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What Makes a “Liveable” City?

In today’s world of middle-class mobility, a city’s “liveability” is a big deal. It can drive immigration, inform governmental spending, and draw major corporations towards setting up shop in a particular city. Every year, The Economist newspaper’s R&D group, Economist Intelligence Unit, publishes the Global Liveability Ranking. This document ranks 140 global cities for their urban quality of life, based on assessments of their stability, healthcare, culture and environment, education and infrastructure. Cities like Auckland, Melbourne, Osaka, and Vancouver have placed at the top of these rankings over the past two decades, and seen upticks in tourism and immigration as a result. But why? What exactly has made these cities so amazing to live in? Let’s take a look.

Liveability Comes From Health

There are a number of ways in which public health and urban planning overlap. Pollution management, noise reduction, green spaces, bikeways, access to affordable care… so many things add up towards a healthy population. And a healthy population is happier, leading to a sense of satisfaction and pride for the city they live in.

Environmental quality is a huge factor to liveability. It encompasses air pollution, noise pollution, litter and waste management infrastructures, water quality, and more. These aspects can very directly lead to health problems for residents. Hong Kong is a powerful example – a population of 7.5 million people inside 1,100 square kilometres, seeing air pollution levels three times higher than the World Health Organisation deems safe. By 2013, Hong Kong was seeing up to 90,000 hospital admissions each year as a direct result of roadside pollution levels. Later that year, Hong Kong officials announced a strategy to combat this: the city’s entire fleet of 12,000 diesel buses and 18,000 LPG taxis would be replaced with fully electric vehicles that produced no exhaust. As a result, emissions have been reduced by a level equivalent to that of 800,000 private vehicles, massively improving both air quality and people’s quality of life. Modernised transport infrastructure impacts public health in very positive ways that are unrelated to exhaust emissions, too. They encourage more walking and similar exercise; they greatly reduce nuisance noise levels in residential areas; they allow residents access to public green spaces and recreational areas, letting people socialise and blow off steam easier. They boost accessibility and equitability amongst the whole populace.

Liveability Means Accessibility

Accessibility is a word that gets used in a lot of sectors these days, but in urban planning it covers a few things:

  • How easy it is to get to and from a public space

  • How friendly the city’s public spaces are to those with disabilities

  • Crime levels and public safety

  • Inclusive, affordable, and wide-ranging housing options

These factors have a strong sway over liveability rankings – after all, if one can’t safely move around the area they live in, they won’t enjoy living there. This is particularly true for the second point. How friendly a city is to those with disabilities greatly influences those people’s satisfaction with their living situation and social inclusion, and there are a number of innovative ways that modern cities have facilitated this.

Singapore is widely considered the most accessible city in Asia, due in large part to the state’s high-age population. Thirty years ago, the Singapore government implemented a universal code for barrier-free accessibility which has since been continuously updated. For example: any citizen with impaired movement can acquire a NFC card to tap at pedestrian crossings which will allow them more time to cross. All their train stations have priority-access elevators designated specifically for the disabled, as well as visual, audible, and tactile indicators for all travel information. All buildings and public spaces require accessible, ground-level bathrooms. Singapore also boasts one of the lowest street-level and violent crime rates in the world. While this is due to a large range of factors, including a high average income and extremely strict penalties, one of the driving causes is a strong focus on proactive community policing initiatives that work alongside citizens to identify and solve issues. These and similar initiatives in other sectors encourage a sense of community, connection, and, thus, liveability.

Liveability Encourages Connection

Social connection is a huge factor in human happiness, and if there’s no places to be social, liveability takes a big hit. Those places can come in many forms: playgrounds, parks, sports fields and other recreational areas; green spaces and public or community gardens; diverse dining and nightlife options; libraries, museums, tech hubs, and other open learning spaces. These areas are imperative to social cohesion, which is a key factor to the EIU’s liveability scores.

Similarly, community initiatives like festivals, wellness centres, youth services, and outreach programs are all ways in which a city’s liveability can be influenced directly by its residents. By facilitating these programs, city governments are encouraging social connection amongst the populace, bolstering a sense of place, pride, and community within the city.

Here at NoiseNet we’re working hard to improve your liveability by addressing noise pollution from the ground up. Check out https://www.noisenet.com/ to learn more.

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