br Livable cities in popular media and global ranking The
Livable cities in popular media and global ranking The term “livable cities” appeared in the popular literature during the 1980s in connection with the growing environmental concerns and the increasing purchase UNC2025 among world cities to attract foreign investments and boost their economies. The majority of the news sources and popular media considered such term as self-explanatory and as a reference to quality of life, standard of living, or general well-being in a specific locality. Despite the wide-ranging and relatively subjective interpretations of the latter constructs, numerous indices and measurement tools were developed over the last three decades to rank cities according to the amenities and opportunities afforded to their residents and visitors. Safety and security, crime, climate, transportation, infrastructure, healthcare, public policies and services, business environment, cost of living, recreational amenities, education, housing, gross domestic product (GDP) per capita, sanitation, culture, air quality, and natural capital have been incorporated into quantitative models to compare and rank these cities. Qualitative aspects, such as lifestyle, well-being, happiness, tolerance, and environmental esthetics, have also been compiled to benchmark urban livability on a global scale. Various rankings have been published annually, among which the most notable include the Economist Intelligence Unit׳s (EIU) livability ranking (EIU (Economist Intelligence Unit), 2014), the Mercer Quality of Living Survey, and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Better Life Index (BLI). Modern metropolises, such as Perth, Melbourne, and Sydney (Australia); Auckland (New Zealand); Vancouver and Toronto (Canada); as well as the mainstay European urban centers of Vienna, Zurich, Copenhagen, Helsinki, and Munich; have topped these ranking lists over the last years.
Comparative critical perspective Global ranking surveys invariably provide conflicting results. For example, cities that are ranked favorably in terms of affordable housing in one survey may perform poorly in the same category in other surveys. The reason for such variation is that the weighting assigned to different categories, such as education, healthcare, public services, social equity, transportation, natural environment, and infrastructure, is relatively subjective and varies according to the survey. Although the EIU and Mercer rankings include some common measures, Melbourne was ranked first in the former yet regressed to 18th in the latter. Ranking surveys rarely consider migration patterns and nuclear family formation, and indirectly rank cities according to their capability to attract people, provide jobs, and create safe living environments. In this sense, these rankings do not only measure standards of living but also assess the peoples’ perceptions of cities over an extended period. Social scientists have noted that the availability of shelter, food, healthcare, education, employment, and other material comforts create happiness and satisfaction only if the objective measurements of such amenities match the aspirations of the people and the sense of well-being of individuals (Victoria Government, Australia). A recent study on European cities also finds a weak correlation between the livability indicators on the Mercer ranking survey and the responses of individuals in the Urban Audit Perception Survey, 2004–2009 (Kozaryn, 2013). Kotkin (2009) challenges the standards or criteria used by livability ranking tools to judge cities. He identifies economic growth, cultural diversity, and social dynamism as the building blocks of urban livability. Kotkin alludes to the17th century vision of Descartes of the city as “an inventory of the possible,” a place that encourages people to improve their lives and achieve upward socioeconomic mobility. In this regard, excellent cities are inherently chaotic and represent considerably less groomed sidewalks and downtowns with chic shops and retro cafes. According to Kotkin, Los Angeles, Houston, and Shanghai offer significantly more advantages and socioeconomic opportunities for their residents and immigrants than Zurich, Vienna, and Copenhagen. Pittsburgh, the only American city to appear in the global ranking tools (25th on Monocle׳s list), has lost its steel manufacturing base to a service-based economy of hospitals, universities, and non-profit organizations. Generations of Pittsburgh residents have left the city to look for jobs elsewhere (Kotkin, 2009). This phenomenon begs the question of “livability for who?” for long-time residents and immigrants who rank Pittsburgh as a nearest-to-the-last potential destination or for transient high-paid executives who patronize conference and research centers and frequent well-appointed cafes and shops. As mentioned earlier, urban livability has strong ties to the notion of urbanity, which primarily denotes the capacity of cities to function as economic and social incubators for a diverse and dynamic population. Young and old long-time residents as well as immigrants across the entire economic spectrum vie for the ever-changing urban resources that demarcate their lives, and yet, are continuously configured and reconfigured by the actions of the people. The urban evolutionary process is inherently messy and generates cluttered spaces instead of the manicured sidewalks and public places that are seen in top-ranking cities.