A new report from the Economist Intelligence Unit reveals that many cities have become less livable since the worldwide economic downturn in 2009. However, the cities that ranked high were almost the same as in past years, showing that once a high level of livability is achieved, it can usually be maintained. The reverse is also the case — unlivable cities have an increasingly hard time improving. Japanese cities need to learn from both categories.
It is perhaps no surprise that midsize cities in richer countries with low population density are regularly ranked as the most livable. No Japanese city reached the higher ranks.
However, Japanese cities were also less livable because of low levels of culture and leisure activities, as well as crowded infrastructure. Even parts of life like education, which received a relatively positive score in Tokyo, for example, remains expensive for most people.
Australian and Canadian cities took top honors. Among European cities, Vienna, in second place, and Helsinki, in eighth, reached the top 10.
Melbourne was first, with Canada’s Vancouver in third and Toronto in fourth. Adelaide and Calgary were ranked evenly in fifth, with Sydney and Perth in seventh and ninth respectively. Auckland ranked 10th.
No Asian, African, South American or Middle Eastern city ranked well, according to the Economist magazine’s analysis unit. Over the past several years, many cities around the world were increasingly affected by civil unrest and conflict.
The livability of cities such as Kiev, Moscow and St. Petersburg were affected by events in Ukraine, for example. Civil unrest in Thailand deeply affected Bangkok’s life, with instability there a factor detracting from comfort and security.
Worldwide, civil unrest and conflict started to displace terrorism as factors worsening living conditions. More than 50 cities slipped in the ratings over the past four years although the majority of cities have largely stayed in their positions over the last several years. Six of the least livable cities were located in Africa and two others in South Asia.
Large cities such as Tokyo, Osaka and Yokohama should be spending more to ensure that the quality of life for more people is at a higher level. At least some of the massive Olympics budget, for example, could be directed toward improving long-lasting infrastructure and services that make life better for most people.
Tokyo may never be able to offer the kind of lovely coffee houses Vienna has or offer the nearby outdoor activities that Canadian and Australian cities boast, but making cities livable should be one of the main priorities of the local governments of Japan. The relative affluence and stability to produce world-class cities is there, but the political will is not.