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Opinion | Believe victims even if you don’t like them
Opinion | Believe victims even if you don’t like them
By Delaney Rauscher Adams, Staff Columnist • July 12, 2024
Opinion | Women pop stars and the pressure to evolve
By Livia LaMarca, Assistant Opinions Editor • July 10, 2024

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Opinion | Believe victims even if you don’t like them
Opinion | Believe victims even if you don’t like them
By Delaney Rauscher Adams, Staff Columnist • July 12, 2024
Opinion | Women pop stars and the pressure to evolve
By Livia LaMarca, Assistant Opinions Editor • July 10, 2024

Opinion | How do we categorize the most livable cities?

A+view+of+downtown+Pittsburgh.+
Image via Wikimedia Commons
A view of downtown Pittsburgh.

Did you choose where to live based on the climate, infrastructure or stability of the city you reside in? My guess is these aspects never crossed your mind — you most likely choose where to live because of your job or proximity to your family. Or perhaps you were thinking of the nightlife and food scene, accessibility or school districts for your children. Regardless of why you chose to live in the city you reside in, my guess is these specific aspects never crossed your mind, nor how ‘livable’ the city is ranked. Everyone’s desires vary when choosing a place to live and are not the same. There is no one unified, universal requirement. 

Yes, there are actually studies assessing how livable a city is and ranks them based on livability. But saying that a “livable city” exists does not resonate with how we, as a diverse country made of individual communities, live. 

To start, it’s interesting how an organization created a category determining what makes a city more livable. How can we place living into a category? The idea that everyone finds the same attributes of a city livable is questionable. Everyone has varying parameters and ways of living. How can we categorize livability when everyone’s ideal is so different?

Placing living into a category is a concept I never thought of before. A category is defined as a class or division of people or things regarded as having particular shared characteristics. Based on the dictionary definition of a category, it is plausible that a city, as a whole, has shared characteristics. ​The concept of a more livable city means that we are framing the idea of living as having shared characteristics. Living is defined differently by different people — some people live to work, while others work to live. Individuals live different lifestyles and have a way of life that most likely differs from their neighbors, friends and even family. Some people find certain aspects of living more beneficial than others. 

The Economist’s sister organization, the Economist Intelligence Unit, releases a ranking of the top livable cities every year, with a coveted top 10 list that almost always consists of cities in Europe, Canada and Australia. In 2023, for the second year in a row, Vienna grabbed the top spot, with Copenhagen, Melbourne,  Sydney and Vancouver following behind in the top five spots. This year’s 2023 list ranked the top 173 cities across the globe, with the highest scoring U.S. cities being Honolulu, Pittsburgh and Atlanta, each in the top 50. 

The index for ranking livability ventures across five broad categories.

  1. Stability — including prevalence of crime, conflict and terrorist threats.
  2. Health care — including quality and availability of public and private care.
  3. Culture and environment — including climate, amenities and protection of civil liberties.
  4. Education — including quality and availability of public and private education.
  5. Infrastructure — including quality of roads, water service, housing and public transportation.

There are many varying factors included in these categories that makes the idea of a most livable city questionable. Certain individuals may find a specific climate more inviting than another and feel more secure in their civil liberties in a distinct community. Perhaps these categories don’t even matter at all to the next person.

As Feargus O’Sullivan remarks in a Bloomberg article, “These rankings provide less a universal assessment of livability — a word that comes with its own baggage — and more a snapshot of their compilers’ tastes and worldview.”

O’Sullivan questions how we can judge Zurich — ranked most livable in 2019 — a city of 400,000 in one of the world’s richest countries, by the same metrics as cities such as Beijing, Tokyo or Bangkok — cities containing around 10 million residents. These rankings represent a worldview full of barely acknowledged assumptions regarding the imaginary citizens they address. 

A major part of livability is feeling a sense of community and connection in the area in which people choose to live. Just because Vienna is ranked the best city to live in does not necessarily mean you or I will fall in love with living there. Some people love the city and know they want to live within a city center, others like the city but would prefer to live right outside in the suburbs, while others still prefer the countryside and rural areas away from all the hustle and bustle of an urban center. 

Defining a set category and aspects of a city that make it more livable does not consider the vastness or diversity of various cities. Pittsburgh has continuously ranked as one of the top U.S. cities on the most livable city list since the 2000s. 

Although I love Pittsburgh and have had great experiences here, that is not the case for hundreds of thousands of individuals and families that live here. Saying that our city is livable for everyone is quite questionable and confusing. 

The gentrification and modernization of parts of the city, such as East Liberty, does not make Pittsburgh a livable place for many of the city’s minority groups. Although the modernization of Pittsburgh increases its travel popularity and university interest, it does not mean it has benefited the livable qualities of the city for many populations, mainly Black and minority populations. This includes their businesses that have been overrun by popular corporations appealing to the increased ‘whiteness” of the city and of university students. 

I’m sure that most cities on the top 10 and top 50 most livable cities list echo similar situations Pittsburgh faces, especially taking into account where most of these cities are located. To me, it feels as if this categorization is another useless tool that is not doing anything but ranking cities with an almost impossible and biased categorization system. 

 

The top 10 list notably contains a plurality of cities with large white populations. The five broad categories that measure livability promote a stereotypical, whitewashed version of an ideal city. Many nonwhite cities do not have as many resources afforded to them. They are unable to build their infrastructure, increase stability, fortify their educational systems or strengthen the other categories used to determine livability. This systemic issue is happening both here in the U.S. and abroad — as the world’s most livable city index displays. 

Creating categories that constitute a more livable city exposes the lack of time, resources and thought put into social services. We debate over which city will be number one again or in the top 10 list but continue to disregard cities and communities that need access to vital resources — most of which, I would venture to say, are cities and communities with a Black or minority population. 

Overall, the idea of creating and conceptualizing a livable city is bogus. We should not categorize living or what makes a city livable as there is no possible way that everyone will agree on the categorizations’ parameters. This metric is another way to show how we continually leave out systemic issues that disproportionately affect people of color and remove them from the conversation.

Emily O’Neil writes primarily about societal issues, politics and campus life. Write to her at [email protected].

About the Contributor
Emily O'Neil, Senior Staff Columnist
Emily O’Neil is a Political Science and Public Service major and earning a certificate in Public and Professional Writing. She is from Lancaster, PA and writes primarily about political and societal issues. Write to her at