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Why Does The Economist's Survey of the Best Cities to Live in Say Protest Is Bad?

Apparently the world is a worse place because of people campaigning against police violence, gentrification or undemocratic governments.

A march for affordable housing in London, which is apparently making the city a much worse place to live (Photo by Chris Bethell)

This month The Economist's Intelligence Unit published their Global Liveability Ranking and Report, which, in their own words, "assesses which locations around the world provide the best or the worst living conditions." You get the idea: Places like Damascus are not recommended right now, whereas relatively small, wealthy, cities are given top marks.

Using a system that assesses each city's individual stability, healthcare, culture and environment, education and infrastructure, on a spectrum of acceptable, tolerable, uncomfortable, undesirable or intolerable, they have concluded that on average the world is tolerable but slowly getting a bit worse. The world got .33 percent shitter in just one year, so unless things turn around fast, we're on a one-way train toward "uncomfortable".


What is odd about this list – which is, in the main, pretty fascinating – is that it never really clarifies whose liveability it's defining. Liveability is a vague word that doesn't cover more interpersonal matters like personal wealth, creed or sexual orientation. Social and political activism, meanwhile, is roundly punished. At the end of the report, it offers companies a suggested percentage wage increase for those thinking of sending employees to less liveable areas. That gives some clue to who this report is for – well off business people and employers – and fair enough: The Economist knows it's audience and is speaking to them, but why is the list widely reported elsewhere without context? Though not the only list of its type – Monocle and Mercer also publish yearly rankings – the Inteligence Unit's is the most pre-eminent.

The top five cities to live in throughout the world, according to the report, "tend to be mid-sized cities in wealthier countries with a relatively low population density." They are mostly white, mostly rich cities. The top five in order are: Melbourne, Vienna, Vancouver, Toronto and Adelaide (joint 5th).

But while one city may be exceptionally liveable for one person and the fucking pits for another. For example, world number one, Melbourne, is a place feeling less and less like home to its indigenous population.

But if some parts of the population aren't happy, they'd better not complain. One factor – stability – is used to measure both the threat of terrorism and the potential for peaceful protest, a conflation of two very distinct things. Stability is a key factor in the report's assessment of liveability, which makes activism a bad thing. Better for the population to passively accept whatever their governments might want to throw at them rather than having a noisy, inconvenient say of their own.


In the last five years, the world has become 2.2 percent less stable. According to the report, 38 cities have nose-dived. London, Paris, Hong Kong, St. Louis – you-name-it, if its population is making political demands, it has seen a fall in "liveability".

This means world is a less liveable place because black people in St. Louis have decided they're fed up with getting shot by police and treated like criminals. This is paralleled by almost every other major US city, with Detroit falling the furthest – by 5.7 places. If you think about it, this means that protesters are blamed for declining liveability, rather than racist cops.

The planet is also apparently worse off thanks to the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, which swept the city after the National People's Congress applied restraints to universal suffrage. The report does not say that Hong Kong's liveability fell because of anti-democratic legislation and bad governance, but rather thanks to those who protested. This is like a teacher blaming the bullied kid for getting beaten up in a playground.

On the other hand, mainland China is on the up – because people had stopped protesting Japan's claim over the Senkaku islands. The conclusion to all this being, if people protest over anything their city is worse. Please stop trying to improve things because it's making us look bad.

Of course, the very reason protests exist in the first place tends to be that some pressing social concern is making life less liveable for people – from gentrification to police violence.


The survey is still a well-researched and enlightening look at the world as it stands today. But it is also perhaps barometer of how the status quo is slowly falling apart. Just because one list says things are getting worse for some people, doesn't mean the world can't get better for everyone else.


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