What is the Global Liveability Index and why is everyone talking about it?

Last week the Economist Intelligence Unit released its Global Liveability Index for 2019, and Australia can certainly be proud of ranking so highly in the world’s most liveable cities. We can be proud that Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide all ranked in the top ten. With Perth coming in at 14th and Brisbane at 18th, having 5 capital cities in the top 20 should be viewed as an amazing feat!

But why was Brisbane below these other capitals? Could it be that the judges visited Brisbane in summer and arrived on an extremely humid and sizzling day and just jumped back on the plane, crossing Brisbane off their top 10 list for another year?

Let’s drill down on the details and explore why our cities ranked where they did in the top 10 and the reasoning behind what the report actually means.

The results

City Rank Overall Stability Healthcare Culture & Environment Education Infrastructure
Vienna 1 99.1 100 100 96.3 100 100
Melbourne 2 98.4 95 100 98.6 100 100
Sydney 3 98.1 95 100 97.2 100 100
Osaka 4 97.7 100 100 93.5 100 96.4
Calgary 5 97.5 100 100 90 100 100
Vancouver 6 97.3 95 100 100 100 82.9
Toronto 7 97.2 100 100 97.2 100 89.3
Tokyo 8 97.2 100 100 94.4 100 92.9
Copenhagen 9 96.8 95 95.8 95.4 100 100
Adelaide 10 96.6 95 100 94.2 100 96.4

Reference: The Global Liveability Index 2019 A free overview – A report by The Economist Intelligence Unit

You can see that from the above, both Melbourne and Sydney ranked above Vienna for culture and environment. Everyone from our office agrees that Melbourne is the place to go if you want to experience culture (it’s certainly one of the top 5 things I miss about living in Melbourne). It is fantastic to see so many top scores across the board for our cities, but as you can see all 3 of our top 10 ranked cities, the main downfall was in stability, which is associated to the threat of crime and terror.

Both Sydney and Melbourne ranked highly in the “infrastructure” category. This includes the quality of public transport and roads, international links and quality of water provision and telecommunications. From my own personal experience of living in both Sydney and Melbourne, even though Brisbane isn’t as large as these, our public transport network is fantastic. But perhaps we need to start planning for growth in these areas before it’s too late? The Cross River Rail is one up and coming way that the Brisbane Council is set to try and alleviate some of the transportation stress that we are feeling.

Researcher Insight

Every city is assigned a rating of “relative comfort” for over 30 qualitative and quantitative factors across all five categories (which are all extremely broad). Each factor in a city is rated as acceptable, tolerable, uncomfortable, undesirable or intolerable. For qualitative indicators, a rating is awarded based on the judgment of in-house analysts and in-city contributors – not by the general public who live in those cities. For quantitative indicators, a rating is calculated based on the relative performance of a number of external data points so numerical data and statistics that they have accumulated.

“What’s important to remember is that the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Index is a composite rating made up 30 indicators, with only four of them being quantitative,” says Dr Lucy Gunn, a Research Fellow in the Centre for Urban Research at RMIT. “The rest of them are based on a rating from the EIU itself so there’s almost no objectivity in the development of this index, and it’s really just a marketing tool to help executives understand, in a broad sense, a city’s living conditions.”

With most of Australia’s capital cities ranking in the top 20 we Brisbanites shouldn’t be disheartened whatsoever. I believe that there are a lot of other factors that should be taken into account like walkability, community, cycling, amenities for daily requirements even a happiness indicator which could only come from more quantitative research performed on residents of those cities.

“Understanding what constitutes a liveable city is much more complex than the opinion of the EIU, which is what ultimately influences this liveability index,” says Dr Gunn.

It is interesting to note that the cities within the top ten have remained unchanged from the previous year but there has been movement between the rankings of those cities. Sydney rose from fifth to third, with an improvement in the culture and environment score as the EIU took into account Sydney’s focus on combating climate change in their “Sustainable Sydney 2030” strategy. As the report states, climate change threatens the liveability of cities and this will in turn be reflected in the culture and environment category in years to come.

It’s all in the details

Created in 1946, The Economist Intelligence Unit (The EIU) is the research and analysis division of The Economist Group. The Economist ranks 140 major cities annually by averaging the results of five different metrics in 30 indicators to assess which locations provide the best or the worst living conditions to help businesses, financial firms and governments better understand how the world is changing and how it then creates opportunities and manage risks.

The five different metrics that the cities are scored with are:

Stability (25% weighting) – including the prevalence of petty and violent crime, the threat of terror, and the threat of military conflict, threat of civil unrest/conflict

Healthcare (20% weighting) – including the availability and quality of private and public healthcare, over-the-counter medication, general healthcare indicators

Culture and environment (25% weighting) – including Humidity/temperature rating, Discomfort of climate to travellers, level of corruption, Social or religious restrictions, level of censorship, Cultural availability, food and drink, Consumer goods and services, sporting availability

Education (10% weighting) – including the availability and quality of private education, Public education indicators

Infrastructure (20% weighting) – including the quality of road network, public transport, international links, the availability of good quality housing, telecommunications, water and energy provisions

What is the reason for this report?

This report was initially created for companies to work out how much they would pay an allowance (usually a percentage of a salary) to employees who move to cities where living conditions are particularly difficult and there is excessive physical hardship or a notably unhealthy environment. This report then gives a suggested allowance to correspond with the rating. It is then up to the company policy to decide how much they will in fact pay to their staff to move to the location.

There is no freely available information about the EIU’s in-house expert country analysts and field correspondent based in each city or their qualification, why the categories were chosen to represent liveability, or how indicators in a category are weighted.

Can you buy a copy of the report?

Apart from the free version you can obtain online from their website, you can obtain a more detailed report. This will set you back US$620 and the actual data US$9,210 which includes a one page overview for each of the 140 cities as well as their ratings on the full set of over 30 qualitative and quantitative factors.

Closing Note

Just being at the top of this list (even though we are all a little competitive) doesn’t mean that more people are going to want to move to Melbourne over Sydney. Our government should focus on creating and implementing policies that improve the liveability of cities for residents and future planning for infrastructure and the environment with our growing population which will be key to helping create the quality of life that we expect now and for future generations.

And Brisbane, unfortunately, going by the culture and environment metric indicators, you’re dragging the team down with your humidity factor. So you need to work on that.

Written: 18 September 2019, Updated: 30 January 2020

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