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Vancouver: Most Liveable City in the World?

The Economist has published it’s list of most liveable cities in the world with Vancouver coming top but is it really or is it flawed analysis?

When I went to school my Physics teacher always used to say that when you consider the energy of a system, you need to make you consider all of the inputs and outputs. If you don’t, you won’t get reliable results. And I’ve taken this maxim to heart over the years often applying it to cost models so that when you’re truly calculating the cost of something you compare the cost of everything, i.e. what are the extra costs, or savings, compared to not having it.

In the UK when they decide to perform roadworks they use a cost model, QUADRO used to be the name of ye olde Fortran application. (In fact they still sell it today). You used to feed in the traffic volumes, how many lanes you’d be closing and you could use it to compare one method to another. It worked on the premise that if you delayed somebody on the road by performing roadworks that there was a cost to the nation.

They had a similar approach to road improvement projects using a different application, COBA, but I remember you had to feed in the number of accidents you’d have with the existing and new road configuration. They even knew the cost of a fatal accident on a motorway but it was expressed in total terms, i.e. the cost to the nation. These applications used to define the boundaries of the system as the extremities of the UK which I thought was a novel and highly inclusive way of performing the analysis.

Therefore, I often wonder who defines the boundaries of the models used for these oft-cited reports because Vancouver is not the most liveable city in the world.

The Economist says that they look at five broad categories covering stability, health care, culture and environment, education and infrastructure. Interesting nonetheless but these factors seem to indicative of potential rather than real liveability. According to The Economist we managed a score of 98.0, just 2 points short of the perfect 100. I guess we scored perfectly on everything and must have lost our 2 points on the infrastructure element because our transport system is below what most European cities can provide and remains an Achilles heel, even with all of the planned improvements due to be completed by 2014.

If you’re truly looking at the ‘liveability’ of a city I think you also need to look at living costs and affordability of housing. Living costs for Vancouver are generally good, assuming we take all housing-related expenditure out of the equation. However, we get walloped with our housing costs.

Demographia’s Housing Affordability Survey has Vancouver listed as the 4th most unaffordable city … in the world with a rating of 8.4. This means that the average cost of a house is a 8.4 times greater than the average salary. For reference, the three more costly cities are:

  • Gold Coast, Australia (8.7)
  • Honolulu, USA (9.1)
  • Sunshine Coast, Australia (9.6)

Compared to London (6.9) and its suburbs (6.7) we’re a significantly more expensive city to live in. In fact, British immigrants may want to consider Abbotsford (6.5) or Kelowna (6.8) for a more affordable lifestyle. Canadians have always said BC stood for ‘bring cash’ and this survey supports that claim with Victoria (7.4) also being listed. In fact, the top four cities with the most unaffordable housing are in BC. The highest unaffordable city beyond BC is a tie between Calgary and Toronto with a miserly 4.8.

So if you really want to find the most liveable city in the world, you’d be wise to consider housing affordability in addition to all of those other factors that The Economist believes are valuable.

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