By Geoff Olson
Last week, the “Intelligence Unit” of The Economist ranked Vancouver as the third most livable city in the world. Melbourne came in at number one and Vienna at number two.
Our city has achieved first-place ranking in The Economist’s little black book multiple times since 2005. But this year, it’s as if the magazine gave a long-stemmed rose to a Lululemon-wearing, Grind-crazed bachelorette, but then forced her into a group date with those uppity beyotches, Vienna and Melbourne.
Perhaps you’re feeling a bit confused. Isn’t Melbourne the Calgary of Australia? And what’s Toronto doing at number four in The Economist’s civic beauty pageant? And why is Calgary at five?
It’s complicated. The Economist ranks world cities from zero to 100 in 30 categories, including stability, health care, culture, environment, education, and infrastructure (no comportment or swimsuit category). Famous for exporting Nick Cave and Dame Edna Everage, Melbourne netted perfect scores of 100 in several of these categories in last year’s liveability index. This is her moment in the sun – again. In your face, Sydney.
The Economist’s Liveability index is hardly without value, but personally I’m not prepared to take these annual ratings much more seriously than when Rolling Stone magazine devotes an issue to the 100 best hairband albums of the eighties.
To give just one example, the comparatively poor performances of London and New York in the index is mainly attributed to their “stability scores”, which are low because of a perceived terrorism risk. But considering pedestrian fatalities are on the rise in the latter, New Yorkers are likely in greater danger from Dodge Journeys than jihads.
The gnomes at The Economist’s “intelligence unit” work with sharp-edged economic and civic metrics, leaving fluid, subjective factors to painters, poets, and other unreliable authors. Most people would describe Paris as a far more inspiring place that fourth-place winner Toronto, but that sort of sentiment escapes through the Economist’s finely-calibrated mesh like Pinot Noir.
But back to Vancouver, which is world-renowned for being an astoundingly aloof berg. In the first six months of living in this city, a new arrival still has a better chance of being invited to a local’s home for dinner than dying in an aforementioned terrorist attack – but probably not by as wide a margin as they would think. Civic friendliness does not compute in the liveability index.
This city is reportedly home to the world’s second-least affordable housing, and also hosts the largest and poorest postal code in Canada. Plus, it is embedded in a province with the highest rate of child poverty. Yet these questionable rankings haven’t deterred The Economist for booting Michael Buble’s hometown to the top of its Liveability Index for multiple years in a row.
And liveability for who, exactly? Certainly not for middle-class young couples starting families. They have about as much hope of owning a detached home within city precincts as snapping a selfie with a sasquatch. Vancouver’s Olympian real estate prices certainly offers a safe berth for international investment, including laundered drug money, but it’s increasingly unliveable for the kind of people who are more likely to watch HGTV than read The Economist.
Vaguely aware of her shortcomings, our West Coast beauty has morphed into a desperate-to-be-liked, gold-digging bachelorette, who curses Melbourne and Vienna for doing something unmentionable into her shampoo bottle.
Of course, the city’s physical allure has never been in doubt, though that’s mostly because it’s nestled in a mountainous amphitheater with a sandbox strip. For the past ten years, the spectacular setting has been enough to compensate for our civic leaders’ misbegotten ideas of making the city “world class”. But just by a peroxide hair.
Across the city, chief plastic surgeon Gregor Robinson is presiding over the architectural equivalent of porn star makeovers, with neighbourhood low-rises replaced with sky-scraping bazookas. Overseas pre-sales of units helps fire speculation by a global investor superclass with a jones for security and scenery. (“Nearly a quarter of condos in Vancouver are empty or occupied by non-residents in some dense areas of downtown,” the Globe and Mail reported in March, 2013.)
I don’t see any of the above factored into the Economist’s long-distance affections. In any case, Melbourne gets the final rose – and at least that has the virtue of dampening all the self-aggrandizing local press about Vancouver being “the most liveable city in the world.”
The Vancouver Courier, Sept. 5