The world liveability rankings, as decided by The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), came out again in August.

The EIU, a division of the magazine, The Economist, is not the only company that sees fit to judge ‘liveability’.

Everyone and their dog is ready to pronounce judgement on the liveability of the world’s cities. The style mag, Monocle, and the business one, Forbes, also feel qualified to make such decrees.

No wonder. Liveability rankings make headlines around the world.

However, there is not much coverage about how these magazines arrive at such sweeping judgements as ‘most liveable’.
Although the EIU makes its criteria known, it’s not widely reported. This news story on the ABC’s website has the report embedded. Bravo. You can read them all at the end of this story.

What is included in the liveability criteria?

But for an architect or an urban planner, it’s hard not to see a glaring omission; the quality of the built environment doesn’t seem to matter to liveability.

Yes, there is mention of good quality roads, public transport, housing, and ‘international links’ (meaning airports, I guess).

But where are the parks, the footpaths and bike paths, the public buildings (not even under the cultural category), the quality of our work environment?

How many of us love our cities for their natural features: creeks and rivers, oceans and bays, hills and mountains? These do not get a mention, either.

Sustainability also doesn’t get a rating. What about reducing greenhouse gas emissions and other pollution, preserving trees and nature, and creating places to explore and exercise? These don’t get a guernsey, as far as I can see.
In Australia, we are lucky to have a tool that provides better insights. Victorians are the only ones with access at the moment. It’s called Community Indicators Victoria (CIV), and it is the brainchild of Professor Billie Giles-Corti and her 17-strong team at McCaughey VicHealth Community Wellbeing Unit.

Better measures

For the past 15 years, Professor Giles-Corti researched how environmental factors contribute to community wellbeing and influence our physical, social and mental health.

At the CIV website, Victorians can generate a report for the area they live in, and compare it to others.

I particularly like the CIV criteria for wellbeing, which you can read in detail here (link removed). There is a whole category called ‘Sustainable Built and Natural Environments’, which includes:
These criteria are created from a strong basis of research by a team that does not look for headlines, but outcomes. Using these criteria to guide the quality of life in any city or country town will deliver outcomes.

  • Open space
  • Housing
  • Transport accessibility
  • Sustainable energy use
  • Air quality
  • Water
  • Waste management
  • Biodiversity

We now recognise that the quality of ‘place’ itself has a value, socially, sustainably and economically. And these are the foundation elements of a productive and attractive environment in which to live. In other words, the foundation of liveability. Hames Sharley is undertaking research to find a measure of the value that this quality of place delivers.

For everyone, the selection criteria of liveability vary a little. Some people move cities or even countries for jobs and lifestyle. Even at the other end of the scale, when people are forced to be refugees, they want to make a choice about where they live.

It’s pleasing that these ratings have raised awareness of the qualities that make cities more liveable and loved, and they have created aspirations to do better, and to benchmark and compare our cities.

It is good that two Australian cities, Melbourne and Adelaide, are regularly included in the top five most liveable cities. Port Moresby and Lagos, Nigeria, are regularly assessed among the five least-liveable cities.

As good or as bad as they are, people still call them home.

How the EIU Liveable Cities rating is calculated

Categories for how the EIU Liveable Cities rating is calculated

Source: The Economist Intelligence Unit: A Summary of the Liveability Ranking and Overview, August 2015.

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