Where is the best place to live in the world? Which city has the best living conditions? And how can we determine what the “best” really means? Fortunately for us, The Global Liveability Index 2021 was recently released which answers many of these questions, and I will discuss the results on this episode of Thinking in English!

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Vocabulary List

Quality (n) – a characteristic or feature of someone or something

I don’t think he has the right qualities to be a teacher

Infrastructure (n) – the basic systems and services, such as transport and power supplies, that a country or organization uses in order to work effectively 

The war has badly damaged the country’s infrastructure 

To cope (v) – to deal successfully with a difficult situation

It must be really hard to cope with three young children and a job

Generous (adj) – more or larger than usual or expected

My boss gave me a generous pay increase

Domestically (adv) – inside a particular country rather than in other countries

The movie made $76 million domestically but only $1.3 million abroad 

To plummet (v) – to fall very quickly and suddenly

House prices have plummeted in recent months

Civil (adj) – not military or religious, or relating to the ordinary people of a country 

Helicopters are mainly used for military rather than civil use

To favour (v) – to support or prefer one particular possibility

I generally favour travelling by night, when the roads are quiet    

Over the last few months, I have recorded podcasts looking at the most expensive cities to live in the world and the most dangerous places in the world. Being expensive and being dangerous are not particularly good qualities for the place you call your home! What are excellent qualities for cities to have? What makes a place good to live in? Is it safety? Health? Culture? Prices? Transport? Something different? And how are we, as normal people, supposed to research all of these different aspects across all of the different cities in the world? How can a normal person know where the best place to live is? 

Well, fortunately for us, someone else has done all of the hard work already! The Global Liveability Index 2021, produced by The Economist Intelligence Unit, surveys and ranks “liveability” in 140 cities around the globe. The report defines the concept of “liveability” as the locations around the world that provide the best and worst living conditions: in simple terms, how easy and enjoyable it is, or is not, to live somewhere. It does this by giving ratings to over 30 qualitative and quantitative factors across five large categories: stability, healthcare, culture and environment, education and infrastructure

This year the report also incorporated new factors related to Covid-19. For example, how a city coped with increased need for health care, or with closures of different businesses. Less strict rules increased the country’s score. Yet, if this freedom causes more cases of virus, their score will reduce. In a nutshell, the best performing cities combine generous freedoms with few cases of covid-19. I’ll leave a link to the report here, but it is a little complicated to access, so I will introduce and explain some of the major findings of this year’s index in this episode! 

Let’s start with the big question. Where is the best place to live in 2021? According to the report, the answer is Auckland in New Zealand which averaged 96 out of a hundred across the five categories. This is largely due to Auckland’s, and New Zealand’s, success in containing and preventing the pandemic, and in lifting restrictions across the city. Earlier this year, while most cities around the world were struggling to deal with the massive problems caused by Covid, Auckland was holding music concerts and experiencing many days with 0 new cases of the virus. Students have been able to attend school throughout the pandemic, while restaurants, museums, theatres, cafes, and other venues have remained open! In fact, Auckland has moved up from 12th position in 2019 to first this year!

Eight of the top ten best cities to live in are actually located on island countries with strict and relatively successful responses to the pandemic. In addition to Auckland, New Zealand’s Wellington was given fourth place. Japan’s Osaka is in second place, while Tokyo is ranked fifth due to very high stability scores in the Asian country. And four Australian cities are also in the top 10! All of these countries managed to keep freedom of movement domestically and stopped international travel almost completely over the last year. The other two cities in the top 10 are Switzerland’s Zurich and Geneva. 

I’m sure most of you have guessed by now that the pandemic has been the biggest factor in changing the liveability of cities around the world. Cities with long running and strict lockdowns have been deeply affected. To be honest, in the vast majority of cities, living conditions have plummeted compared with two years ago. Major European cities are now less “liveable.” This is because they have had high numbers of Covid cases and strict lockdowns… the worst possible combination for liveability ranking. The scores of Prague, London and Frankfurt fell by over 13 points compared to last time. Vienna in Austria, which was the number one ranked city in the entire world two years ago, came 12th this year. The places which fell the furthest down the rankings were the German cities of Frankfurt, Hamburg and Dusseldorf. Canadian cities such as Montreal, Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto, which were traditionally highly ranked, have also struggled this year. European and Canadian cities found it difficult to cope with additional stress on healthcare systems and resources. On the other hand, some US cities like Honolulu and Houston, which lifted social restrictions earlier than others, have risen in the rankings!

How about at the other end of the rankings? Where are the least liveable places? Where are the worst places to live in the world this year? As has been the case for a number of years, Damascus in Syria has the worst living conditions. Other cities at the bottom of the table include Lagos in Nigeria; Port Moresby, the capital of Papua New Guinea; and Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh. All cities in the bottom ten performed poorly across the five categories the report assessed. Most of the cities have experienced civil and military unrest which has made their stability scores very low. In addition, the impact of Covid-19 has made these cities’ scores even lower!

Across the world healthcare scores were badly affected by the ongoing pandemic. In fact, the average city ranking dropped by nearly 5 points compared to six months ago. In particular, Prague (Czech Republic), Athens (Greece) and Jakarta (Indonesia) have experienced significant drops in healthcare ranking. Moreover, the average scores around the world in the culture and environment category fell by 14 points. In general, cities in New Zealand, Australia, China, Switzerland, and some in the US have improved as they did not need, or use, large scale lockdowns! Most of Europe, on the other hand, fell in the rankings!

Final Thought

This episode of the Thinking in English podcast has looked at the The Global Liveability Index 2021. The best places to live this year are also the places which have dealt best with the pandemic and have had least strict restrictions. If you want to move to the most liveable city in the world, you should be looking to relocate to Auckland in New Zealand! How about the future? COvid-19 will almost certainly continue to affect cities’ liveability. Cities in regions with slower vaccination programmes will likely experience more and longer lockdowns. In regions with faster inoculations, culture, environment, and health scores should improve. Interestingly, what people think is important in a city is also changing. People are beginning to favour green spaces and parks more, while transport (which is being used less due to lockdowns) is seen as less important. Where do you think is the best city to live in? How about your city? How would you rate your hometown? What do you think makes a city “liveable”?

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By Tom Wilkinson

Host and founder of Thinking in English, Tom is committed to providing quality and interesting content to all English learners. Previously a research student at a top Japanese university and with a background in English teaching, political research, and Asian languages, Tom is now working fulltime on bettering Thinking in English!

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