Vancouver received some bad news today: After nearly a decade of appearing at the top of the Economist Intelligence Unit's ranking of the world's most liveable cities, the Canadian metropolis had fallen to third place behind Melbourne, Australia and Vienna, Austria. What did Vancouver in? A tweak to Vancouver's score for transportation infrastructure because of "intermittent closures" of the Malahat highway (while it seems unfair to blame the city for issues like an oil spill from an overturned tanker, the government was blamed for its clumsy response to the accident).
In Vancouver, reaction has come in the form of outrage, soul-searching, and reassurances. The local talk radio station CKNW calls the decision to lower the city's score because of highway closures "baffling," adding that the Malahat, which is on Vancouver Island, is "near Victoria, not Vancouver" ("that's like saying Amsterdam is not a livable city because of London's gridlock," scoffed one online commentator in the city). The Vancouver Sun points out that the violent and destructive rioting in the city following the Vancouver Canucks' loss in the Stanley Cup in June didn't factor into Vancouver's score, though the report warned that it "could lead to further downward revisions of Vancouver’s overall score in future surveys" (why is the Economist Intelligence Unit suddenly sounding like a quality-of-life version of those finger-wagging credit rating agencies?). The paper adds that a mere 0.2 points separated Vancouver from Melbourne and that Vancouver scored much higher than Melbourne and Vienna for culture and environment. Many commentators at The Vancouver Sun's website are citing crime, bad weather, a high cost of living, and substandard public transportation as reasons why Vancouver should have never topped the liveability list. "A liveable city, to me, means that all my money doesn't go to rent, forcing me to seek out the cheapest groceries possible in order to eat, which keeps me healthy, to go to work, so I can pay that rent!" one commentator proclaimed. "Screw the scenery! I need to LIVE!" Still, we imagine Vancouver's tourism officials won't be thrilled about the lower ranking. Tourism Vancouver's Media Kit currently touts Vancouver's longstanding distinction as the world's most liveable city.
Down in Melbourne, meanwhile, there's exultation. "Our city dethroned Vancouver," The Herald Sun crows. "For most people it will be a quiet sense of satisfaction and them saying, 'Look, I already knew that,'" boasted Lord Mayor Robert Doyle, who reportedly dressed in ceremonial robes to mark the honor. ''We don't have a beautiful harbor or an Opera House, we don't have a big rock, a big banana or big prawn, so we have focused on the things that make us liveable--our festivals and laneways,'' he continued, in reference, it seems, to the "Big Things" that adorn other Australian cities and towns. But not everyone was as ecstatic. "In what may come as a shock to a citizenry that prides itself on its artistic offerings, Melbourne's culture was rated as only ''tolerable,'" The Age observes.
Beyond the Vancouver-Melbourne face off, the liveability ranking provides other interesting insights. Australian and Canadian cities dominated the Economist Intelligence Unit's top ten, a consistent phenomenon that The Economist once chalked up to the emphasis these countries place on health care and education (the magazine added that bigger cities like London and New York often get "tripped up by their 'stability' scores," which "reflects residents' fear of terror, crime and conflict"). The report adds that the European debt crisis and Arab Spring have negatively affected certain European and Middle Eastern cities. You might not be surprised to learn, for example, that Athens, Greece now has a rating below San Juan, Puerto Rico and Montevideo, Uruguay, and that the Libyan capital of Tripoli--now under tenuous rebel control amid persistent fighting--has slipped into the ten worst cities (Harare, Zimbabwe currently has the distinction of being the worst). The survey, moreover, does more than simply mess with city psyches. The Economist Intelligence Unit points out that human resources departments use the rankings to determine hardship allowances as part of relocation packages.
Here's a look at this year's ten most liveable cities (the top U.S. city was Honolulu, at #26):
1. Melbourne, Australia
2. Vienna, Austria
3. Vancouver, Canada
4. Toronto, Canada
5. Calgary, Canada
6. Sydney, Australia
7. Helsinki, Finland
8. Perth, Australia
9. Adelaide, Australia
10. Auckland, New Zealand