Jacksonville, Fla.: The Most Average Place in America

A blog about business and economics.
May 1 2013 10:41 AM

The Most Average Place in America Is Jacksonville, Fla.

Downtown Jacksonville, Fla., in 2005
Downtown Jacksonville, Fla., in 2005

Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images

Tyler Cowen offers a distressingly unsystematic look at the question of what is the most perfectly average place in America, recapitulating the excessively anti-urban bias of conventional thinking about the American character.

He offers as his candidate Knoville, Tenn., which has a metropolitan area population of just 824,000 people. Fully 180 million Americans live in larger metropolitan areas than Knoxville. The larger Tennessee city of Memphis is almost spot-on the average, but I'd say Memphis is a bit too distinctive to qualify as "perfectly average." Fortunately for us, if you rank U.S. metro areas by population size and then add up the cumulative totals, you get the conclusion that the median American lives in the Jacksonville, Fla., metropolitan area. And Jacksonville, though it may have its virtues, is not especially distinctive or noteworthy. It's a great example of a generic American city. It's in the South, but not really all that southern. It's on the coast, but it's not "coastal." And since the city of Jacksonville is consolidated with Duval County, it doesn't feature any kind of urban-suburban divide. The typical Jacksonviller, just like the typical American, lives in an auto-oriented, suburban-style community that's part of an integrated urban area. In educational terms, Jacksonville has fewer high school dropouts than the average American city and also fewer college graduates than the average American city. In other words, its citizens are exceptionally average in their educational attainment. 

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If you're ever in the Jacksonville area and get the chance to visit the White Oak Conservation Center, I'd recommend it. Very much a non-average experience.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.