Top Ten surveys, even when they try to be scientific, always have a high degree of arbitrariness. But the residents of Vancouver, British Columbia, have grown accustomed to seeing their city at the top of worldwide rankings of urban livability, and they're chagrined to see it slip to third place on the latest Livability Ranking produced by the Economist Intelligence Unit.
They have good reason to doubt the ranking's veracity.
The Vancouver Sun notes that according to the new survey, Melbourne, Australia, has captured the No. 1 position, and Vienna, Austria, has gained second place, though the numbers were extremely close. Melbourne scored just two-tenths of a percentage point higher than Vancouver.
A chief reason for Vancouver's loss of position, according to The Economist, was traffic congestion. The Sun reported:
"Vancouver has seen increased [traffic] congestion in the surrounding area," said Economist analyst Jon Copestake. Ongoing upgrades to Highway One and the resulting delays for commercial traffic and commuters were a factor in the lower ranking, he said.
The report specifically cites lengthy closures on Vancouver Island's Malahat highway as a reason for a 0.7-per-cent decline in Vancouver's overall livability rating ....
Copestake's explanation set off widespread derision in the Vancouver area, for the simple reason that the Malahat Highway isn't in the City of Vancouver. It isn't even on the British Columbia mainland, where Vancouver is the principal city. Rather, it's on the island where the provincial capital, Victoria, is situated.
According to The Sun:
Copestake explains the seemingly dramatic effect of the Malahat highway closure thus: "When we compile the scores, we look at the area around a city as well as the city itself for assessing indicators. For example, congestion on the M25 is an indicator of problems in London's transport infrastructure. So we used the Malahat highway as an example of this for Vancouver."
That reasoning seemed far-fetched to many people in British Columbia. But Brent Toderian, in a discussion with New Urban Network, found fault especially with The Economist's apparent belief that free-flowing highway traffic is an indicator of a city or a region's quality of life.
Said Toderian: The justification for the drop in ranking "illustrates the hole in the economists' thinking on livability, and the irony that they don't get the counter-intuitive Vancouver model, which is to NOT address car congestion but rather emphasize livability through active transportation modes in part through the 'congestion is our friend' approach."
Vancouver has put its emphasis on mass transit (recently building a new subway from downtown to the airport, for example), bicycling, walking, and generally on ways of getting around that don't degrade the things that make a city enjoyable. Toderian says that "far more people are walking, biking and taking transit (which greatly affects real livability) and using former streets as great public places."
He further notes that the city is now working on its transprtation plan, in which "managed congestion is an important part of the discussion." To Toderian, the latest survey raises questions about "the credibility of these folks" at the Economist Intelligence Unit.
For what it's worth, here's the full Top Ten list: