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Revisiting Degree Density

Richard Florida's interview with Jonah Lehrer over at the Atlantic Cities about "creative density" got me thinking about the work I did on "degree density" back in 2010. The concept that Lehrer describes is relatively simple: lots of like minded people in close proximity to each other drives creativity because these people can bounce ideas off of each other and learn from each other.

Lehrer talks about David Bryne of the Talking Heads:
David Byrne, after all, wasn’t influenced by the Latin rhythms of some distant musician. Instead, Byrne was seduced by his local dance clubs, blasting those songs he could hear from the sidewalk. It is the sheer density of the city - the proximity of all those overlapping minds - that makes it such an inexhaustible source of creativity.
A major flaw with my 2010 analysis is that it focused on entire cities and counties. It ignored the fact that the size of cities is somewhat arbitrary and that density is more of a neighborhood phenomenon than a city or metro area phenomenon.

Within a single city, there can be pockets of degree density (which, admittedly, is a very crude proxy for creative density as Lehrer describes it, or even for intelligence, as many commenters have pointed out). There can be neighborhoods where lots of educated people are highly concentrated, while another neighborhood in the exact same city could be much less dense and not a place where many degree holders live.

The easiest way for me to explain this is visually. First, here's a map of the Washington DC metro area. Each dot represents 1,000 adults 25 and older with at least a college degree. Not surprisingly, degree holders are much more sparely populated in the fringe parts of the metro area than in the urban core.

(click to enlarge)  

My 2010 analysis showed that DC has about 3,400 degree holders per square mile, the fourth highest of the 50 cities that I looked at. The combined DC/Arlington/Alexandria area (the original DC triangle) has about 3,900. This map clearly shows that these folks are not evenly distributed throughout the city. There are concentrations of degree holders in Northwest DC, Capitol Hill, and certain parts of Arlington and Alexandria.

(click to enlarge) 

Another thing that I wrote about in 2010 is that degree density is highly correlated with overall population density, but not perfectly. Here's the same map as above, but with non-degree holders age 25 and older now included.

(click to enlarge)  

And zoomed in to the urban core.

(click to enlarge)  

In this case, we see that neighborhoods in Northeast and Southeast DC (excluding Capitol Hill) are densely populated but not quite as densely populated by college degree holders. This map also unfortunately reinforces the idea of DC as a "divided city".

I could show graphics like these for other cities, but in the interest of time, I have to leave this post as it is for now. That said, I have a very strong hunch that you'd see the same sorts of concentrations just about everywhere.

Every city has concentrations of people, be they degree holders or not. I want to think that my 2010 work was merely a starting point for grasping the concept of degree density. Even cities that aren't at the top of the list are still going to have some neighborhoods with concentrations of degree holders. Without studying the local nuances that exist, only broad generalizations can be made.


Tysons Engineer said…
Wow, this took a lot of diving into the information, but this is some really great work. Nice post

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