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Sorry Vancouver, Toronto, and Calgary, But 'Most Livable City’ Doesn’t Mean Shit

"Livable" doesn't really mean affordable or fun.

Calgary, 5:05 PM: totally deserted. Photo via Flickr user Teddy Kwok

If you're from Canada, there's a good chance you are living in one of the world's "most livable cities," according to one list or another.

The latest rankings come from the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) and place Melbourne, Australia first, with Vienna, Vancouver, Toronto, and Calgary rounding out the top five.

That list, based on things like stability, healthcare, and infrastructure, is exactly the same as last year and nearly identical to the year before. Nonetheless, it's once again making the rounds on social media, filling locals with haughty smugness, and sparking pissing matches over which of the Canadian darlings is actually best.


This tradition is ridiculous, especially considering the origin of these rankings.

Livability surveys were intended as a corporate tool, a way for businesses to assign salaries to employees being relocated. As for the term "livable," EIU author Jon Copestake told the International Business Times "we try and look at what cities present the fewest challenges in your life." But Copestake conceded those challenges vary greatly amongst different demographic groups. And—this is crucial— "the most livable city isn't necessarily the best city in the world." (This is why New York and Berlin don't make the cut.)

As a 20-something who has lived in Vancouver, Toronto, and Calgary, I tend to agree, and I'd like to point out some of their shared qualities that the Economist may have overlooked.

It looks nice from up here, but it's not like you're flying through Vancouver at a low altitude every night. Photo via Flickr user Stewart Butterfield

They're boring as fuck
My hometown Vancouver is set against a gorgeous mountainous backdrop bordered by the Pacific Ocean; people can hike, ski, and wakeboard all day. But what happens after sunset? Vancouver nightlife is notoriously shitty.

The insanely high land values have, in recent years, been the death knell of the city's few cool cultural institutions, leaving young people with little to do (besides drugs).

"Bars" (typically restaurants with a few black leather couches tossed in) shut down at 1 AM most nights, and clubs are corny and overpriced; long lineups that form as early as 10 PM mean greasing the bouncer is practically a prerequisite.


In Calgary, the nightlife situation is direr still. I spent last summer living downtown, assuming it would be the centre of the action. Evidently, that action (e.g. human beings actually doing things) only takes place from Monday-Friday, 9 AM to 5 PM The rest of the time, with the exception of a couple small strips, the city was dead, its inhabitants having retreated to the suburbs in their shiny trucks.

While it's hard to argue that Toronto is boring, it can be lonely. People flock here for work, but stiff competition for jobs creates a sense of hyper-competitiveness (Toronto has a youth unemployment rate of 17.1 percent), making it difficult to make connections. Just ask this group of straight girls using Tinder to make female friends (they've given up on getting asked out by dudes cause that just doesn't happen here).

Public transportation sucks
Calgarians love their cars, and that's not surprising considering the sprawl overwhelming the city. Aside from the CTrain, there isn't much connecting the outlying areas to downtown.

I once tried walking from work to the nearest lunch spot, only to find it was a 30-minute trek.

Research shows fewer people in the 18-34 demographic are bothering with their driver's licenses, but in Calgary you are pretty much screwed without a car.

As for Toronto's TTC, constant subway and streetcar breakdowns—not to mention decades overdue repair and expansion work—mean commuters are almost guaranteed a delay. People love to hate it so much, they complain about the complaints system.


Between busses, the SkyTrain, and the SeaBus, the handful of Vancouverites who aren't cycling, longboarding, or rollerblading to work can choose from a decent mix of transit options. That may not last long. When recently asked to vote on whether or not to expand these services to accommodate a growing population, greater Vancouverites came back with a resounding no.

Toronto's quaint streetcars both look and run as if they're from the early 20th century. Photo via Flickr user BriYYZ

Vancouver's beauty is in part what makes it one of the costliest places in the country to live. With an average rent of $1,345 for a two-bedroom unit, many young people are forced to live at home with their parents (I did) or in shabby basement suites.

It's no wonder this guy chose to hole up in a van and save cash for a 100-square-foot house. 100 square feet—literally the size of a storage locker.

Meanwhile in Toronto, the 1.9-percent rental vacancy rate means residents are spending half their income on housing.

Rent is cheaper in Calgary, but you'll pay the difference in gas, steaks, and shit you lose at the Stampede—like your marriage.

For the young, broke Canadian there's no easy answer to which city is most "livable." You may as well choose the place that's most fun: Montreal.

(Slowly backs out of room)

Follow Manisha Krishnan on Twitter.