Why the ‘best cities to live in’ list rewards the safe and the clean

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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Why the ‘best cities to live in’ list rewards the safe and the clean” was written by Gavin Haynes, for The Guardian on Wednesday 16th August 2017 15.49 UTC

Attention those who have been merely existing in large metropolises: the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) is back with its global liveability survey for 2017.

Melbourne, Vienna and Vancouver (first, second and third respectively) are unchanged from last year. There has been no in-with-a-bullet for Salt Lake City or Kampala. In fact, the top 10 mainly comprises polite Antipodean cities such as Perth, Adelaide and Auckland, and those inside cuddly, US-lite Canada (Toronto, Calgary). Helsinki is in ninth place, but London didn’t make it into the top 50.

Of course, you can poke holes in pretty much any top 50 from Greatest Albums to Best Bonds, but there is something instructive and vaguely dispiriting in how the EIU arrives at its safe, clean version of “best”.

The Economist’s clientele are exactly the people David Goodhart characterised as the “Anywheres” in The Road To Somewhere, his take on the populist revolt that gave us Brexit, Trump and global politics’ present weirdness. Unlike the more geographically immobile “Somewheres”, they are highly educated, highly mobile cosmopolitan globalists, of the kind deposited by huge corporations in Delft or Delaware to run a bureau or consult on a project.

They want to plug-in-’n’-play. The Anywheres are after a city with cycle lanes, botanic gardens and a recently remodelled waterfront quarter with a tranche of restaurants serving “small plates”. They are looking for “culture” as defined by well-endowed arts grants.

In short, it is Secret Cinema as city. Admittedly – and you may think this a disqualifying factor – I have never been to Vancouver, or Melbourne, but I assume both to be full of couples in matching athleisure, mountain-biking home to a well-furnished townhouse to put the juicer through its paces …

The EIU is hamstrung by its own metrics: it uses five categories – stability, healthcare, culture and environment, education and infrastructure – to mark 140 cities out of a score of 100. In the name of science, I would be interested to see what happened if you took “healthcare” out and instead inserted the category, “likelihood of ending up on a roof terrace at 3am smegged out of your bagglebox on carton wine while some joker tries to put Despacito on a portable speaker”.

Few will dispute the civil war strife that lands Tripoli and Damascus at the bottom of the table. But there is clearly a middle ground here when some of the world’s great cities – Rio, Cape Town, Hong Kong, even New York and London – struggle to make an impression on the list.

Proof is that the highest-ranked British city, Manchester, suffered a fall of eight places to 51 because of the Manchester Arena bombing. Terror, it seems, is a downer. Yet anyone who has spent time there knows that nothing makes the place feel more habitable than community in the face of adversity. Sadly, it is a demotic neighbourliness of the Somewheres that the Anywheres, locked behind security doors in the luxury condos built to replace the Haçienda, will never know.

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