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World's Best Places to Live: The Global Liveability Index

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By Olamide Udoma

Melbourne Source:

Melbourne, Source:

The Economist Intelligence Unit's annual liveability index has been out for a couple of weeks now and Lagos remains at the bottom of the list. The ranking assesses which locations around the world provide the best or the worst living conditions. This is worked out for every city by assigned a rating of relative comfort for over 30 qualitative and quantitative factors across five broad categories: stability; healthcare; culture and environment; education; and infrastructure. The 140 cities surveyed have been chosen as cities or business centers people might want to visit or live in.

liveability ranking

In the last five years, globally, liveability as declined by 0.68 percentage points; this may be due to unrest in the wake of the global economic crisis. However, in the past year this is now starting to stabilize; there have been no changes to the top tier cities. Cities in Canada and Australia continue to be the most liveable cities with Melbourne leading the way.

The cities at the top tend to be mid-sized cities in wealthier countries with a relatively low population density.

Therefore people in these cities can enjoy recreational activates without leading to high crime rates or being a burden on the infrastructure.


Source: The Economist Intelligence Unit

Global business cities, like Paris, Tokyo, London, and New York ranked 17, 19, 55, and 56 respectively fare worse than mid-sized cities because even though wages are high and there are a plethora of recreational activities, the crime rates are high, the streets are congested and there are public transport problems.

The majority of the cities, which have declined, such as Kiev, Tripoli and Damascus have done so because of reemerging instability and conflict, which seems to be the key factor in undermining wider livability. Conflict will not just cause disruption in its own right, it will also damage infrastructure, overburden hospitals, and undermine the availability of goods, services and recreational activities.

Violence, through civil insurgency, terrorism or war has played a strong role in determining the scores of the lowest scoring cities.

Thirteen cities, all in the Middle East, Africa and Asia scored lower than 50% and sit in the bottom tier of the livability ranking.

Source: The Economist Intelligence Unit

Source: The Economist Intelligence Unit

So - This is great, we all now have a good understanding of what cities are good to live in and what cities are not but what do these rankings really mean for the people who manage these cities and the people who live in them?

Paul Mason, economics editor of Channel 4 News, finds the liveability ranking problematic -

"most influential" or "most liveable" aren't objective descriptions, but judgments, based heavily on what kinds of demographic groups you view as ideal city residents.

I am definitely in agreement, and this survey does not give a full understanding of what it is like to live in any of the 140 cities. To fully benefit from such surveys they must be taken with a pinch of salt. In general, these sorts of surveys, ranking or ratings give a global comparison of cities that are hinged on a specific number of categories. It creates a tangible and quantifiable method for measuring cities. However, these categories cannot fully exemplify the nature, feel, environment, and quality of a city.

As for governments, rankings make them stand up and recognize that they are either doing something right or something wrong, giving them the incentive to ask how can we improve. However, the majority of the time, that is where is stops, at the 'asking'. It also allows governments to quickly identify good examples to learn from but the focus is on where they sit globally rather than on how their city is developing.

It is evident that public attention of city rankings is mainly concentrated simply on the ranks themselves totally neglecting its meaning as an instrument for strategic planning.

Editor's note: we wrote about the bias in this report in an earlier post, and the reasons for this bias.