We’d Rather Live in Paris than in Calgary

One of the things that perplexes us at Stancombe Research + Planning is that traditional ‘Liveable Cities’ indexes tend to favour a certain type of city; middle-sized to small in population, regional, a bit ‘off the grid’ when it comes to business and tourism, and almost always not what you’d traditionally define as a big economic or cultural powerhouse.

Take The Economist Intelligence Unit (TEIU) index of liveable cities ; the rankings are dominated by Melbourne, Vancouver, Adelaide, Calgary, Auckland; lovely Canadian and Australasian cities, closely followed by a clutch of Northern European cities such as Helsinki, Zurich and the Scandinavian capitals. They are all fine cities and great places to visit (Melbourne is the home town for many of us here at the agency) but we have to ask – where are New York, Paris, London, Tokyo, Singapore or Hong Kong; the cities that, as vibrant, dynamic, cultural, business and financial hubs, you would think would rank highly in many people’s minds as great places to live? 

The answer lies within the metrics used by traditional indexes. TIEU painstakingly draws on a range of factors such as population density, per capita income + GDP, crime rates / threat of terror, access to healthcare and education, climate suitability and infrastructure factors in order to develop its liveability score. These obviously work against the vibrant and dynamic world capitals listed above and favour the less obvious, and perhaps, in some ways, the less vibrant cities that continually top the list. 

So what happens if the metrics are changed and a set of measurables are created that provide a more contemporary and less hard economic perspective on what makes a city liveable? What happens when the ‘softer’ factors that might drive a sense of community are bought into focus? The resulting list of cities look like much more fun, stimulating and vibrant places to live - sorry CalgaryAdelaide and Zurich. Business traveller and urban culture magazine, Monocle, has recently published its annual ‘Quality of Life’ city index and the list is quite a different-looking beast to what we’re used to seeing. 

Vibrancy is considered a key contributor to quality of life; factors such as 24 hour opening hours and availability of services, the cost of a good lunch, number of public libraries, efficient transport including bicycle routes, tolerance + diversity and open-minded societies, mixed building heights, aged-care services, proximity to city escapes, support for start-up businesses, number of cinemas per person, proximity to good cafes; the list goes on and of course also includes ‘hard’ economic factors as well as more abstract metrics such as ‘colour’ - both as an aesthetic consideration and a driver of mood / feelings. 

Although we’re pleased to see that Melbourne still makes the top five of the Monocle list, something more interesting can be observed about the list as a whole. Big economic powerhouse and cultural cities appear in the upper reaches; Paris, Hong Kong, Madrid, Berlin, Singapore and Tokyo - which tops the list and is another favourite haunt of the Stancombe team - score very, very highly; perhaps a truer reflection of liveability from a people and community perspective rather than an economist’s perspective.

Blending qualitative factors with quantitative ‘hard’ metrics will always give us a truer picture of liveability – some thing we’re very conscious of in our own work in this area. We think that Paris, rightly, should trump Calgary, and New York, rightly, should trump Zurich, but then we like to be in the thick of things. And Sydney – which is our agency hometown – we think should always rank highly in the liveability stakes. It is truly a fabulous, vibrant yet relaxed place to live, work and play.

Stancombe are always interested in the latest Liveability indexes. Why? We’re involved in developing an index in Australia that is used to measure the liveability of communities within our major urban centres. Naturally, we take a holistic approach, blending soft qualitative factors with hard quantitative factors to give great insights into the liveability of many of these new communities. It is proving to be a great barometer of liveability and of what factors truly contribute to a strong sense of belonging and community.