The School of Public Policy Report: Livability Rankings - Canadian Cities Should Ignore Them

CALGARY, June 4, 2015 /CNW/ - Politicians are big fans of quality-of-life rankings whenever their cities earn a top spot. But why can a city be ranked #3 on one list and #33 on another, within the same year? How is this possible? The fact this occurs, is evidence of just how varied and misleading these rankings are. Made from a blend of data and feedback and sometimes relying heavily on "good-natured, frequently late-night and jetlagged debate," these rankings are impacted by which cities are selected, which data are used, and how the data are organized and weighted. Even amongst the rankings, agreement on what constitutes "livability" is a point of contention.

A communiqué released today by The School of Public Policy and author Brian Conger exposes livability rankings for what they are - a subjective hierarchy that should never be used to inform urban policy. According to Conger "Local governments adopt policies and use the rankings to justify them.  Politicians may not want to do in-depth analysis to really gauge if the policies they are enacting are actually working for the best interest of the public- they use these rankings as a quick barometer of success and ignore the rankings that don't support them."

When cities celebrate their place on these indexes, it is frequently the narcissism of small differences. In the Economist Intelligence Unit's 2014 Liveability Ranking, there is a scant 1.8 per cent difference between top-ranked Melbourne's overall score and that of 10th-place Auckland. In fact, nearly half the cities ranked (64 of 140) had scores above 80 per cent, meaning they present "few, if any, challenges to living standards." The upshot, of course, is that "liveability", as defined by The Economist, is biased toward those cities that are the least challenging for residents. That hardly qualifies one as an exceptional city, let alone the "best" of anything. It simply means the most livable city is not necessarily the 'best', simply the least challenging in which to live.

Some of these rankings were created with the explicit intention of assisting businesses in assigning compensation for expatriate workers. They have quickly become something more. Lists designed for specific audiences and uses, have become a promotional tool for publicity-hungry and somewhat self-conscious cities. When tailored to a particular niche audience such as  grad students or retirees — they can be useful. But the temptation to use these lists to develop public policy must be avoided. The reality is that the quality or "livability" of a city is very much a matter of personal preference.

The paper can be downloaded at

SOURCE The School of Public Policy - University of Calgary

For further information: Media Contact: Morten Paulsen, 403.399.3377,


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