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20 geekiest cities in the United States

The National Science Foundation released its list of America's Top 20 Geekiest Cities. See which city ranked number one based on the agency's taxonomy.

There are many ways to define a stereotypical geek; for instance, a geek might be someone who has an interest in comic books, computer games, gadgets, science, technology, engineering, math -- the list can go on and on. The National Science Foundation focused on the last four areas when ranking its list of America's Top 20 Geekiest Cities in the agency's Science and Engineering Indicators: 2010 report. The NSF established this list based upon the percentage of the working population with a bachelor's level of knowledge and education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics who are working in one of those fields.

Based on this taxonomy, it's no surprise that San Jose, California -- home of Silicon Valley -- tops the list. The second city on the list was a bit more of a surprise, given the stereotypically counter-culture population of Boulder, Colorado. Continuing down the list, we see many more cities that are not surprising at all: Huntsville, Alabama (which is home to the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center); Washington, D.C., (the government has a lot of technology workers); Seattle-Bellevue, Washington (where you'll find the Microsoft headquarters); Austin-Round Rock, Texas (home of Dell); Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville, Florida (aka Space Coast), and several cities across the nation that are home to large universities. This is the complete list of the top 20 geekiest cities in the United States:

  1. San Jose, California
  2. Boulder, Colorado
  3. Framingham, Massachusetts
  4. Huntsville, Alabama
  5. Durham, North Carolina
  6. Lowell, Massachusetts
  7. Washington, D.C.
  8. Ithaca, New York
  9. Bethesda, Maryland
  10. Seattle-Bellevue, Washington
  11. Kennewick-Richland-Pasco, Washington
  12. Austin-Round Rock, Texas
  13. Ames, Iowa
  14. Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville, Florida
  15. Boston, Massachusetts
  16. Ann Arbor, Michigan
  17. Bloomington-Normal, Illinois
  18. Olympia, Washington
  19. San Francisco, California
  20. Fort Walton Beach-Crestview-Destin, Florida

For more details about each city listed, check out the Forbes.com photo gallery of America's Top 20 Geekiest Cities.

Forbes contributor William Pentland looked into the country of origin of many of these science and engineering workers, and he points out that a large number of U.S. "geek" workers are foreign-born, mostly from China and India, but native-born American geek workers are growing annually. Also, there were about 5.5 million U.S. workers in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math in 2007, which is staggering considering there were less than 200,000 in 1950.

While I agree with NSF's determination that these four traits are very geekish, this is a complete taxonomy. These traits may be considered more "nerdish" than "geekish," as the term nerd is used more frequently than geek for bookish interests like science and math. And, excluding the entire comic book reading, computer (and table-top) game playing, cult movie watching geek subculture would probably drastically alter this list of cities, perhaps excluding several completely in favor of other cities not included.

If you were to create a taxonomy for what defines a geek, what would it be? Do you agree or disagree with the four traits selected for this list? What city surprises you most on this list? What city would you have thought should be here that's not? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Also read: Building the next 'geek generation'
11 comments
Professor8
Professor8

Bloomington-Abnormal doesn't have squat in the way of STEM workers, even compared to Urbana and certanly Chitown. I'm extremely skeptical that many of the ones in the DC-Bethesda-Baltimore area are doing real STEM work. And most of what is being done around the state of Washington certainly shouldn't count with the low-quality garbage they churn out. Pittsburgh, home of CMU, and Columbus, OH (which should probably be combined with Dayton and WPAFB for this purpose) should come in above FWB, FL (with or without Eglin). Sandy Eggo county should be somewhere on the list, with all of its computer and biotech workers (though perhaps it might fall between 20 and 30). Minneapolis-St. Paul-Chippewa Falls once deserved a place near the top, but was devastated in the late 1980s through the 1990s as Spurroughs was created and down-sized, and Control Data Corp. slowly spun apart. If they would honestly count all of the capable unemployed, under-employed and NILF STEM workers, the available US STEM talent pool would be over 7.5M (it's even nearly that based on the conservative BLS quarterly numbers).

bentleyj
bentleyj

I'm from Bloomington IL and go back to visit family a few times a year. It should _not_ be on anyone's list of geeky cities. Trust me.

bobc4012
bobc4012

Durham, by itself would not necessarily be considered "geeky". The entire Triangle area fits the bill. The hub is RTP (cut from Wake and Durham counties). The Triangle area consists of Raleigh, Durham, Cary, Chapel Hill and the surrounding towns. Red Hat is moving its HQ to downtown Raleigh. IBM and most other high tech companies are located in RTP (Research Triangle Park). SAS is in Cary. Durham prides itself as the city of Medicine (Duke, a fine institution - both academic and medical). Chapel Hill has UNC, another fine academic and medical institution. NC State is in Raleigh, remember Fred Brooks - he went to NC State after leaving IBM. Based on some of the other posts, some of these reporters need to do a better job of investigating. It brings to mind that old saying - "The wind blew and the $#!+ flew and "so & so" wasn't seen for a month or two!".

BurnedSalamander
BurnedSalamander

While Boulder MAY have a large population of geeks, it is hardly surprising that it's second on the list. I maintain that it is actually a chunk stolen from Colorado by California and Denver just doesn't care.

Dr. Fowler
Dr. Fowler

Superficial research, or pandering? 0.9 of the geeks/nerds in Huntsville work of U. S. Army.

GrizzledGeezer
GrizzledGeezer

...between "counter-culture" and "geekiness"? I don't see any. I'm frankly surprised that Seattle-Bellevue (you left out Redmond) isn't higher on the list.

superdave69
superdave69

Yea, I lived in IL most of my life, and well...Bloomington might be geeky, but not in a high-tech good way. Come on, putting it on a list with Boulder and Austin?? Unless a whole bunch of UIUC CS grads have moved there over the past ten years, then I'm not sure how it made the list.

wilback
wilback

The ranking is by percentage of workforce employed in tech. For San Jose that's 18.2% vs. 17.4% for Boulder. But by absolute numbers it's 165,400 vs. 28,010. I live in Boulder. There's smart people here. But there's not a lot of depth. Once your startup gets beyond a few dozen finding qualified top people is very hard. And Boulder is somewhat isolated, while San Jose sits in the middle of the rest of Silicon Valley.

UrbanFarmer
UrbanFarmer

You guys sound jealous. Don't be mad bro. Can't you be happy for the little guy? It's not really that big of a deal. It's not like YOUR life will be less fulfilling just because we ranked 17/20... on an obscure "geek" list... on the internet. Put the Haterade down.