Melbourne and Sydney fall from grace in liveability stakes

The COVID-19 pandemic has turned the Global Liveability Index rankings on their head.

Cities that had been in the top spots for years have plummeted down the rankings.

In a year ‘owned’ by the pandemic, it’s the cities that managed it best that have risen to the top.

“There’s been quite a big shake-up in terms of, certainly the top 10, but also right throughout the ranking, based upon the COVID-19 situation,” global chief economist at the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), Simon Baptist, told CNBC.

Auckland’s near elimination of the virus has it sitting pretty at the top of the EIU’s Global Liveability Index. As if Auckland wasn’t pretty enough.

Following the New Zealand hotspot is the Japanese city of Osaka.

Melbourne, which wore the most liveable crown seven years running in the last decade and has consistently ranked as one of the world’s top three most liveable cities since the index began in 2002, plummeted down the charts. So too, Sydney.

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Sydney’s ‘gold standard’ contact tracing may have saved it from the worst of the pandemic, but it wasn’t enough to prevent it falling as many places as its southern sister, dropping from third to 11th.

While Melbourne and Sydney took a hit in the rankings, Aussie cities still took out four of the top 10 spots.

It is perhaps unsurprising that Melbourne – home to Australia’s longest COVID-19 lockdowns – fell from its second-place ranking in 2019.

What may be surprising is that it remains in the top 10 in eighth position, equal with Geneva, Switzerland.

Adelaide overtook the two most populous cities down under, leapfrogging from 10th position in 2019 to third this year. It has always performed well in the EIU’s analysis, but its closed borders and the way it managed the pandemic saw it shoot up the rankings.

The South Australian capital can add Australia’s most liveable city to its recent world’s least stressful city honour handed down just last month.

Adelaide received a perfect score in the healthcare and education categories, as well as 96.4 for infrastructure, 95 for stability and 83.8 for culture and environment.

Read more: Why Adelaide is truly Australia’s foodie capital

Deloitte Access Economics partner Aaron Hill told InDaily: “Now that we’re seeing vastly increased rates of the adoption of technology enabling remote work, talented professionals and other workers in demand are going to have more choices about where they choose to live.

“This analysis shows that Adelaide is well placed to compete to attract those workers.”

Perth now sits in sixth place and Brisbane is 10th. The other cities in the top 10 are Wellington and Tokyo (equal fourth), Zurich (seventh) and Geneva (equal eighth with Melbourne).

The index ranks 140 cities based on stability, healthcare, education, culture and environment, and infrastructure.

“Auckland, in New Zealand, is at the top of the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Liveability rankings owing to the city’s ability to contain the coronavirus pandemic faster and thus lift restrictions earlier, unlike others around the world,” said the report’s authors.

New Zealand has, so far, reported just 26 deaths from COVID-19 – around one out of every 200,000 people.

Read more: Ardern announces trans-Tasman travel bubble start date

The authors said: “New Zealand’s tough lockdown allowed their society to reopen and enabled citizens of cities like Auckland and Wellington to enjoy a lifestyle that looked similar to pre-pandemic life.

“Six of the top 10 cities in the March 2021 survey are in New Zealand or Australia, where tight border controls have allowed residents to live relatively normal lives.”

Wellington, the New Zealand capital, moved from 25th in 2019 to fourth this year. The vast majority of ranked cities did not fare so well, with living conditions plummeting compared with pre-pandemic levels.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a heavy toll on global liveability,” the EIU said.

“Cities across the world are now much less liveable than they were before the pandemic began …”

European countries were hit particularly hard and that was reflected in the rankings.

Austria’s capital, Vienna, was world number one from 2018 to 2020 yet dropped to 12th.

The German cities of Hamburg, Frankfurt and Dusseldorf lost 34, 29 and 28 places respectively.

Read more: Eagle-eye view of Vienna

While Adelaide’s ascension may have surprised many, Property Council SA executive director Daniel Gannon said the city’s high scores were “hardly a surprise”.

“Throughout the pandemic, our state has built a new reputation focused on resilience, safety and wellbeing, which is leading to an increase in attention, population and investment,” he said.

Outgoing Committee for Adelaide chief Jodie van Deventer said:”Our only surprise with these rankings is that we didn’t come in higher.”

The world’s least liveable city was war-torn Damascus in Syria, followed by Lagos in Nigeria and Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea.

Are you surprised at Adelaide’s ranking? Are you surprised that four of the top 10 most liveable cities are in Australia? We’re not! Why not share your thoughts about what makes your city so liveable in the comments section below?

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Written by Leon Della Bosca

Leon Della Bosca has worked in publishing and media in one form or another for around 25 years. He's a voracious reader, word spinner and art, writing, design, painting, drawing, travel and photography enthusiast. You'll often find him roaming through galleries or exploring the streets of his beloved Melbourne and surrounding suburbs, sketchpad or notebook in hand, smiling.
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