Melbourne has again been ranked the world’s most liveable city by The Economist’s Intelligence Unit. It was followed by Vienna, Vancouver, Toronto, Calgary, Adelaide, Perth and Auckland. Helsinki and Hamburg joined Vienna as the only other European cities in the top 10. The measure compares cities across five categories; Stability, Healthcare, Culture and environment, Education and Infrastructure. Cities in Australia and Canada consistently rank in the top 10. They are all mid-sized cities with fairly low population density, and benefit from being in wealthy countries with quality education and healthcare.
While we might consider Melbourne’s open spaces, café culture, and arts scene to be defining features of our liveability, it was the more basic criteria which differentiated us from the other 140 cities measured. Indeed, Melbourne kept its edge over Sydney, which slipped out of the top ten this year, unfortunately due to their increased threat of terror attacks. We would much prefer to blame Sydney’s lock-out laws and alleged general inferiority.
Terrorism and instability were large factors in the deterioration of liveability in 29 major cities – 20% of those listed. Damascus remained the least liveable city as war continues in Syria. One thousand reported terror attacks this year also led to a drop in liveability scores across Western Europe, and the US, which also suffered from shootings and increased social unrest. Paris declined by the most places since last year. Financial and social instability had a similar impact on ratings, with Athens dropping similarly to Paris. Meanwhile, some cities such as Tehran made significant improvements in the last year.
As with any economic measure, the liveability index is imperfect; it is an average. There are a lot of very significant issues such as homelessness, housing affordability, and our treatment of Indigenous people, which make us think, where exactly is this liveability? But the indicator is still a useful comparison between countries and over time, for the combination of averages it measures. We can say there are massive problems, and also massive achievements. At the least, we can agree it’s a more inclusive measure than our position on the Olympic medal tally. Other measurements lead to other rankings; friendliest city, best city for students, for working women etc. etc. The liveability index itself is used as part of a wider cost of living index also calculated by The Economist Intelligence Unit. Even GDP remains one of the most widely used measures while the world keeps searching for a better alternative.
Beyond being a measure, Melbourne’s position on the liveability index has real benefits. It’s good, free publicity for tourism, while waiting for the bona fide follow up to our where the bloody hell are you? [if you’re not in Australia] campaign. It also makes Australia more attractive as a place to study. Being crowned most liveable city has serious benefits when education and tourism already represent our highest value exports.
Though there are potential draw backs to all this publicity; Mr. Dutton is yet to release a statement talking down the lifestyle for any potential asylum seekers listening. Or New Zealanders for that matter; though our migration policies with our closest neighbours are already tightening. Then there is the coolness-designation paradox to be wary of. i.e. saying you’re cool is clearly not so, and might attract the wrong crowd over time. Despite this, Melbourne, and Australia, are consistently ranked highly. Culture and environment only account for part of liveability; where Melbourne really breaks away from the pack is when comparing stability, healthcare, education and infrastructure.
So, quantifiably the best city in the world? We do alright.