FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Myth of the Liveable City

by

In 2016, the Melbourne-based Herald Sun claimed with some consternation that Melbourne was “set to lose its status as the world’s most liveable city.” That particular, somewhat meaningless status is granted by that great myth maker, the Economist Intelligence Unit, whose Global Liveability Index tends to deceive rather than illuminate. Not that the Herald needed to worry: Melbourne has retained its mantle, and the propagandists are crowing.

The EIU is far from the only player in this game. Mercer Human Resource Consulting has its own Quality of Living Survey, and titled for Vienna as the place to be in its 18th study last year, giving Baghdad the dirtied wooden spoon.

Yet each year, the party balloons are procured with zombie-like predictability for the victors, a fairly unchanging set at the top featuring Melbourne and Vancouver. That’s provided you follow The Economist the way a follower charges after a sadhu.

This is an exam that has been marked in advance, a decision suitably gamed, Melbourne, this grand sized expensive village, which keeps getting top billing. Not even the Herald Sun, as pointed out by Crikey, was necessarily going to go into much detail as to why Melbourne might risk losing that crown.

The ultimate point here is not whether Melbourne has a left-bank culture to swoon over, or a stunning social scene that will enable punters to trip the light fantastic. The EIU rating system is far more prosaic in purpose, a sort of philistine’s guide book for the corporate traveller and big business.

The point is made by Alan Davies of The Urbanist: “these expatriates are mostly well-paid corporate executives who are far more likely to live in mansions or penthouses than ‘dogbox’ apartments.”3 The suburb will be “up-market”; the drive to work will be luxuriant and distinctly averse to public transport; and health care will be covered, not by the public insurer but a private concern sponsored by the company.

The same goes for the Mercer studies, though the slant there is distinctly towards the European continent. These comb the health, education, housing and economic conditions less from the perspective of the trudging main street citizen than the Wall Street flier who may have to be relocated. Whether a city such as Vienna, long famous for its social housing, gets the nod is less significant than the heft it can muster for employees who relocate.

A neat contrast to the EIU finding for top banana was that Mercer were not taken by the fuss around Melbourne, placing it at a more slumming 15 in the rankings and, horror of horrors, behind Sydney. (A superficial comparison in terms of rentals and living cost give that rating a semblance of plausibility.) Between the EIU and Mercer views lie clear differences of opinion for German speaking cities, with the latter proving most amenable to the Teutonic tongue.

The preponderance of Australian and Canadian cities in the Intelligence Unit’s rankings did prompt a quip from the New York Times: “The Economist clearly equates liveability with speaking English.” The call of those British dominions remains strong for those in the EIU. As the column went on to note, “Health care and education are important, of course, but, except in the choice of Vienna, neither Mercer nor The Economist seem to have put much emphasis on high culture.”

The boom cities, the exciting, hot pot centres (New York, London or Paris) stocked with treasures (more accurately termed loot) of empires, capital and cosmopolitan cultural sets get shoved down the lists for being, unsurprisingly, places of higher crime, crowding and creaking infrastructure. Flushed excitement matters less in these surveys than sober business deals.

Yet a city like Melbourne would be, to anybody mildly acquainted with it, an odd winner in any case, even by some of the criteria these fluff studies insist on using. It certainly riles Brent Toderian, Vancouver’s chief city planner from 2005 to 2012. Those were the days when his city gazed over others in the list.

Toderian, in classic deflating mode, notes that Melbourne has an “outstanding downtown” but fails pretty miserably in the suburbs, which he deems “ordinary or below-average”. In what would surprise some Melbournians, he pours cold water on praise for the “largest tram network in the world”, noting insufficient “land use and density around the trams” to encourage more use. The car, in short, remains king in the suburbs.

Alternative systems of assessing a city’s liveability merit have little room for the likes of Melbourne or Vancouver. Hong Kong, for instance, topped a study by urban planner and architect Filippo Lovato, whose submitted plan won the EIU’s own effort to come up with a new approach to evaluating liveability.

“Hong Kong, the winner,” went the confident Lovato, “is a very compact city that has managed to maintain its natural heritage, create a dense network of green spaces and enjoy extensive links to the rest of the world.” Alien references to any Melbourne of Vancouver resident.

It also followed in Lovato’s study that the Australians and Canadians featured less, and, in true civilizational bliss, European cities romped in. Amsterdam, Berlin and Munich made top ten appearances. But such a model was not, ultimately, embraced by the compilers of the EIU index, who remain stuck to the Melbourne-Vancouver nexus. All ascendant corporate logic promises to prevail, while embracing, in large measure, the hoodwinking philistinism that comes with it.

More articles by:

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

February 21, 2018
Cecil Bothwell
Billy Graham and the Gospel of Fear
Ajamu Baraka
Venezuela: Revenge of the Mad-Dog Empire
Edward Hunt
Treating North Korea Rough
Binoy Kampmark
Meddling for Empire: the CIA Comes Clean
Ron Jacobs
Stamping Out Hunger
Ammar Kourany – Martha Myers
So, You Think You Are My Partner? International NGOs and National NGOs, Costs of Asymmetrical Relationships
Michael Welton
1980s: From Star Wars to the End of the Cold War
Judith Deutsch
Finkelstein on Gaza: Who or What Has a Right to Exist? 
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
War Preparations on Venezuela as Election Nears
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: Military Realities
Steve Early
Refinery Safety Campaign Frays Blue-Green Alliance
Ali Mohsin
Muslims Face Increasing Discrimination, State Surveillance Under Trump
Julian Vigo
UK Mass Digital Surveillance Regime Ruled Illegal
Peter Crowley
Revisiting ‘Make America Great Again’
Andrew Stewart
Black Panther: Afrofuturism Gets a Superb Film, Marvel Grows Up and I Don’t Know How to Review It
CounterPunch News Service
A Call to Celebrate 2018 as the Year of William Edward Burghardt Du Bois by the Saturday Free School
February 20, 2018
Nick Pemberton
The Gun Violence the Media Shows Us and the State Violence They Don’t
John Eskow
Sympathy for the Drivel: On the Vocabulary of President Nitwit
John Steppling
Trump, Putin, and Nikolas Cruz Walk Into a Bar…
John W. Whitehead
America’s Cult of Violence Turns Deadly
Ishmael Reed
Charles F. Harris: He Popularized Black History
Will Podmore
Paying the Price: the TUC and Brexit
George Burchett
Plumpes Denken: Crude thinking
Binoy Kampmark
The Caring Profession: Peacekeeping, Blue Helmets and Sexual Abuse
Lawrence Wittner
The Trump Administration’s War on Workers
David Swanson
The Question of Sanctions: South Africa and Palestine
Walter Clemens
Murderers in High Places
Dean Baker
How Does the Washington Post Know that Trump’s Plan Really “Aims” to Pump $1.5 Trillion Into Infrastructure Projects?
February 19, 2018
Rob Urie
Mueller, Russia and Oil Politics
Richard Moser
Mueller the Politician
Robert Hunziker
There Is No Time Left
Nino Pagliccia
Venezuela Decides to Hold Presidential Elections, the Opposition Chooses to Boycott Democracy
Daniel Warner
Parkland Florida: Revisiting Michael Fields
Sheldon Richman
‘Peace Through Strength’ is a Racket
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: Taking on the Pentagon
Patrick Cockburn
People Care More About the OXFAM Scandal Than the Cholera Epidemic
Ted Rall
On Gun Violence and Control, a Political Gordian Knot
Binoy Kampmark
Making Mugs of Voters: Mueller’s Russia Indictments
Dave Lindorff
Mass Killers Abetted by Nutjobs
Myles Hoenig
A Response to David Axelrod
Colin Todhunter
The Royal Society and the GMO-Agrochemical Sector
Cesar Chelala
A Student’s Message to Politicians about the Florida Massacre
Weekend Edition
February 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
American Carnage
Paul Street
Michael Wolff, Class Rule, and the Madness of King Don
Andrew Levine
Had Hillary Won: What Now?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail