There is probably no index missing in the profession (and obsession) of ranking cities. One index that was recently mentioned in the UN-Habitat State of the World Cities Report 2012/2013 is the Innovation Cities Index.
2thinknow, the company behind this index, advertises it as the “world’s largest city classification and ranking with 331 benchmark cities classified”. Cities are ranked globally and per region and are classified as “nexus”, “hub”, “node”, “influencer”, or “upstart” – basically ascribing to cities a higher to lower degree of importance/relevance with regard to ‘innovation’; with “nexus” cities (such as Boston, Vienna, Munich, Copenhagen, Hong Kong, or Seoul) at the top as being the crucial centers for multiple social and economic innovation sectors, and “upstart” cities (such as Jakarta, Kolkata, Johannesburg, Karachi, Manama, or Lima) at the bottom as having potentially some innovative sectors in the future.
|1||Boston||United States||1 NEXUS|
|2||San Francisco Bay Area||United States||1 NEXUS|
|4||New York||United States||1 NEXUS|
|11||London||United Kingdom||1 NEXUS|
|15||Hong Kong||Hong Kong||1 NEXUS|
|25||Seattle||United States||1 NEXUS|
|28||Seoul||Korea, South||1 NEXUS|
|29||Los Angeles||United States||1 NEXUS|
I do not want to go into the methodological details of the index, but 2thinknow has definitely put effort into designing what they call the “most comprehensive city ranking and scoring”. Besides general characteristics for cities (demographics, geography, health, wealth, etc.), the cities are analyzed based on benchmarking indicators that are cross-checked with qualitative and quantitative data. Eventually the data is compared to global trends and a “zeitgeist (analyst confidence) factor” is added, with cultural assets, human infrastructure, and networked markets factors included. Sounds sophisticated and I do not feel enough qualified to judge about the scientific rigor of the index.
A look at the tables reveal a somewhat different ranking of cities in comparison to other rankings (such as for GDP, creativity, or liveability). For some cities, one can find this index as a ‘proof’ that they will not lose ground in competition with so called global cities (this might be especially true for European cities). For other cities, one can understand with the help of this index, why they have been so ‘successful’ in the past (and probably also in the future) even though they are not necessarily liveable or world-famous (such as Manchester, Marseille, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Karlsruhe, Dortmund, or Reims).
Infomodel by Jess Hadden: How Innovative Cities are formed and function (adapted from Richard Florida’s 2005 book Cities and the Creative Class)
So what do we do with the Innovation Index now? Add it to our long list of fancy indices and rankings? Be happy that our home town finally showed up in the top 100? Ask what ‘innovation’ means, how it can be differentiated from creativity, economic progress, and alternativeness? Probably no one would doubt that ‘innovation’ is important to a city’s vitality and prosperous future. The question then would be: How can cities (i.e. public, private, and civil-society actors) produce, support, and trigger innovation? Answers to this question can be purchased as innovation services from 2thinknow😉