Every year, the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) conducts a survey of 140 of the world’s major metropolises in order to determine which is the ‘most livable’. This is great and all, but what factors contribute to determining that any given city is in fact ‘livable’? It seems like quite a subjective element upon which to measure a city’s value. For example, younger people might put a higher value on nightlife and restaurants, while older folks might prefer a city with quieter neighbourhoods and more parks. And if a city is strong on all of these factors, how does that make it more livable?
Well, initially the EIU’s Liveability Ranking and Overview survey was created as a gauge for employers when assigning ‘hardship allowances as part of expatriate relocation packages’, and it was never intended to become a barometer of a city’s quality of life, nor some sort of fashionable bragging rite. Though not surprisingly, over the years some of the more savvy cities have utilized their high rankings as a form of tourism marketing – and it clearly works.
The survey defines livability by the following criteria: stability, health care, education, infrastructure, culture and environment.
Over the past couple of decades, the top 10 has been heavily dominated by both Canada and Australia – two very similar countries who are topping the results for very similar reasons. Both are English speaking, medium sized Commonwealth countries (referring to the fact that their population densities are relatively low, not speaking to their physical size – Canada is the second largest land mass in the world, after all) where all major cities aren’t mega like New York, London, Paris or Tokyo – so things like traffic, access to healthcare and availability of recreational activities are much less restricted.
Topping the list in 2013 is Melbourne, Australia, for the third year in a row – and it’s not Victoria’s capital city’s first time on the list either. Seven of the top 10 cities are from either Down Under or Canada, suggesting either an Anglo centric bias or more simply, that the two countries are just awesome.
Melbourne’s Lord Mayor Robert Doyle called it “a great result for Melbourne, for tourism and for our international education reputation.” Aside from those two factors, here’s a bunch of other reasons why Melbourne is indeed the world’s most livable city.
Melbourne is home to the second largest population of Greeks outside of Athens, and Italian is the second most spoken language in the home after English. So it’s fairly clear that Melbournians take their coffee extremely seriously. Earlier in 2014, Melbourne was judged to have the best coffee in the world via www.booking.com readers, beating out Rome, Vienna and Sydney. The café culture is taken extremely seriously, and this author has intimidated many a barista just for being a Melbournian. Take a stroll down any major street anywhere in the greater Melbourne area, and you’ll be hard pressed not to find quality coffee wherever you go. Lygon St. in Carlton – the birthplace of the local café culture and it also happens to be Little Italy – in particular will blow your mind.
9. Shopping and Restaurants
Whenever celebrities come to town – and these days that’s fairly often – you’ll undoubtedly find them on Chapel St. in South Yarra or Collins St. in the CBD (Central Business District – it’s Australian for ‘downtown’) carrying a ton of bags sporting the symbols of the biggest names in fashion. Melbourne is known for having a strong shopping scene, from the bigger names to the smaller boutiques – you’ll find it all. And alongside the cafes, every major street is teeming with restaurants boasting cuisine from all corners of the planet. From the extensive Chinatown, to the eclectic bohemian vibe of Brunswick St., to the more laid back vibe of Acland and Fitzroy Sts in bayside St. Kilda, whatever you’re pining for you’re sure to find.
Is there anything Melbourne doesn’t want to be best at? The city is considered to be Australia’s ‘premier sports precinct’, with all major sporting arenas situated in a couple of main areas to make everyone’s lives a little easier when getting a dose of the action. Notably, there’s AAMI Park (30,000 capacity) which was created for rugby and soccer; Rod Laver Arena (15,000 capacity) which is the main stadium used for the Australian Open tennis tournament and major concerts; Hisense Arena (10,500 capacity) where all basketball goes down; and the famous Melbourne Cricket Ground (100,000 capacity) where Australian Rules Football, cricket (of course) and very large events (usually U2 concerts) are held.
Much like Montreal, Melbourne has an extensive array of Victorian architecture, cool cobbled laneways and gargoyles on almost every corner. The city is known as ‘the most European city in Australia’, and for good reason. Over the last two centuries, the European settlers truly left their mark via the gothic exteriors, dome ceilings and Masonic floors of many a Melbourne building. Tour guides can be overhead saying things like ‘The grey skies that inhabit Melbourne for half of the year compliment the gothic architecture’ – suggesting that you can take in a bit of history with your latte.
Although Australia is in an almost perpetual state of drought (Melbourne currently has permanent water restrictions), the city has gone to extraordinary lengths to ensure that there are plenty of green spaces available for the good citizens’ enjoyment. Most notable is the Royal Botanic Gardens that has 38 gorgeous hectares of landscaped gardens, man-made lakes, over 10,000 species of plants and a ton of awesome wildlife (including bats!). There’s even a famous running track around the outside of the gardens called The Tan, which is used by professional athletes and amateurs alike. One cool event that happens over summer is the Moonlight Cinema, where an inflatable screen is set up and folks bring their blankets and food and have a picnic under the stars while watching a new release. Good times.
5. Proximity to beaches
Being that every major Australian city is situated directly next to the ocean, if you live in any of the surrounding suburbs you shouldn’t be more than 30 minutes from a beach at all times. Melbourne it situated at the head of Port Phillip Bay, an inlet that extends about an hour and a half drive on either side of the city. On the other side of both peninsulas, you’ll find rocky back beaches where some of the world’s best surfers train. The image of Australia that the world sees – sun kissed, ripped lifesavers with red and yellow caps and zinc on their noses – isn’t exactly representative of every day life but it’s not that far from reality.
There’s almost no time of the year when a festival isn’t happening in Melbourne. Some favorites include the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) in July, the Melbourne International Comedy Festival in March, the Australian Open tennis tournament in January, Moomba (a strange mix of a carnival and water skiing) in March, the Royal Melbourne Show (rides, candy, animals) in September, the Melbourne International Coffee Expo (of course), the Australian International Motor Show, the Spring Racing Carnival (basically 3 months of horse races, culminating in the Melbourne Cup where the entire state gets a public holiday), and the final Sunday of the St. Kilda festival in February at the end of summer is probably the best day of the year, hands down.
3. Night Life
Being the cultural capital of Australia, Melbourne’s nightlife is exceptional. Aside from the fact that if you’re a man and you’re not with a group of women then your chances of getting in to any given venue is slim, the live music scene is awesome every night of the week. There’s a ton of awesome rooftop bars that have been popping up over the past decade or so (Madame Brussels has Astroturf on the patio), some great beer gardens (the Belgian Beer Garden on St. Kilda Rd. is a summer fave), and live venues like The Esplanade (affectionately known as The Espy) and The Prince Of Wales (best in the city) are never empty.
Trams are pretty much like trains that drive on the street, and Melbourne’s system is the largest urban tramway network in the world with 250km of track, 487 trams, 30 routes and 1763 stops (as of 2011 anyway). Trams have operated since 1884 – that’s a loooong time – and they’re by far the easiest and most fun way to get around the city (aside from peak hour of course). They’re constantly extending the network out to the suburbs, and as far as the inner city is concerned, there’s almost nowhere you can’t go via tram. They’re the cleaner, quicker and often safer alternative to the train or the bus but most importantly, trams are quintessentially Melbourne.
As with anything relating to finances, the facts are usually relative to circumstance. Melbourne was rated the equal sixth most expensive city in the world this year, yet the cost of living is in line with that. As of August 28th 2013, the full-time minimum wage in Australia is $16.37 per hour or $622.20 per week. On top of the incredibly high wages, casual works receive an extra 24% ($20.30 per hour) just for being casual, while it’s fairly standard to earn time a half on Saturdays and double time on Sundays. No wonder Melbourne is the world’s most livable city.