Influenced by the Rio Olympics, I am really proud that the City of Melbourne is going to win the equivalent of a silver (or maybe bronze) medal in the 2016 Economist Global Livability Ranking. Actually, if the 2015 rankings are anything to go by, then Adelaide, Sydney and Perth will also be in the top ten.
Melbourne has come to expect the gold, having been ranked the world’s most liveable city for the past five years in a row. But my RMIT University colleague, Michael Buxton argues that the city may have blown its chances in 2016. A number of issues would explain a drop in the ranking – traffic congestion, long commutes, poorly performing public transport and the growth of high-rise apartments among them. Throw in the homelessness problem and the fact that few young people can afford to buy a house in the city, and Melbourne may have a lot of work to do to regain the top ranking.
Does it really matter?
Maybe we should just ignore the new ranking. I argued a year ago that the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) ranking is not about liveability at all, but is designed to help the human resource managers for transnational corporations determine the compensation paid to their mobile global talent. The ranking tells you very little about living as a local in Melbourne, especially if you don’t have a whole lot of money.
Here is how the rankings compare. Vienna is the clear winner with a strong showing in all three rankings. But hats off to Sydney, the only Australian city to be ranked in the top ten by Mercer, Monocle and EIU.
Principles of Olympism
Perhaps it would be better, however, if we came up with a ranking of our own. So again, taking the Rio Olympics as inspiration, I propose a totally new city ranking – the Liveability Olympics Ranking.
John Oliver tapped into this concern in his sketch on the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil when he explained how he was both excited and conflicted about this event.
John Oliver airs his conflicted feelings about global sport mega-events.
The fundamental problem is that these mega-events put too much strain on cities and divert resources from where they are needed. They are just a major corporatised sales event for big companies and a bucket-list experience for the globe-trotting privileged.
…the huge expenditure involved took away resources from other parts of London and the country more widely without providing them any benefits beyond the glory of hosting the Games.
No matter how much we love the Olympics and how much pleasure we gain seeing our team win, shouldn’t we question the value of these games for the city (or country) that hosts them? Wouldn’t the money be better spent solving problems facing the host city?
The video for Peter Gabriel’s Games without Frontiers carries references to the Olympics.
How would this work? It is pretty simple really. Instead of volleyball, swimming, athletics, gymnastics and so on, cities would compete on hunger, poverty, unemployment, affordable housing, homelessness, crime, drugs, public transport, renewable energy, cycle-friendliness, traffic congestion and many more.
So we could have the situation where Melbourne works on and eventually wins the gold medal for its outstanding efforts to reduce homelessness. Or a gold medal could be awarded to the athletes who record the best time racing across a city by public transport. To compete fairly, cities need to be drug-free (or legalised drugs only).
At the end of the day, we have to question why we neglect problems in our cities while we invest huge resources every four years in the Olympics or World Cup. Hey, I love the Olympics and World Cup just as much as you do – but the way we organise these games just seems badly broken.