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Boston is #1...But will we hold on to the top spot?

Posted by Scott Kirsner  July 20, 2010 07:46 AM

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Earlier this month, I tweeted about a report issued by the Australian innovation consulting firm 2thinknow. They'd created a list of the world's 75 most innovative cities, and Boston topped it.

That tweet took off like wildfire who doesn't like to be ranked #1, after all? It has continued to be re-tweeted over the course of a few weeks, with some people questioning the study's methodology, and others noting that it was almost a year old (I hadn't seen the report before, but on further inspection, the results were issued in July 2009).

So I connected last week with Christopher Hire, the executive director of innovation at Melbourne-based 2thinknow, to talk about the firm's rankings.

"Our index tends to reward well-rounded cities," Hire said, mentioning things like transportation infrastructure, cultural assets, and educational institutions. The index also considers how easy it is to bike or walk around the city, because, Hire explains, "that's part of the network economics idea, that connections are made every day. Boston is a place where you can have serendipitous connections, unlike U.S. cities where you can't get out of your car."

The firm tries to look at independent design shops, art galleries, film and video production, and locally-owned fashion boutiques as a measure of creativity. Interestingly, Hire says they don't look at the number of patents granted in each city: "Patents are kind of over-rated as a measure of innovation," he says.

One of the most surprising data points they consider? The number of Starbucks and independent coffee shops in a city, which serve as important meeting places for entrepreneurs and artistic types. "We give higher preference to cities with a wide range of coffee shops, not just the chains," Hire says.

The 2010 Innovation Cities report comes out in early August. While Hire says that "my view on Boston is that it's fundamentally anchored near the top [of the list], because of the prevalence of MIT and Harvard and the whole infrastructure," he wouldn't tip his hand as to how the city will rank this year.

There is, of course, the natural inclination to shake up the top few spots on any list so it doesn't seem stale. Hire says they may also include some new indicators, like the availability of electric car charging stations. And, he adds, "We're moving a little bit away from arts and culture, and increasing the sports indicators, looking at things like sports stadiums and sports fanaticism," Hire says.

Boston should score well on that count...but stay tuned...

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About Scott Kirsner

Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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