The good thing about ‘winning’ the World’s Most Liveable City gong is that it might help market Melbourne to overseas tourists, students, investors and maybe even buyers of our services. Unlike the Grand Prix, it costs us nothing. And while it won’t stop some Melburnians from pissing in trains (like this guy in case you missed him in yesterday’s post), it might give many others greater pride in their city. The thousands of Melburnians who travel overseas for business or pleasure each year can now be ambassadors for their city with this neat and handy marketing tool.
But of course league tables like The Economist Intelligence Unit’s (EIU) annual Liveability Survey are all bunkum and sensible people shouldn’t be sucked in. The EIU’s Survey purportedly provides an objective ranking of world cities based on 58 variables measuring dimensions like political stability, health care, environment, culture, education and infrastructure. However, as I’ve explained before (here, here and here), there are a number of reasons why liveability league tables are best left to the marketeers.
The EIU’s Survey is designed primarily to assist companies with formulating appropriate living allowances for staff posted to overseas cities. These people are transitory and well-heeled – they don’t experience the city like the average permanent resident. They usually rent somewhere convenient and salubrious, so they won’t care too much about high housing prices and inadequacies in outer suburban public transport.
There are also difficult methodological problems involved in arriving at a single summary ranking of a city’s “liveability”. These sorts of surveys typically have lots of variables – some are easy to measure, others are very subjective. The analysts often make the convenient but unrealistic assumption that they’re all of equal value (weight). Not all of them can be ‘added’ together in any meaningful sense, yet they have to be to arrive at a simple league table.
The differences between top cities in these sorts of surveys are in any event miniscule and hence of little consequence. For example, the top five ranked cities in the EIU’s survey all scored 97 points out of 100 (see exhibit) – this would be swamped by the margin of error in the estimates. The EIU acknowledges that “some 63 cities (down to Santiago in Chile) are considered to be in the very top tier of liveability, where few problems are encountered…. Melbourne in first place and Santiago in 63rd place (can) both lay claim to being on an equal footing in terms of presenting few, if any, challenges to residents’ lifestyles”.
Defining “liveability” is itself a difficult challenge (I’ve discussed this before in the context of the ‘Sydney vs Melbourne’ debate – see here and here). The EIU finds the concept so slippery it comes up with this tautology: “The concept of liveability is simple: it assesses which locations around the world provide the best or the worst living conditions”. Arriving at a consensus definition is extremely hard because it depends on a number of factors, like the characteristics of the observer – for example, their ethnicity, their income, their stage in the life cycle and so on. The vibrant centre of Melbourne might add nothing to the city’s liveability for someone who’s elderly, or on a low income, or a member of a cultural group that is under-represented in the city.
It’s not surprising the EIU’s top ten cities seem to be all of a one. They’re all medium sized cities (no megalopolises here), they’re practically all low to middling density, they’re all in first world countries and, with the possible exception of Sydney, they all have cool to cold climates. What seems obvious is that the ranking is shaped much more by the characteristics of the host country than anything else. Factors like political stability, health and education – which loom large in the selection calculus – are pretty much the same whether you’re in Melbourne, Sydney, Perth, Adelaide or Auckland.
I would be more inclined to focus on the attractiveness of a city and measure how sought after it is (perhaps by looking at the difference between wages and housing costs). It’s instructive, I think, that few of the cities in the EIU’s top ten are the sorts of places young people around the world seem to aspire to live in. Let’s be realistic, Australian cities don’t have quite the drawing power of places like London, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Paris.
The slightly different methodology used by the rival Mercer Quality of Living Survey ranks Sydney 10th and Melbourne 18th. This is a big drop in ranking for Melbourne compared to the EIU Survey, but again the difference in ranking is far larger than the difference in absolute scores, which is small. Read the rest of this entry »
The other night my son and I had the pleasure of attending a seminar titled Emotional Cities at the Wheeler Centre, Melbourne’s wonderful cultural institution for discussion of writing and ideas. The seminar was billed, somewhat pretentiously, as an all-star line-up of literary luminaries discussing the “architecture of the mind and the cities that inspire them”. It was actually much better than that.
We heard moderator Louise Swinn in discussion with Matthew Condon, who’s just published a book titled Brisbane, and Kerryn Goldsworthy, who’s about to publish one titled Adelaide. These are two in a series of books on Australia’s major cities published by UNSW Press – others include Sydney (Delia Falconer) and Melbourne (Sophie Cunningham). What a great idea! Regrettably, I haven’t read any of them yet.
One of a number of interesting questions put to the panellists by Louise Swinn was what places in their cities they’d show a visitor. I’m not familiar enough with Adelaide to appreciate Kerryn Goldsworthy’s picks, but I know Brisbane very well. Matthew Condon said he’d show his visitors Brisbane’s Southbank, starting with the new Gallery of Modern Art, moving through the various buildings in the cultural precinct and on to the pools and palm trees opposite the CBD.
This is an interesting way to think about any place. I concur with Matthew Condon. When I lived in Brisbane in the 90s Southbank was a “must see” for visitors – I thought of it as “the people’s five star resort”. The superb GOMA has made it even better and while there I’d throw in a visit to the nearby Grey Street and Roma Street railyards redevelopments. In my view almost any part of inner city Brisbane is worth seeing for those magnificent ridge lines, timber bungalows and fecund sub-tropical gardens. Even the standard of new building and urban design is generally very good.
Yet notwithstanding Brisbane’s wonderful natural and human-made assets, it seems it might still lack something vital for Gen Ys. We recently had a new graduate from Brisbane stay with us for a few weeks. She told us she knew of seven other Brisbanites in their early 20s who’d also moved to Melbourne from the north around the same time. What’s particularly interesting is they’ve ignored the siren call of Sydney, the traditional “greener pasture” for young Brisbanites. It’s about jobs, culture and buzz – Melbourne’s got it, Brisbane hasn’t. Nor, it seems, has Sydney. (And yes, one should be careful extrapolating from the particular to the general!).
What to show a visitor in Melbourne? That will depend on who you are and who they are. Children make an enormous difference to tastes and practicality, as does the age and interests of your visitors. Our Gen Y friend is likely to have different tastes from some of my baby boomer friends. But there are some universals, like the harbour and opera house in Sydney. Read the rest of this entry »
Adelaide is the most liveable capital city in Australia and Sydney is the least, according to a study released earlier this month by the Property Council of Australia.
The Australian reports that Sydney might have the harbour, Opera House and Bondi, but most Sydneysiders live a long way from these attractions in less salubrious places like Liverpool, Strathfield and Penrith.
The Property Council’s study is based on a national sample of 4,072 respondents in the nation’s eight capital cities (with around 600 in each of the four largest cities). They were given 17 attributes of liveability and asked, firstly, to rate them by importance and, secondly, to rate how well their cities perform on each of them. These two dimensions were then combined to produce a ‘liveability score’ for each city.
These sorts of surveys are often problematic and this one is no exception. For example, information on the representativeness of those who actually responded to the survey is scant and some of the attributes are sloppily conceptualised and poorly worded.
So with that caveat, let’s look at what the study found. The aggregate liveability scores of the eight capitals are probably the least useful aspect because the differences are small – Adelaide does best with 63.4 and Sydney does worst with 55.1. Third ranking Melbourne scores 60.9 but sixth ranking Brisbane scores 60.2. Put Sydney aside and there’s not enough in it to be useful.
What’s more interesting is how respondents define liveability. I’ve put the accompanying chart together to show how the five largest capital cities perform in aggregate i.e. Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide (you won’t see this table in the Property Council’s report because I had to correct the figures in the Appendix to the report. Also, make sure to have a look at the full text of the questions).
The first column shows how important respondents think each attribute is for liveability (smaller is better). The second shows what proportion of respondents agree that their city exhibits this attribute. Read the rest of this entry »