Best and worst liveable cities

Melbourne 1
Lycabettos, Athens, Taste for Travel
Athens, one of my hometowns, where standards of living are falling

One of the joys of travelling is finding an exciting new city where you’d like to put down roots for a while. If you’re looking for a criteria, this will help. The latest results of the  2014 Economist Intelligence Unit Liveable Cities survey rank the best and worst liveable cities with Damascus at the bottom and Melbourne at the top. Again. Melbourne gets the top spot for the fourth year in a row.

Melbourne 1
Melbourne – flat, green, cultured and extremely liveable


  • Population 4.077 million and located in the southeast state of Victoria
  • The only city in the world to hold five renowned international events in the same month: the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival, the Formula 1® Australian Grand Prix, the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, the Ironman Asia-Pacific Championships, and the Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show
  • Surrounded by such a diversity of wine regions that all varietals of wine can be made, and most are
  • Mostly flat and full of parks so you can cycle almost everywhere – better for the environment, better for your health
  • Where half of the population was either born overseas or has a parent who was, which means there isn’t a cuisine you won’t find
  • Where when it comes to fashion, black is always the new black
  • Makes you work for your reward. The best cocktail bars, shops, cafes, and galleries are often hidden down laneways behind an unmarked door, in a basement or on a rooftop
  • Has more music venues per capita than Austin, Texas
  • Has a penchant for beards and baristas, especially when one is attached to the other – and the quest for the ‘God Shot’ (the perfect, divine espresso) is a serious pursuit
  • Home to Australasia’s best restaurant and the 32nd best in the world – Ben Shewry’s Attica.
Auckland waterfront festival
Visitors to Auckland enjoy a waterfront festival

Not so great for the disabled

BUT and this is a big but, Melbourne is apparently not so wonderfully liveable if you’re disabled.

“On hearing that Melbourne had been voted the world’s most liveable city for the fourth consecutive year, I couldn’t help but raise a cynical eyebrow. Just a few days before, I’d landed back in Melbourne after a quick tour of the US,” writes Stella Young for the ABC. 

Stella is a well-known comedian, TV presenter, disability advocate and was formerly editor of ABC’s Ramp Up website. Although confined to a wheelchair, Stella has travelled far and wide.

“From my first days in Washington DC, where I rolled a whole four downtown blocks without seeing a single shop, cafe, bar or restaurant I could not access, to the beautifully accessible buses in New York City, I was in heaven. Here, in a suburb like Brunswick, it’s entirely plausible to roll four blocks without seeing a place I can access.

“I’ve tried, for the sake of my sanity, not to romanticise it too much. Were there places I couldn’t go? Forms of public transport I couldn’t catch? Of course there were. But it’s all relative.

“Compared to the systemic discrimination I face as a wheelchair user in Melbourne, it was impressive. People with disabilities are simply part of diverse communities in the US. My presence in the street was not remarked upon as though it was unusual. For the second time in my life (the first being on a trip to London in 2012) I felt as though my participation was a right and not a privilege. There’s such a difference between feeling like you’re allowed somewhere and feeling like you belong.

“It took me several days to stop instinctively asking whether or not restaurants had accessible toilet facilities. Each time I did I was met with a look of confusion. Of course they had accessible toilets. It’s the law.”

The top 10 liveable cities

(criteria of 140 urban centres measures political and economic stability, education, health, culture and environment and quality of infrastructure) 

  1. Melbourne (Australia)
  2. Vienna (Austria)
  3. Vancouver (Canada)
  4. Toronto (Canada)
  5. Adelaide (Australia)
  6. Calgary (Canada)
  7. Sydney (Australia)
  8. Helsinki (Finland)
  9. Perth (Australia)
  10. Auckland. (New Zealand)
Makoko Slum opposite the city of Lagos, Nigeria
Makoko Slum opposite the city of Lagos, Nigeria

Least liveable cities

131. Abidjan (Cote d’Ivoire)
132. Tripoli (Libya)
133. Douala (Cameroon)
134. Harari (Zimbabwe)
135. Algiers (Algeria)
136. Karachi (Pakistan)
137. Lagos (Nigeria)
138.Port Moresby (PNG)
139. Dhaka (Bangladesh)
140. Damascus (Syria).

Conflict is responsible for many of the lowest scores. This is not only because stability indicators have the highest single scores, but also because factors defining stability spread to have an adverse effect on other categories. For example, conflict will not just cause disruption in its own right, it will also damage infrastructure, overburden hospitals, and undermine the availability of goods, services and recreational activities. The Middle East, Africa and Asia account for all 10 cities, with violence, whether through crime, civil insurgency, terrorism or war, playing a strong role.

Colombo in Sri Lanka has seen a slight decline over the past 12 months, reflecting fresh doubts over human rights abuses of the Tamil population there. A gradual return to stability has seen improvements in the scores of Tehran in Iran, Tripoli in Libya and Harare in Zimbabwe, although all three cities remain firmly entrenched in the bottom tier of liveability. Tripoli and Tehran have seen the strongest rises in liveability scores of all 140 cities surveyed in the past 12 months, but in the case of Tripoli much of this is offset by stronger declines over the last five years. The liveability score of Damascus in Syria has continued to decline steeply.

The Acropolis is still the pinnacle of Athens’ glory but living standards are crumbling

Cities with biggest declines

Cities experiencing the biggest declines in standards of living over the past five years (all experiencing serious problems with unemployment, violence, civil unrest, and instability all around):

  • St Petersburg
  • Moscow
  • Sofia
  • Athens
  • Tunis
  • Muscat
  • Cairo
  • Caracas
  • Kiev
  • Tripoli
  • Damascus.

The survey does not include locations such as Kabul in Afghanistan and Baghdad in Iraq. Although few could argue that Damascus is likely to attract visitors, its inclusion reflects a city that was deemed relatively stable just a few years ago. My beautiful Athens is a personal favourite (I lived there for over a decade) and it saddens me to see it lumped in the bottom tier. The unemployment rate remains high and unless the jobless rate falls, it’s likely to stay that way for a while yet.

Cairo AlAzhar Park, © Gary Otte, Courtesy Aga Khan Trust for Culture
Cairo AlAzhar Park, © Gary Otte, Courtesy Aga Khan Trust for Culture

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