On Wednesday the Sydney Morning Herald reported the release of the 2010 Mercer annual quality of living survey with the headline, “Sydney beats Melbourne in world’s top cities league”.
This is not news. Sydney beat Melbourne in the 2009 Mercer survey too. Sydney has stayed in 10th position and Melbourne has “slipped” from 17th to 18th out of 221 cities across the world.
Victorian politicians prefer to reference the annual survey done by The Economist Intelligence Unit. Its 2010 Global Liveability Report ranks Melbourne 3rd after Vancouver and Vienna. Sydney is ranked 7th.
Do these surveys really indicate that Sydney is more “liveable” than Melbourne, or vice versa? No, they don’t.
For one thing, the difference in scores is miniscule. In the Mercer survey, Sydney scored 106 points to Melbourne’s 105. In The Economist’s survey Melbourne scored 97 and Sydney 96.
Clearly rankings give a misleading impression of the two cities relative merits.
These sorts of surveys have been criticised on a number of grounds, including lack of transparency about their methodologies, definitions and quality of data. But that criticism misses the point that they are designed for a different purpose – to assist companies determine living allowances for staff posted to an overseas destination. The lower the city ranks, the higher the compensating allowance. Read the rest of this entry »