What makes Palo Alto residents so smart?

November 15, 2011 6:16:41 PM PST
Palo Alto has a new distinction. It's home to the most educated residents in California.

An impressive 79.7 percent of Palo Alto residents have an undergraduate degree or higher. Maybe it's the influence of Stanford as its neighbor or the draw of a public school known for its high test scores.

It's a city known for expensive homes, a wide selection of shops and restaurants, and now its 63,000 residents are the most educated in California.

Gary Ruppel is one of them. He retired from HP. His father was principal at Palo Alto High School. There are two sides, he says, to a community of smart people.

"The positive is there are all these great ideas flowing. The negative is, especially, I think in Palo Alto, everybody thinks they're right because they have all these great ideas and they're so educated," says Ruppel.

And they don't have to impress people with intelligent conversation. A local barber says his customers tend to talk about sports.

Palo Alto was apparently a smart place to live before it became a place with smart residents. Mary Murphy moved there in 1958.

"We didn't know it was a smart city at that time," she says. "We just came over because we thought we'd see what it's like."

Palo Alto isn't an island of highly-educated residents. Four other Silicon Valley cities rank high; Los altos is second, Saratoga is third, Cupertino is fourth and Menlo Park is tenth for residents with four-year degrees.

Just because Palo Alto has the most educated people doesn't mean residents with less education are marginalized. Homeless people are welcome to address the City Council to express opinions, and members of the city's Downtown Streets Team say good things about residents.

We asked Connie Hemphill, member of the Downtown Streets Team, how she gets treated in Palo Alto. "I think I get treated pretty well," she says. Asked about whether she feels appreciated, she says, "Yeah, they tell us all the time."

So what makes all these residents so smart? Is it something in the water?

"No, no. We're on Hetch Hetchy water like everybody else," says Deputy City Manager Steve Emslie.

By the way, the number of smart people rises in Palo Alto during the weekdays because of all the non-residents that come to town to work at places like HP, Facebook and other companies.

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