The Economist Intelligence Unit's annual index of livability for 140 global cities offers a window into universal values that speak about civility and opportunity. How do you know what a Top 10 list of livable cities looks like? Imagine 30 factors that matter -- everything from petty crime to military conflict, from levels of censorship to levels of educational access, and from the quality of the asphalt beneath you to the power lines above you. Grouped into five categories (stability, healthcare, culture and environment, education, and infrastructure), these factors define the possibility of living quite well according to anyone's standards. Looking at the 10 most livable cities, 60% are remarkably located in just two countries on opposite sides of the world, only 30% are in Europe (once the height of livability, long ago), and exactly zero are in America. This list is more than water cooler fodder. It's a game changer for how we think about what urban planner Clarence Stein called "the good life."
The Beatles honed their skills in Germany's second largest city, which is home to more than 1.7 million people. Like eight other cities in the Top 10, Hamburg scores a perfect 100 for healthcare-and near-perfect scores in every other category. Officially the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg, a reference to its Baltic maritime dominance more than five centuries ago, it has an overall ranking of 95 (out of 100) for livability.
Helsinki's metro area is home to more than 1.4 million Finns and, as livability goes, it gets a solid A grade (with a 95.6 out of 100 overall ranking). Helsinki is one of three cities in the Top 10 to get a perfect score for stability, along with Toronto and Calgary, and its infrastructure score is among the very highest with a 96.4 grade, owing to an efficient ring-road system and reliable public transportation.
Auckland, along with the remaining seven cities in the Top 10, boasts a perfect education score. And, why not? The school year runs all year, save for a six-week break around the "winter" holidays (which are the hottest months of the year). Its students are consistently ranked (in other indices) as some of the brightest and most accomplished. Elsewhere on the livability spectrum, Auckland fares very well with solid A grades for stability, healthcare, culture and environment, and infrastructure.
One of three Australian cities in the Top 10 and the capital of Western Australia-Perth boasts at 95.9 overall rank out of 100 for livability. Yes, there are tons of beaches, and yes, Perth is an economic powerhouse (despite its relative isolation), but livability is a holistic concept-and its high marks across the board point to a kind of Emerald City where things seem to just work right. It's also a sports fan's paradise, with no fewer than 15 local teams, from basketball to cricket to rugby.
Cities sometimes grow by accretion and sometimes according to a master plan-and Adelaide is a 19th century city that is one of the best examples of the latter-a grid that supports boulevards and squares, all surrounded by lush parks. A celebrity on most livable city indices, Adelaide consistently gets top marks no matter who is conducting the survey. Notably, it gets perfect grades for healthcare and education (because, after all, we're talking about Australia), and its near-perfect infrastructure grade is part and parcel of its effective, efficient, and reliable subway system.
For a lot of people, the 1988 Winter Olympics was the first time they'd heard of Calgary-but the city has been booming since the late-1940s, when oil and gas money created an oasis on the Alberta prairie. One of three Canadian metropolises in the Top 10-and one of three global cities to score a perfect 100 on the stability index-Calgary still seems to be one of the best kept secrets. Learn to ski-or at least cross-country ski-before you decide to test out the livability there.
There's more to Toronto than being "not Montreal-the other one" for the 36 Hours set of weekend trippers. Saturday Night Live's funniest have hailed from Toronto's metro region, and the city has no fewer than 13 professional sports teams and an outdoor culture that wrings every last moment out of summer. The winters are blistering, but that does not prevent this financial center from scoring near-perfect marks in every category. Along with Calgary, Toronto scores 100s in three categories, in fact: stability, healthcare and education.
There are two real reasons why Vancouver is the Hollywood of the North-it costs less to shoot there, and it offers one of the most diverse cross-sections of natural beauty and architecture in North America. It's also the only city in the Top 10 to score a perfect 100 for culture and environment, arguably the second most important categorical factor for livability (behind stability). Next time you're in Seattle, give your passport a workout and head due north.
Say Ringstraße three times fast--the incomparable ring--road is one of the keys to understanding why Vienna works (and why it scores a perfect 100 for infrastructure). Vienna has also been second on this list from The Economist Intelligence Unit for a couple of years-and it has also been crowned "most prosperous" and first among "global smart cities" on other livability indices. Most lists leave this off, but if you are going to test out Vienna's livability worthiness, learn how to properly order Wiener Schnitzel and your life will, indeed, improve.
Melbourne, the southernmost city on The Economist Intelligence Unit's most livable cities, takes gold once again (for the sixth year in a row)-eking by Vienna and cementing Australia as arguably the most livable country in the world. Its infrastructure-from trams to trains to tree-lined roads-cannot be bested. It's education and healthcare systems are laudatory (like Perth and Adelaide, also on this list), and Melbourne city leaders were among the first to shoot for carbon neutrality a quarter of a century ago. It seems that Melbourne, ground zero for the great Australian gold rush of the 19th century, doesn't show any signs of relinquishing the top spot any time soon.