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Detroit Ranks Low on List of Literate Cities

Washingtonians are the nation’s most well-read citizens, but they’re reading less these days. And so, it appears, are city dwellers everywhere.  That’s according to the latest findings of an annual study (conducted since 2005) of the >United States’ most literate cities (conducted by Central Connecticut State University), which ranks the “culture and resources for reading” in the nation’s 75 largest metro areas. The study examines not whether people can read, but whether they actually do.

The 2010 study looks at measures for six items — newspapers, bookstores, magazines, education, libraries and the Internet — to determine what resources are available in each city and the extent to which its inhabitants take advantage of them. It  identifies “worrisome trends” consistent with other national research, including declines in newspaper circulation and book-buying, along with sluggish growth in educational attainment. Increases in Internet usage and stable library patronage aren’t offsetting those declines, it says.

The top cities have remained relatively consistent over the six years, with slight changes in rank from year to year.  Among this group, in addition to DC, are Seattle, Minneapolis, Atlanta, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, St. Paul, Denver, Portland, St. Louis, Cincinnati and Boston.

How do we rank?  Detroit came in 56th in the 2010 study, the same as in 2005.  The highest rank Detroit has achieved was 50th in 2007.

Let’s examine our ranking on the component measures that were considered.

Bookstores (per 10,000 population) – 72nd

Education Level – 71st

Internet Resources – 27th

Library Support, Holdings, and Utilization – 48th

Newspaper Circulation – 19th
Periodical Publishers – 54th

Robert Lang, an urban planning and policy expert at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, acknowledges cause for concern but questions whether results necessarily mean people are reading less.  “People are reading more things and less in depth. They’re getting briefed,” Lang says. “The bigger finding (is) what’s consumed is different.”

While one can always critique the measures that are used to create the index, we cannot avoid the fact that our region does not “measure up” when it comes to educational attainment.  In the 2010 OneD Scorecard, which Data Driven Detroit will be issuing this month, we compare the Detroit-Ann Arbor-Flint region with the other 53 regions of one million or more population on a variety of education measures.  Once again we find ourselves  in the bottom quartile for percent of college graduates.  As long as we continue to trail in this important measure, the other rankings matter little.