Although the well-known expression that “the grass is greener on the other side” refers to the way people tend to perceive something they do not have, sometimes we can take it quite literally, for example when comparing cities based on their livability ranking. According to the recent Economist Intelligence Unit report, the grass is “greenest” in Melbourne, Australia, and that for the seventh consecutive year. Indeed, the top five livable cities remain unchanged from previous years, making Vienna in Austria (2nd); Vancouver (3rd), Toronto (4th) and Calgary (5th , tie) in Canada; and Adelaide in Australia (5th , tie) well-established urban centers to live in.
Although there seems to be quite a bit of stability among the highest-ranking cities, the report indicates that many other places experienced volatility in their rankings. The overall rankings are calculated based on assessments of the cities’ infrastructure, healthcare, culture & environment, education, and stability. Given the latter factor and the generally increasing volatility around the world, the shifts among rankings do not seem surprising. For example, over the past few years several US cities have declined in their rankings and there are no US cities in the top 10 most livable cities. The report authors suggest that civil unrest in the US relates to the Black Lives Matter movement and more recent confrontations around Trump’s presidency. In general, the report indicates that the main destabilizers of recent times were the migration crisis, Brexit, civil wars and terrorism. Naturally, the same factors that undermine stability ratings can also influence other categories such as infrastructure or recreational activities, as the authors argue. Ukraine’s capital, Kiev, for instance, although slowly recovering from its livability decline, is still positioned among the 10 bottom-ranked cities and holds lower than medium scores (< 50) not only on stability, but also on infrastructure and culture & environment indicators.
Viewing destabilizing events such as terrorist attacks as core influencers of livability ratings does not convince everyone, though. A recent Guardian article, for example, questions the credibility of linking terrorism to living conditions, looking specifically at Manchester. Support for this criticism comes from Richard Barrett, director of the Global Strategy Network and a former head of global counter-terrorism at MI6, who highlights that one terrorism incident does not mean there will be another, while the absence of terrorist attacks does not guarantee a safe future, something I sadly experienced in my home town Barcelona. I personally agree that given the ongoing spread of the terrorism threat, it would not take much to see more and more cities lose in their livability scores… At the same time, all the other criteria for good living, such as education or healthcare, or population resilience to global threats on that matter, could be developing and improving on their own…
Coming back to the report assessment, though, the overall report numbers indicate that the average global stability score has fallen by 2% over the past five years, driving a decrease of the global average livability score by 0.8%. On a more positive note, there are some promising movements. In comparison to the previous year’s report, 12 cities have improved their rankings, with Amsterdam, Reykjavik, Budapest, Singapore and Montevideo among those. The report authors propose an interesting correlation, namely, that higher-scoring cities tend to be mid-sized, located in wealthier countries and with relatively low population density. I doubt though that this would affect how multinationals plan, let alone change their foreign market entry decisions and their overall global footprint.
All in all, I view the report as another approach to assessing different destinations and accounting for different factors. I believe that the report can be of great help to multinationals by providing more insights for designing hardship allowances.