City Index (Part 2)

In City Index (Part 1) two leading city liveablity indexes were compared, revealing that they measure liveability according to expatriates and not the local residents.  This measurement tool of course is problematic and led me to search for other ways to compare cities.

If liveablity, as defined by the Economist and Mercer, is the not the best measure, what other factors should we use to more holistically compare cities?

The Philips Livable Cities think tank, has identified three important ingredients for a liveable city: Reliance, Inclusiveness and Authenticity (click on the image to above view the larger infographic).  Although they have not used their ingredients yet to compare cities their website provides a series of interesting blogs and research articles on liveability.

Knight Frank and Citi Private Bank’s Global Cities Index combines economic activity, political power, quality of life and knowledge and influence to rank cities.  The objective of this index since its creation in 2008:

has been to assess key markets across the world in terms of their provision of investment opportunities and their influence on global business leaders and the political elite.

and the goal of their measurement:

to create the most rounded assessment of the locations that matter to the global tribe of footloose wealthy and influential High Net Worth Individuals…

Of course “high net worth individuals” do not take into account the majority of urban residents, but if these cities are attracting the powerful, wealthy, mobile populations they are probably also providing jobs for migrants that are less well off.  Overall this survey shows an “ongoing West-to-East shift” in economic might and political power.  Although it is important to note that the west dominated quality of life in this survey like previous indexes.  Interesting enough this report also projects the leading cities in ten years.  The results: the increasing importance of Asian cities.  (Read the entire report in the 2011 Wealth Report.)

Another reputable source for measuring cities does not ranks cities, but it does highlight measurements that try to understand the physical structure of cities,  culture and economic lives of all of their residents. The Endless City, a book by the London School of Economics Urban Age Project, “details an authoritative survey of cities now and the prospects for our urban future.”  The book is filled with data comparing six cities: New York, London, Shanghai, Johannesburg, Mexico City and Berlin.  The cities are compared based on:

  • Size – population
  • Density – average density people/km2
  • Housing – average rent per month in US$
  • Income – GDP per capita in $US
  • Wealth – working time required in minutes to buy 1 kg of bread
  • Travel – average cost of public transport ticket in US$
  • Crime – murder rate per 100,000 inhabitants
  • Energy – kWh per capita per year
  • Water – liters per capita per day
  • Age – average age

The point of this book though is less about comparing cities and more about emphasizing the global natural of cities today.  As Kees Boermaa quotes Saskia Sassen in a book review “the global city is no isolated, stand alone phenomenon, ‘global cities are just nodes in global networks.’”

Perhaps then an ideal tool for measuring cities should not rank and compare them at all, but instead study the global nature of cities.  As our cities become increasing connected they somehow also develop into authentically separate places.  And for those of us that are blessed enough to choose which of these great cities we would like to live isn’t it important for us to live in a place that is both unique and connected to the rest of this urbanizing world?

– Melissa



  1. Pingback: Urbanization News May 13 | Encountering Urbanization

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