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America’s smartest people

The Spoonbridge Cherry sculpture, in Minneapolis Minn. — the No. 1-ranked city for the smartest people in the country.
The Spoonbridge Cherry sculpture, in Minneapolis Minn. — the No. 1-ranked city for the smartest people in the country.Visions Of America, Llc / Alamy / Alamy
/ Source: a href="" linktype="External" target="_blank" resizable="true" status="true" scrollbars="true" fullscreen="false" location="true" menubars="true" titlebar="true" toolbar="true">Travel + Leisure</a

What U.S. city has the most intelligent citizens? According to Travel + Leisure’s 2009 America’s Favorite Cities Survey, the answer is simple: Minneapolis-St. Paul.

Now in its fifth year, the survey—which was open to the online voting public this past summer—covers 30 U.S. cities and was expanded this year to include even more urban areas, such as Cleveland, Providence, and St. Louis.

Its “People” category consistently ranks as the most talked about, with voters weighing in on such topics as what U.S. city has the most attractive people (Miami) or the least (Philadelphia). Not surprisingly, the question of which city is home to the country’s smartest people has also sparked discussion.

Some may credit the weather—for keeping people indoors with their noses in books—for the high IQs of Twin Cities residents, but the heady city is full of clues: top-ranked Macalester and seven other colleges; the Utne Reader and beloved independent Common Good Books; Minnesota Public Radio and the smart radio stylings of Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion; the revered Guthrie Theater; and a local culture that prides itself on being in the know—and knowing it all.

“The enormity of artistic and cultural opportunity paired with outdoor activity make the Minnie-apple a standout city,” says Annie W. Mathisen, a 35-year-old attorney who was born in Minneapolis-St. Paul and then returned as an adult because of the area’s high quality of life. “We can boast having inventive minds, from Lucent to Prince. I think Minneapolis fosters an environment where intelligence is valued and constantly fed—no matter what your mind is hungry for,” she says.

But there are other intellectual hotbeds, too. The freethinking bastion of San Francisco—home to countless high-tech companies and Internet entrepreneurs—ranks among the survey’s top 10 smartest cities. Washingtonians are no dummies, either. With a diverse population and an army of cunning politicians, our nation’s capital gets high marks for smarts.

Other cities, however, are the class clowns to the straight A students above. Orlando, for example, may be home to the most magical place on earth, but survey-takers voted their residents’ intelligence a bit less mesmerizing. Dallas, too, ended up toward the bottom of the intelligence list.

Sure, smart people live all over the United States, but maybe some cities really do have more collective brainpower than others.