In his famous book Invisible Cities, Italian writer Italo Calvino describes the imaginary journeys of Marco Polo on behalf of the emperor Kublai Kan. While the empire is on the verge of falling, Polo tries to retain the memories of each unique city that he has visited. Soon the description becomes a journey itself, and the journey turns out to be an exploration of the hidden nature of cities.
In doing so, Calvino raises important questions about cities and ourselves. What do the cities where we live say about us? What makes each city different from the other? How do cities relate to memory, desire, and death? What makes them either habitable or unliveable?
One way to answer these questions is by reading Calvino's book. Although, I must warn you that the book might raise even more questions rather than giving you the final solutions you hope to find. The other way to get a good response – a less fanciful and peculiar approach – is by relying on data and statistics. For instance, we could consider looking at the Global Liveability Ranking, set by the Economist Intelligence Unit every year, by examining 172 world cities.
The Global Liveability Index 2022
The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) is one of the brands belonging to the Economist Group, a global media and information services company that claims to exist to champion progress. In particular, the EIU provides advisory services and valuable global forecasting in the country, industry, and management sector through research and analysis. The services provided by EIU assist financial and academic institutions, governments, corporates, and the healthcare sector. In this sense, the goal of these operations is to develop strategic actions in light of a future's growth that starts from an insight into the present.
One of the services that EIU offers is the Global Liveability Ranking. Moreover, the Global Liveability Index aims to highlight the world's most habitable cities yearly, scrutinizing how cities take up citizens' demands, global changes, and environmental urgencies. On this point, the EIU's Liveability Ranking holds the fundamental function of measuring "the challenges that might be presented to an individual's lifestyle in 173 cities worldwide".
The Global Liveability Report 2022: Recovery and Hardship
This year’s Global Liveability Index Report analyses the recovery and hardship following the pandemic. Indeed, it is important to note that the pandemic changed the liveability of many Asian cities that adopted long and strict restrictions. In this sense, the pandemic noticeably affected the outcome of the Global Liveability Ranking. To give but one example, with the end of the limits, Vienna rebounded to first place, the position held in 2018 and 2019, and lost during the pandemic. Vienna has slipped to 12th place in 2021 EIU’s Rankings because of its restrictive measures.
Other relevant global factors that affected the EIU’s Rankings are the war in Ukraine, the inflationary pressures, and the cost-of-living crisis. This explains why Kyiv was withdrawn from the survey, while Moscow and St Petersburg had lower scores due to instability, censorship, and Western sanctions.
The final score each city is given takes into consideration five key indicators, which are stability (25% of total), healthcare (20% of total), culture and environment (25% of total), education (10% of total), and infrastructure (20% of total). In addition, every indicator embraces other subcategories for over 30 qualitative and quantitative factors. Some of the most relevant subcategories are the incidence of violent crime, the temperature rating, the availability of public healthcare, the level of censorship, the occurrence of social and religious restrictions, and the degree of corruption.
Thirty-three new cities have been added to the EIU’S Rankings this year. One-third of them are in China. Many new cities, such as Surabaya (Indonesia) and Chongqing (China), are already regarded as fast-growing business destinations.
As for the top ten, western European cities, along with several from Canada, rule the rankings. Mid-sized cities with few covid restrictions seem to fare well in the survey. Switzerland and Canada have more than one city in the top ten positions. Focusing on the East, Japan and Australia dominate the rankings, with Osaka and Melbourne equal merit in 10th position. Furthermore, Germany and the UK can count on some of the most significant mover cities up the ranking in the past 12 months.
As for the bottom ten positions, the Middle East and Africa’s cities look prevailing. Social unrest, war, and terrorism are the key reasons behind their low scores. Moreover, some of the bottom ten have improved their score in the past year, while others, like Damascus (Syria), Lagos (Nigeria), and Tripoli (Libya), continue to languish at the bottom list.
The Unknown Factor
Even though we tried to answer our starting questions with balanced explanations, it seems like a relevant part of the matter was left behind. A lucid account based on data and research fails to take into consideration what perhaps are the most important elements that bind us to our cities. As Calvino subtly proves in his extraordinary book, cities are not only numbers, infrastructures or services. They are also emotional experiences soaked in special atmospheres, unique memories, and enigmatic paradoxes capable of shaping people’s individualities.
Data and analysis can help us determine the cities’ liveability, but they cannot decide which city is the best for us. Calvino suggests there is no such thing as a perfect city because cities reflect what humans are. This is why the best city, in the book Invisible Cities, is made of “fragments mixed with the rest, of instants separated by intervals, of signals one sends out, not knowing who receives them”. Cities are metaphors for human existence. The only antidote to the inferno of the living – that sometimes matches with the inferno of where we live – is to “seek and learn to recognize who and what, amid the inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space.”
Edited by: Ayona Mitra
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