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Vancouver Drops From #1 Spot In Livability Survey For First Time In Nearly A Decade

Vancouver has finally slipped from the top of The Economist's global livability survey after nearly a decade.

Our glittering city, wedged as it is between the mountains and the water, was finally undone by traffic congestion. The British magazine's business-research division has downgraded Vancouver to No. 3 out of the 140 cities ranked annually for quality of life.

Melbourne, Australia, and Vienna, Austria, are now ranked one and two in the 2011 Livability Ranking by the Economist Intelligence Unit. Melbourne edged out Vancouver by only two tenths of a percentage point.

"Vancouver has seen increased [traffic] congestion in the surrounding area," said Economist analyst Jon Copestake. Ongoing upgrades to Highway One and the resulting delays for commercial traffic and commuters were a factor in the lower ranking, he said.

The report specifically cites lengthy closures on Vancouver Island's Malahat highway as a reason for a 0.7-per-cent decline in Vancouver's overall livability rating, a reference that inspired widespread derision from commentators and locals on the Web and social media, particularly Twitter.

Copestake explains the seemingly dramatic effect of the Malahat highway closure thus: "When we compile the scores, we look at the area around a city as well as the city itself for assessing indicators. For example, congestion on the M25 is an indicator of problems in London's transport infrastructure. So we used the Malahat highway as an example of this for Vancouver."

Copestake quickly came to understand that Vancouver's long run at the top of the EIU rankings has become a part of the city's collective self-image.

"I didn't realize the importance of the ranking until I had angry Vancouverites contacting me by email today [Tuesday]," laughed Copestake. "People need to understand that the rankings are very tight at the top and that Vancouver scores almost perfectly in every category."

The riots that followed the Stanley Cup Final loss by the Vancouver Canucks to the Boston Bruins came too late to be reflected in this year's rankings, but Copestake opined that the period of unrest was so brief and out of character that it might not even affect next year's ranking.

Overall, there was only a difference of 0.2 percentage points between Melbourne (97.5) and Vancouver (97.3). The top three cities earned identical scores for stability, health care and education.

Vancouver scored much higher than Melbourne and Vienna for culture and environment, due in part to the legacy of hosting the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, Copestake said.

"The Olympic Games were a strong force for Vancouver getting to the top and staying there," he said. "It was certainly a factor last year when we discussed Vancouver being No. 1."

The only place Vancouver stumbled was in its grade for infrastructure, with a score of 92.9 in the face of a perfect score of 100 by Melbourne and Vienna.

Canadian and Australian cities dominate the top ten, with Toronto and Calgary in the 4th and 5th spots, followed by Sydney, Perth and Adelaide in 6th, 8th and 9th respectively. Harare, Zimbabwe, is the worst-ranked city in the survey.

The Economist Intelligence Unit's livability rating is a tool that companies use to assign hardship allowances to employees working in those areas. The hardship allowance recommended for Vancouver is zero.

Here are the world's 10 most livable cities, according to the EIU:

1. Melbourne, Australia

2. Vienna, Austria

3. Vancouver, Canada

4. Toronto, Canada

5. Calgary, Canada

6. Sydney, Australia

7. Helsinki, Finland

8. Perth, Australia

9. Adelaide, Australia

10. Auckland, New Zealand




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