Global attention focuses on what make cities liveable

City lights today beckon not just adventurous youth. The comforts and conveniences of an age of technology tug at the not-so-young as well. As journalist and urban activist Jane Jacobs said, “Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.”

The quiet revolution sweeping across the US today is as life-changing as the demographic tumult of the era of baby-boomers. When the soldiers came home and new families mushroomed everywhere, the nation responded by creating more livable communities to suit everyone. There was an economic regeneration with building of new schools, and extensive investment in teacher training, public health and transportation.

The demographic changes today are as dramatic, with the baby-boomers reaching retirement age. These days, 10,000 people in the US turn 65 daily. For the first time in US history, the 65-plus population may overtake the 15-and-below population. Furthermore, 90% of 65-plus population wish to remain in their current homes and communities, and are seeking new ways to align their lives with where they live. In other words, they are seeking to redefine what “a liveable community” is for them.

A genuinely liveable community is one where people of all ages, from the youngest to the oldest, can live in comfort and content. Affordable housing helps young professionals live close to their places of work and retired seniors to live in their long-time homes. Consistently repaired sidewalks and thoughtfully provided crosswalks are a boon to the elderly and parents with strollers, while reliable public transport helps the elderly to be mobile. A quality health system helps every demographic level to lead a productive and healthy life. AARP, America’s largest non-partisan nonprofit focused on empowering the 50-and-older people, over two years ago, launched an online tool to check the liveability score of any location in the US. It is an index that makes for better understanding of communities, and to identify which ones need funding and assistance to enhance their liveability.

In the meantime, over half the people on earth now live in cities. According to United Nations forecasts, over two-thirds of the world’s people will live in cities by 2050. According to the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), North and South America are the most urbanized regions, with just above 80% of their residents living in cities. Europe has a little over 70% of its population living in cities. While Asia and Africa have around 40% of their population living in cities, however, both continents are experiencing unparalleled rural migration into cities.

Furthermore, during the last ten years, Germany, Denmark and Sweden have achieved world leadership status in areas of community planning and development. They have constructed state-of-the-art green buildings, incredible bikeways, roads and highways, internationally-publicized pedestrian-only shopping zones, glorious parks and leisure centers. Copenhagen, Oslo and Stockholm were included with 27 other cities in the 2009 European Green City Index. The Green City Index measures cities on 30 indicators and covers carbon dioxide emissions, energy, buildings, land use, transport, water and sanitation, waste management, air quality and environmental governance. The European Commission (EC) introduced the European Green Capital Award (EGCA), (the 10th time around), to reward cities for their efforts at introducing positive change in urban environments. The EC also introduced the European Green Leaf Award (EGLA) in 2015, to recognize the work of smaller cities for a sustainable environment.

So, what makes a city liveble? Professor André Sorensen, chair of the Department of Human Geography at the University of Toronto Scarborough, said, “There’s a whole range of income levels in any city. Rich people can pretty well buy the liveability they want, so you have to look at lower-income levels, where people have less capability to do it themselves.”

The Global Liveability Ranking is an EIU rating that assesses locations around the world that provide the best and the worst living conditions. Each city is assigned a score for over 30 qualitative and quantitative factors across five broad categories of Stability, Healthcare, Culture and environment, Education and Infrastructure. The city of Melbourne in Australia has been ranked as the World’s Most Liveable City for seven consecutive years from 2011-2017. Earlier, the city of Vancouver in Canada was given this honor from 2002-2010. The ranking changed because of a highway being closed on Vancouver Island.

An analysis of liveability definitions used in Australian academic publications shows several critical factors denote liveable communities. For instance, residents need to feel safe, socially connected and included. There needs to be environmental sustainability. Residents also need to have access to affordable and diverse housing, efficient public transport, walking and cycling infrastructure to employment, education, local shops, public open space and parks, health and community services, leisure and culture.

Architect and New Urbanist, Steve Mouzon assessed this well, when he said, “The recovery of sprawl to vibrant places is literally our generation’s greatest challenge.”

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