Research article

Small cities, big hitters on a global stage

Counterculture is often at the heart of the most successful small tech cities. These cities manage to attract a significant creative population and often offer some things the mega cities just can’t.

City living on a small footprint allows residents shorter commutes, often by bike, easier access to amenities and a better work/life balance – but with all the ‘buzz’ of larger urban centres.

It is therefore no surprise that of our 12 tech cities, those that offer the highest quality of life have the smallest populations (see fig. 1).

US cities Austin and San Francisco, both with populations of less than one million, rank first and second. Dublin, a city of just over 500,000 people, ranks fourth. Stockholm, the other city with fewer than one million inhabitants in our top 12 drops down on high cost of living.


"Vibrant, mixed-use communities encourage innovation, collaboration and participation in the wider creative community"


However, all are characterised by lower levels of crime, pollution, vibrant night life and a short hop to work.

These small centres punch well above their weight on a global stage, and are host to some of the most important events in the global creative and tech calendar. Austin’s South by Southwest (SXSW) festival brings together film, music and tech, and has been credited with propelling Twitter and Foursquare into the mainstream.

Dublin’s Web Summit is Europe’s largest tech conference and is recognised as one of tech’s most important annual networking events.

Vibrant, mixed-use communities are at the centre of the new tech industry spirit. They encourage innovation, collaboration and participation in the wider creative community. In an industry where attracting and retaining the best minds is everything, the quality of life on offer to employees is paramount.

Quality of life rankings and city population

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