Urban Transformation

These are the world’s most liveable cities

Rowers train at dawn on the Yarra River in Melbourne January 24, 2012.

Rowers train at dawn on the Yarra River in Melbourne. Image: REUTERS/Toby Melville

Alex Gray
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Cities and Urbanization

Melbourne is the world’s most liveable city for the sixth year running. That’s according to The Economist Intelligence Unit Global Liveability Ranking 2016.

Melbourne scored 97.5 out of a possible 100. Vienna came second with 97.4, and Vancouver third with 97.3.

The ranking is based on an assessment of which cities around the world provide the best or the worst living conditions. Points are awarded across five categories – stability, healthcare, culture and environment, education and infrastructure.


Two other Australian cities, Adelaide and Perth, appear in the top 10 at fifth and seventh place. Canada also performed well, with Toronto and Calgary appearing fourth and joint fifth. Aside from Vienna, the only other European cities to make the top 10 were Helsinki and Hamburg, at ninth and tenth respectively. No cities in the United States, Africa or Asia made it into the top 10.

Those that score best tend to be mid-sized cities in wealthier countries with a relatively low population density. For instance, six of the top 10 scoring cities are in Australia and Canada, which have, respectively, population densities of 3.1 and 3.9 people per square kilometre. These densities compare with a global (land) average of 57 and a US average of 35.

Least liveable cities

The least liveable city was Damascus in Syria, with a score of just 30.2, due to the ongoing civil war in the country. The second least liveable city was Tripoli in Libya with 35.9 points, a city which has seen an escalation in hostilities in recent years. The third least liveable city was Lagos in Nigeria, which has seen a continued threat from groups like Boko Haram and scores only 36 points.

Over the past five years, the cities of Damascus and Kyiv suffered the biggest decline in liveability score, losing 26.1 points and 25.1 respectively. All of these scores show how levels of conflict are a key factor in determining the overall living conditions of a city.

But warzones are not the only places scoring badly. The US city of Detroit, which scores poorly at 57, had the third largest decline, with a loss of nearly six points. This city is also the third US city to feature in a ranking citing the most violent cities.

What do the five categories look at?

Points for stability are given through assessments of the prevalence of petty or violent crime and the threat of terror or military conflict.

Healthcare looks at the availability and quality of public and private healthcare, as well as general healthcare indicators adapted from the World Bank.

Culture and environment takes into account things like weather conditions, social or religious restrictions, corruption, and the availability of consumer goods and services. It also looks at cultural and sporting availability. Reflecting its position at number one, Melbourne won Sporting Capital of the Year in 2016 and is well-known as Australia’s capital of culture.

Education and infrastructure look at the availability of education, both public and private, and the quality of transport including international links. Infrastructure also includes the availability of good quality housing and utilities provision.

What cities appear in the ranking?

There are 140 cities included in the ranking. Those chosen are based on the cities or business centres that people might want to live in or visit. The list does not include locations such as Kabul in Afghanistan and Baghdad in Iraq, due to ongoing conflict in those areas. Although Damascus and Tripoli feature in the list, they were deemed relatively stable just a few years ago.

Large and successful cities such as New York, London, Paris and Tokyo tend not to make it into the top 10 because all suffer from high levels of crime, congestion and public transport problems that bring down their environment scores and their scores for transport.

Global threat of terrorism

Chief among the changes cited in the report over the past five years is the increasing threat of terrorism to stability. Sydney, for example, has fallen out of the 10 most liveable cities because of a heightened perceived threat of terrorism. Paris, which has seen several terrorist attacks in the last year alone, suffered a nearly four point loss in score. Thirty-five of the cities surveyed, or 25%, have had their scores change in the past year, the majority of which (39) were a lowering of the score.

Overall, the global average liveability score has fallen by 0.9% to 74.8% over the past five years, and one-quarter of this decline has come in the past year.

Watch the 'Active by Design: Living in the City of the Future' session from the World Forum on Sport and Culture; Co-Creation, Co-Growth for Tokyo 2020 and Beyond here.

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