Does a “Most Livable City” Ranking Matter?
The Economist recently published it’s updated “Global Liveability Ranking” to determine the most livable city in the world. This annual report uses five categories to determine a ranking of 140 cities worldwide: stability, healthcare, culture and environment, education, and infrastructure. This is just one of many annual attempts to rank living conditions across the globe, along with survey’s such as Monocle’s Most Livable Cities Index and Mercer’s Quality of Life Ranking. But does a “Most Livable City” ranking really matter?
Vancouver’s ex-Chief City Planner, Brent Toderian, weighed in on Australian radio about what picture these sorts of rankings really paint. He cautions neither Melbourne nor Vancouver, while livable places, are currently worthy of this title. These rankings tend to prioritize things like low-crime rates, access to education, and road quality, but fail to account for some of the key reasons citizens love living in their cities. As a Guardian article puts it, this ranking rewards the “safe and clean” cities. Or as CityLab puts it, “Livability rankings value cities that don’t “feel” like cities. They prize stability over vigor and opportunity.” While safety and cleanliness certainly contribute to livability, are they really the factors that matter most when determining “the most livable city”? As Brent says in this interview:
“I think what we need to have is a really honest conversation about what real livability means and for who.”
These rankings don’t include every participant in the city. Shouldn’t livability include measures of accessibility and affordability? What about walkability or “lovability”? A metric of livability should capture the quality of life of all of its citizen’s and at what cost. Current metrics perhaps aren’t telling the full story.
But even without explicitly measuring affordability or walkability, sometimes these survey’s showcase these traits in the top cities. Vienna consistently ranks near the top of all 3 metrics and stands in stark contrast to some of it’s high-ranking neighbours. Vienna certainly “feels” like a city– it has no housing shortage, a high degree of walkability due to dense land uses, and innovative architecture. They also have large amounts of green spaces and have long embraced sustainability technologies. While rankings may not be telling us the whole story, there is definitely something about Vienna that draws people in and makes them love their homes. By comparing and contrasting Vienna, Melbourne, and Vancouver, we can learn more about what these rankings are telling us and what they are not.