“Most Livable City” Rankings Do Matter!: A Response

We recently posed the question “Does a ‘Most Livable City’ Ranking Matter?” The team at TH!NK found themselves leaning heavily towards “no” in our analysis, but we received a response to our question from our colleague Richard Nelson in Toronto. He argues that we are too harsh on this metric and that “Most Livable City” rankings do manage to accurately capture the cities that people want to live in.

In accordance with Betteridge’s Law, the answer, of course, is No—but the Economist Intelligence Unit’s annual report surely meets its objective of spurring a polite version of a barroom discussion.

Any attempt at ascribing a single numeric value to a city’s liveability is bound to give short shrift to many factors—and to mask any particular city’s virtues and vices. A glance at the report’s methodology (available at the link above, with registration) reveals that the qualitative-looking ranking just rolls up several dozen subjective qualitative rankings. It would better be described as the Economist Intelligence Unit’s staff’s consensus rather than something scientific.

Having said that: the cities high up on the list are mostly cities where people want to live, and that ordinary people find comfortable. It’s ironic but hardly surprising that a blog post calling into question (among other things) Vancouver’s high rating should be illustrated by a vista from Stanley Park. The cities on the list that I’m familiar with are comfortable places to walk at all hours, comfortable places to take transit in, comfortable places (perhaps not as much as I might like) to bike in. Most of the cities on the list are not just voted up by EIU staff—they’re places where people might actually want to live. Vancouver and Toronto’s high housing costs, however they might reflect policy and history, are markers of how many people want to live there.

Where do you stand on the “most livable city” debate? Continue this conversation in the comments below!

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