The Taipei City Government will undoubtedly trumpet the fact that the Economist Intelligence Unit’s (EIU) 2013 Global Liveability Ranking ranked the city as 61st in the world and as one of the 10 cities to have the most improved scores over the past five years. It is worth noting that the annual survey looks at 140 cities around the world, most of which are nation capitals, to determine which provide the best or the worst living conditions. It is not a scientific measurement by any sense of the word.
The survey is biased on favoring a middle-class view of the world. Who else would be worried about the availability and quality of private education and healthcare, and the quality of international links?
The survey was originally intended as a way of determining what benefits companies should provide to their expatriate workers. It still includes indicators for climate and “discomfort of climate to travelers,” which are areas that no city anywhere has yet achieved control over. Yet the EIU ranking is now used as a boasting right by the top 10 cities, when the truth is that there are just a few degrees of difference between cities on the top half of the list.
The EIU says rankings between 80 and 100 means there are few, if any, challenges to living standards. It would appear that the top performers are medium-sized cities in wealthy countries that have a low population density — Tokyo, at 94.7, is the obvious exception. Australia has four cities in the top 10, while Canada has three.
Taipei earned a score of 83.9 by adding up its ratings from 30 questions that are broadly grouped into five categories: stability, which accounts for 25 percent of the ranking; healthcare (20 percent); culture and environment (25 percent); education (10 percent) and infrastructure (25 percent).
The skewering of the scale can be seen in Taipei being nearly 10 points ahead of Beijing, with a score of 74.9, and not that far off New York City, with 86.6, and London, with 87.2. The EIU says a rating of between 70 and 80 means that day-to-day living is fine, but the editor of the report, Jon Copestake, said two years ago that a score below 80 would prompt a recommendation of “some sort of hardship allowance for visiting workers.” It takes a war or widespread civil unrest to earn a spot at the bottom of the list, like Damascus, which placed last this year.
Taipei has held the No. 61 spot for three years and the city government is surely wondering what it can do to advance the ranking. Considering the vast improvements made in the past two decades to the city’s infrastructure — the Mass Rapid Transit system, the introduction of bus lanes, more parks, bike lanes and recreational facilities — coupled with environmental advances such as reduced air pollution and better waste disposal, it would appear that it has made a very good start in these areas.
However, some things are largely out of the city’s control because they are nationally based, such as education, healthcare and censorship. As for the stability category, Taipei has a relatively low crime rate, an area where city policies could have an impact, but it cannot do much about the “threat of military conflict” or “threat of civil unrest/conflict,” because both of those are dependent upon our humongous neighbor across the Taiwan Strait.
However, while Taipei is home to many white-
collar expatriates, city officials should remember that the EIU’s liveability ranking does not include some basic factors that matter to most residents, such as pollution, noise, interaction with bureaucracy and availability of public housing. These are all areas that need a lot of work, especially housing. The issue of sustainability is also becoming more important.
Officials in Taiwan are often obsessed with gaining international credibility. Given the nation’s diplomatic isolation, this is understandable. Yet if officials want to make the city better and more livable to the people that matter most, they should start with those five issues.