Melbourne has been named the world’s most liveable city for the seventh year running in The Economist’s Global Liveability Report. While there is a palpable sense of pride in the cultural and civic life of Melbourne, there’s also a growing awareness that this index doesn’t paint the full picture.
It’s important to note that The Economist’s Global Liveability Report is designed to advise multinationals on the level of hardship allowance they should pay as part of their relocation packages. The report suggests an allowance level that corresponds with its liveability ratings; e.g. it advises an additional 5% allowance for an employee relocating to a city with a score between 70 and 80, 10% for a city scoring between 60-70 and so on. For this reason, rankings are geared towards expat experience and focus on their comfort and safety.
‘Culture and environment’ is one of five broad categories contributing to the overall liveability ranking, along with stability, healthcare, education and infrastructure. Perth, which scored 100% in healthcare, education and infrastructure, believe its culture and environment stopping them from cracking the top five. But what is it that constitutes ‘culture and environment’ and where should Perth be looking to improve?
When looking a little deeper into the ‘culture and environment’ category we can see there are nine components that make up the overall score, they are:
- Humidity/temperature rating
- Discomfort of climate to travellers
- Level of corruption
- Social or religious restrictions
- Level of censorship
- Sporting availability
- Cultural availability
- Food and drink
- Consumer goods and services
Within these subcategories, a series of qualitative and quantitative indicators are rated as acceptable, tolerable, uncomfortable, undesirable or intolerable. The highest accolade a city could hope to achieve for their cultural offering is an ‘acceptable’ rating against each of the indicators. This is a very limited view and one that focuses on basic availability rather than the quality or impact of these offerings. It certainly doesn’t give Perth much to strive for, or anything tangible to learn from and improve.
One might assume that things like environmental sustainability and urban planning would be assessed within the ‘culture and environment’ category. However, looking at the key environmental subcategories, ‘humidity/temperature rating’ and ‘discomfort of climate to travellers’ it becomes clear that comfort levels for relocating expats are preferenced over broader environmental concerns. Paul James, Professor of Globalization and Cultural Diversity at the University of Western Sydney has highlighted a direct relationship between cities achieving a high ranking on the liveability index and the size of their ecological footprint.
Recent Living Cities Forum 2017 presented by Naomi Milgrom Foundation identified that it’s terrorists – not architects – who have the greatest impact on the liveability score. This can be seen in Manchester’s eight place drop in 2017, attributed to the bombing of the Manchester Arena in May. What has been overlooked is the resilience and community shown in the wake of the attack, and Ariana Grande’s message ‘Let’s not be afraid’ when she returned to Manchester to play a benefit show with Liam Gallagher, Katy Perry, Coldplay, Justin Bieber and Take That.
The Economist determine their qualitative ratings based solely on judgment by in-house analysts and local contributors, and their quantitative ratings are calculated using external data points. This means the report is missing crucial input from the broader public. The rating doesn’t take in the thoughts or opinions of people living there so it’s hard to argue against the assessment, ‘liveable for some’.
While The Economist’s highly celebrated rankings are used to market one city over another for business and tourism, it’s not a useful benchmark for cities looking to improve their overall liveability or ensure it continues into the future. We can do a lot better when thinking about what contributes to the civic, environmental and cultural life of a city.