursuing its Grand Paris project—an ambitious transportation and transit, economic development and skills training expansion designed “to even out disparity between territories while building a sustainable city,” according to city literature. This, of course, is a long overdue outreach to the city’s neglected outer suburbs where no tourists venture and where many new immigrants and refugees first settle. Each outer zone will focus on an economic discipline—from health and life sciences to aeronautics.
People #8 | Education Attainment #23 | Foreign Born #9
Prosperity #6 | Unemployment #78 | GDP per Capita #3 | Global 500 #8
Often ranking among the world’s most liveable cities, Zurich is exactly the kind of place you’d want to call home: efficient, clean, safe—and smart. No surprise then that Switzerland’s financial center and its largest metropolis is a magnet for foreigners who, along with multilingual Swiss nationals, enjoy one of the world’s highest standards of living. This global city landed at #8 in our People category, which takes into account the diversity of a city’s population, and at #8 for Global 500 companies (Migros, Credit Suisse, and UBS AG are just a few of the companies based here). Zurich ranks #3 for GDP per capita.
#7 San Francisco
People #4 | Education Attainment #4 | Foreign Born #20
Prosperity #6 | Unemployment #44 | GDP per Capita #5 | Global 500 #15
The city’s public and (increasingly) private spending hints at the wealth in a city ranked #5 globally for GDP per capita and #15 for Global 500 head offices. The promise of high salaries means a torrent of global workers fueling the city’s ambition, with a foreign-born resident ranking of #20 globally and the fourth-best educated workforce on the planet. The Bay Area’s entrepreneurism is uniquely connected to the local world-renowned universities, with Stanford University and the University of California, Berkeley, able to accommodate local knowledge and skills gaps and broker funding for nascent start-ups. Education and capital are rarely an issue for the right idea.
People #12 | Education Attainment #19 | Foreign Born #18
Prosperity #9 | Unemployment #28 | GDP per Capita #31 | Global 500 #5
Not just an academic hub, the UK’s capital is an epicenter of international finance and business, culture and creativity. Museums, nightlife, culinary scene and a diverse population—it’s all here. Ranking #12 in our People category—which includes 18th and 19th place in the subcategories of Foreign Born and Education Attainment—London refutes any attempt at typecasting. Thanks to the concentration of world-class universities, professional and social opportunities make London a popular choice for students from around the globe and companies who choose it for head offices. Indeed, London ranks fifth for Global 500, lands at #31 for GDP per Capita and #28 for Unemployment.
People #13 | Education Attainment #1 | Foreign Born #78
Prosperity #10 | Unemployment #61 | GDP per Capita #8 | Global 500 #8
Power meets play in America’s intriguing capital city. Say what you will about the level of intelligence perceived by a gobsmacked human race coming out of America’s capital these days, but the reality is that Washington is one of the world’s smartest city, topping the globe in Educational Attainment (a percentage of the population with tertiary education, at level 5 ISCED or above). It’s also increasingly rich, finishing Top 10 in our Prosperity category, including #8 in both the GDP per capita and Global 500 companies subcategories.
People #2 | Education Attainment #11 | Foreign Born #5
Prosperity #34 | Unemployment #138 | GDP per Capita #67 | Global 500 #8
With almost half of its population foreign-born, Toronto powered into the world’s #17 best city based on its diverse population of Foreign Born residents and Education Attainment by residents—the two components of our People category. Toronto boasts the fifth-most foreign-born residents and eleventh for most educated humans on earth. The city’s open doors, combined with its financial density (with a Global 500 head office ranking of eighth) has resulted in unprecedented downtown density and local satisfaction with just staying put, egged on by real estate wealth and whatever nickname Drake gives his beloved hometown in a particular week.