Photo by Erik Andersen

SAN FRANCISCO – Consumer advocacy and financial advice website NerdWallet recently ranked the top cities in North Carolina to raise a family and placed Chapel Hill at number six.

Analyst Mike Anderson says the study looked at the quality of K-12 schools, the affordability of living, and median household income.

“We figured that reflects how young families look at cities,” Anderson says. “Those three things are equally important to them.”

At the same time, self-described “brain training” website Lumosity released a list of the top 100 smartest cities in the country and Chapel Hill was conspicuously absent.

According to researcher David Sternberg, Lumosity offers a series of games that are designed to improve cognitive function and uses the game’s data to get these national rankings.

“We were interested in looking at this more direct measure of people who came to our website and how they performed on particular cognitive tasks when they first came to our site,” Sternberg says.

In Anderson’s study, which ranked Morrisville as the top city in the state to raise a family, Chapel Hill had the highest level of growth out of any other city in the top ten and had public schools that got an eight out of ten from GreatSchools, a website that ranks public schools based on standardized test scores and population.

However, Anderson says that Chapel Hill’s affordability issue prevented it from breeching the top five.

“The homes are a bit more expensive there, which is why it probably didn’t rank higher than it already did,” Anderson says.

While Chapel Hill has a lower median household income than most of the other top ten cities, Anderson says that Chapel Hill’s 49 percent growth over the past ten years helped distinguish it.

“If income isn’t really growing in a city, it’s not a good sign, even if income is already high,” Anderson says.

In Sternberg’s study, which found Ithaca, N.Y. as the smartest city in the country, Lumosity’s computers used the IP addresses of visitors to try and pinpoint their city.

However, to get more accurate readings, many cities were grouped together in “core-based statistical areas,” which are developed by the census to better understand how metropolitan areas work.

In the final version of the study, Chapel Hill was paired with Durham, with their collective score putting them at 265th in the nation. When Lumosity’s computers looked only at users they believed to be from Chapel Hill, the city ranked 18th.

But, according to Sternberg, this may not be an accurate representation of Chapel Hill either.

“In the city list, where we look at Chapel Hill specifically, is only going to be situations where the system thought that this IP address was in Chapel Hill specifically,” Sternberg says. “In a large number of cases, that’s probably going to be people associated with the university because that’s a very clear marker that someone is from Chapel Hill. That might be one reason why Chapel Hill does extremely well.”

Lumosity games are designed to rate and improve the five sectors that Sternberg says constitute cognition: memory, speed, attention, flexibility and problem solving.

“When they first come to our site, the idea is that we can use those as an assessment, as a test, when people first show up,” Sternberg says. “We can look at how they performed as base-line the first time they try it.”

Link to the NerdWallet study:

Link to the Lumosity study: