A Critique of The Economist’s ‘Most Liveable Cities’ Report
Source: This Big City
Is Vancouver the best city and Zimbabwe’s Harare the worst city? Yes, according to this year’s Global Liveability by the Economist. The ranking considers indicators in five categories – Stability, Healthcare, Culture & Environment, Education, and Infrastructure.
The choice of indicators seems ambitiously comprehensive and fair. The top-ten chart is populated by, perhaps unsurprisingly, cities of Canada, Northern Europe, and Australasia. However, as far as ‘liveability’ is concerned, how the cities are ranked exposes a systemic bias. To be sure, Vancouver, Vienna, and Melbourne are admirably high-quality cities in and of themselves. By the same token, it goes without saying Nigeria’s Lagos, who scores a scanting 33% in Education, is no child’s paradise. But how the indicators are chosen reveals the report’s pre-selected audience.
One salient instance is ‘humidity/temperature’ which is rated as acceptable, tolerable, uncomfortable, undesirable, or intolerable. This indicator almost naturally rules out Brasilia, Kuala Lumpur, and other tropical cities as remotely ‘tolerable’, much less questioning how one can assess without bias an in-group’s inclination towards certain weather types. Therefore, it’s one thing to factually describe how adverse a country’s weather can be, but it’s quite another to give ‘points’ or grades to something as locale-specific as climate and geography as if the city could attempt to improve or alter. Similarly, another indicator – the climate’s ‘discomfort to travellers’ – relies predominantly on the outsider’s perspective and preference-based attitude. There is no accident, then, that cities with climate rated as ‘tolerable’ (read most pleasant) are also those that pose least discomfort to travellers, ignoring the stark seasonal variations that can make Sydney’s summer as unforgiving or as ‘undesirable’ as Ho Chi Minh or Bangkok. For better or worse, humidity/temperature’ along with other indicators like ‘sporting and cultural availability’, and ‘food and drink’ carry a weight of 25% whereas Education, a basic benchmark of local literacy health, is factored in at only 10%.