Urban Transformation

These are the world's most liveable cities

Vienna has returned to the top of an annual ranking of the world's most liveable cities.

Vienna has returned to the top of an annual ranking of the world's most liveable cities. Image: Photo by Jacek Dylag on Unsplash

Joe Myers
Writer, Forum Agenda
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  • Vienna has returned to the top of an annual ranking of the world's most liveable cities.
  • COVID-19, Russia's invasion of Ukraine and economic challenges are likely to impact liveability over the coming 12 months.
  • Cities' ability to weather and respond to crises is crucial for the global economy and billions of livelihoods.

Vienna is once again the world's most liveable city, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit's (EIU) annual rankings.

The Austrian capital had slipped from the top spot it held in 2018 and 2019 as a result of the pandemic, but the report's authors write that "a rollback of COVID-19 restrictions" has seen the rankings more closely mirror those seen pre-pandemic. Vienna had fallen as far as 12th in 2021, as its museums and restaurants closed.

"Stability and good infrastructure are the city's main charms for its inhabitants," explains the EIU. This is "supported by good healthcare and plenty of opportunities for culture and entertainment".

The 10 most liveable cities

The world's most liveable cities are dominated by Western European and Canadian destinations, with high vaccination rates and the easing of COVID restrictions returning life much closer to pre-pandemic norms.

Copenhagen in Denmark and Zürich in Switzerland complete the top three, while the Canadian cities of Calgary and Vancouver round out the world's five most liveable cities.

However, while the pandemic risk has receded in many cities, Russia's war on Ukraine has had affected this year's rankings. The EIU was forced to abandon its survey in Kyiv, while Moscow and St Petersburg have both slipped. The wider geopolitical risk has also had an influence in other Eastern European cities.

The most liveable cities ranking assesses each city on more than 30 qualitative and quantitative factors across five categories. Ratings are awarded by a combination of expert analysts and in-city contributors and take into account external data points.

This methodology has faced criticism, though, because of the nature of the data and how it's collected.

The world's most liveable cities
2022 top 10 most liveable cities. Image: Economist Intelligence Unit

The biggest risks to liveability

The report's authors caution that the pandemic is not over, with COVID-19 restrictions and the war in Ukraine set to influence liveability over the coming 12 months.

Commodity prices and a cost-of-living crisis are also going to have an effect. The "sharp spike in inflation will put quality of life in many cities at risk", the EIU says. Businesses such as hotels and restaurants that were already weakened by the pandemic could be further strained by rising interest rates and costs, affecting quality of life.


Why it matters

For most of human history, people have lived in small communities, writes Our World in Data. However, in recent decades that's changed very rapidly.

As recently as the 1960s, the rural population was around double that of the urban population, as the chart below shows. However, by 2007 more people lived in urban areas than rural areas – and urban populations are only expected to rise further.

most liveable cities The rural-urban swap.
The rural-urban swap. Image: Our World in Data

Two-thirds of humanity is expected to live in cities by 2050, according to the United Nations. So understanding what makes a city liveable is important on a human level – and impacts the daily lives of billions of people.

However, cities are also economic powerhouses – more than 80% of global GDP is generated in cities, according to the World Bank. They are also major contributors to climate change, consuming nearly 80% of the world's energy and producing more than 60% of its greenhouse gas emissions, the UN says.


What is the World Economic Forum doing to encourage healthy living in cities?

As the World Economic Forum's Centre for Urban Transformation explains: "Cities are on the frontline." How they respond to crises – both now and in the future – will be key to the livelihoods of billions.

Building future-ready and resilient cities is therefore critical.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Related topics:
Urban TransformationHealth and Healthcare SystemsGeo-Economics and Politics
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