Friday, May 9, 2014

Fancy a liveable city?

Each year the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) publishes its livability index, which ranks cities worldwide by five metrics: stability, infrastructure, education, health care, and culture and environment. Here are the details. The 2013 results are on the right. (Note: the cost of living and median income are not included in the rankings.)

Perhaps instead of vying for the bigger house or fancier car we should be moving to Canada, Australia, Austria, New Zealand, or Finland? These guys dominate the top ten according to the EIU. Recall that Canada has the world's richest middle class these days, and with three cities in the top ten here, looks to be doing pretty well for itself. US cities apparently suffered from poor infrastructure and relatively high crime scores. In addition, many of the world's most successful cities weren't at the top of the list. Here's why:
Global business centres tend to be victims of their own success. The “big city buzz” that they enjoy can overstretch infrastructure and cause higher crime rates. New York, London, Paris and Tokyo are all prestigious hubs with a wealth of recreational activity, but all suffer from higher levels of crime, congestion and public transport problems than would be deemed comfortable. The question is how much wages, the cost of living and personal taste for a location can offset liveability factors. Although global centres fare less well in the ranking than mid-sized cities, for example, they still sit within the highest tier of liveability, so should be considered broadly comparable, especially when compared with the worst-scoring locations.
Interesting! This nicely describes the trade-off between income and overall liveability in the highest density cities. I should mention this trade-off more, as money certainly isn't everything. The Economist Intelligence Unit also held a competition wherein people developed a different set of city metrics, and the index developed by the winner of the competition included a spatial characteristics score (woohooo!) on top of the EIU's normal criteria above. Here's what this entailed:
The aim of this submission is to complement the existing EIU Liveability index with an awareness of cities’ spatial characteristics. In practical terms, this means proportionately reducing the weight of the five categories of Stability, Healthcare, Culture and Environment, Education and Infrastructure to 75% and adding in a sixth category (spatial characteristics) that carries a weight of 25%. This new category seeks to account for spatial aspects of city life: urban form (sprawl, green space), the geographical situation of the city (natural assets, isolation and connectivity), cultural assets and pollution.
These spatial characteristics were evaluated for 70 out of the 140 cities in the Liveability index because of time and resource availability. The selection of these 70 cities was guided by population size and geographical distribution. The importance of these spatial characteristics stems from their inherently democratic quality: all residents can benefit from the natural assets in the city’s vicinity, but all can also suffer from high air pollution. It is because of this indiscriminate effect on all residents that I chose to give spatial characteristics the highest weight of all categories: it is an aspect of city life that can be enjoyed by all and escaped by none.
The 2012 results and how they compare to the EIU Liveability index above are here:

Note that when weighting desirable spatial characteristics, Hong Kong jumps to the #1 spot overall, "although [it] scored relatively poorly for pollution and cultural assets." What was most surprising is the fact that Toronto takes an unexpected dive in this index because of weak scores for isolation and cultural assets (This last item appears to rely solely on the distribution of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, which I don't believe should be the dominant factor here.) I'm excited to survey Toronto's true assets (diverse street food?) when the wife and I are there next month. The one annoying caveat with this spatially adjusted index is the fact that Melbourne, Vancouver, and Vienna weren't calculated, although Sydney and Toronto make decent proxy cities. All in all, this spatially adjusted city metric provides a interesting alternative the EIUs Liveability index for 70 of the world's most important cities.

Note: here's a larger breakdown that includes US cities (click to zoom):

Much more on the EIU Liveability index here (for 2013) and here (for 2012). Details on the spatially adjusted liveability index (for 2012) are here.

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