How to annoy Canadians

After almost a decade of rule, Vancouver has been dethroned as the most livable city by The Economist. One of the reasons for the downgrade was “recent intermittent closures of the key Malahat highway [which] resulted in a 0.7 percentage point decline in the Canadian city’s overall livability rating.” The only problem is that the Malahat is on Vancouver island, a 1.5 hour ferry ride and at least an hour or so of driving from Vancouver. Rating agencies, eh?

Hat tip: Monique van Hoek.


I almost inevitably annoy Canadians by assuming they're Americans (United States-ians). Calgary's the best city in the Great Plains. I mean, they're just like us. We're all Americans together, you know, in one country, with...oh, forget it.

You said it, brother. I live in the 51st state up north and all I have to say is God bless America!

So they've been talking about the island this whole time?

I live in Vancouver from 98 to 08 and it has no right to top spot on the liveable cities list. It's nice but I could not afford to live there. Avg house prices at 1 million prohibit people from buying a house and having money left over to live.

No mention of those hockey riots?

Evidently the survey was taken before Game 7 of the Stanley Cup. I see Vancouver was supplanted by Melbourne, another "second city" and one whose inhabitants show such evident pride in their sporting obsessions that they would think post-sports riots should count in favor of a city.

Vancouver isn't the "second city" of Canada, it's the third city (after Toronto and Montreal).

Anyone wanting a front row seat to the popping of the massive real estate bubble (average house price is now 11 times average annual family income) can check out the Vancouver Real Estate Anecdote Archive.

The Economist's livability ratings are worthless anyway. They have nothing to do with where people actually want to live. In 2009, they ranked Pittsburgh, of all places, as the most livable city in the U.S.

Pittsburgh is apparently pretty awesome, if you can find a job.

I doubt it's awesome.

Liveable for the rich only, I assume. I couldn't even afford to rent in Vancouver.

Easiest way to determine the most livable cities would be to just look at population migration patterns, wouldn't it? Anything else risks simply overlaying the values of the raters on the residents of the city.

Often, these city ratings include things like access to art galleries, green space, mass transit, and school quality. These are all good things to look at, but who's to say they're the most important things to the people looking for a place to live? What if people care more about whether the city has a winning baseball team, or whether there is easy access to Wal-Mart, or whether the city regulatory structure allows for a vibrant business culture that provides a large array of services to special populations?

Rather than guess at what people really desire, why not just look at whether people are leaving or joining the city?

Because everyone is fleeing the blue states for the red ones.

We wouldn't want to point that out.

It depends on what you want to measure I think. Take me, for example. I moved to Dallas three years ago for a job. I love my job and I love the overall cheapness of the cost of living compared to the previous cities I lived in (namely, SF, NYC, and Toronto), but I truly and honestly hate the city itself.

I can afford it here, I can get decent work here, but I strongly dislike my day to day life. I put up with it because putting food on my table and keeping a roof over my head trumps most anything else in life, but there are days I wonder if I wasn't happier back when I was more poor and living with more financial struggles in those other cities because, well, they were more fun and more interesting even though every month was a financial struggle. I'm culturally bored out of my wits here, but I do have less stress from never having to worry if my credit or debit card will be rejected. Money isn't much of a problem anymore. But at the same time, there is less I want to spend money on! There aren't nearly as many plays, shows, restaurants, museums, etc. that really grab my attention. They're ok, but they pale in quality to what I could do in those other cities and going there usually just reminds me of their inferiority than it does give me enjoyment. I end up staying home way more than I used to. There is little draw to go elsewhere.

But therein lies the conundrum. If a city is really a remarkable place to live, many people want to live there and prices go up, which then causes people who can't live there to leave for someplace cheaper. In essence, it's so desirable, you have to leave!

And, of course, there is personal preference. I love crowded city streets full of pedestrians and shops and hate suburban sprawl, but other people really hate crowded sidewalks and having to walk everywhere. I really miss New York, but I have Dallas friends that can't even stand to spend even a single day there. To each his own.

Anyway, for me and my wife, we'll stick it out for a couple years, try to pad the bank account a bit, but then we're leaving. There is no way we can spend the rest of our lives here. There is way more to life than good jobs and cheap housing, despite the tremendous benefits of those things.

Yeah, these days a lot of jobs are moving to cheaper cities such as Dallas, Houston, Calgary, etc. but that doesn't mean they're desirable cities for everyone even if you're forced to move there because of jobs. I also agree about the money issue - in a lot of these low-cost cities you reach a certain threshold in pay where the extra money is pointless except for saving - there's just nothing worth spending it on, unless you get more money AND more vacation time to go somewhere else to spend it.

Nobody said they're more desirable cities for everyone. But if they attract more people than SF or Portland, they're more attractive for more people. If it's a choice between being jobless in SF and employed in Dallas, and you choose Dallas in order to get the job, then Dallas is the more attractive city for you, whatever other virtues you may think SF has over Dallas.

Rather than guess at what people really desire, why not just look at whether people are leaving or joining the city?

Because then the top spots would go to sprawly red state cities like Houston and Phoenix, and we can't have that. The point of the exercise is for the Economist to tell people where it thinks they ought to want to live.

Why look at whether people are leaving or joining? People are presumably willing to pay a premium to live in nice cities, and that premium is usually reflected in their housing prices.

In other words, the best cities are also the most expensive ones, but that brings us back to deep blue cities....... (and we can't have that now, can we?)

People are presumably willing to pay a premium to live in nice cities, and that premium is usually reflected in their housing prices.

Unless they actually move to the city, you can't assume they're willing to pay the premium. If your expensive blue state cities were more attractive to people as places to live, they'd move to them.

How about we don't over-simplify everything. Perhaps we all want to live in NYC, SF, and Portland, but can only find a job in Phoenix and Houston. There's plenty reason for both. Besides, in 20 years Texas will have blue cities in a red state.

Perhaps we all want to live in NYC, SF, and Portland, but can only find a job in Phoenix and Houston.

Then the greater availability of jobs is one of the things that makes Houston and Phoenix more attractive than NYC, SF, or Portland. Perhaps Portland would be more attractive than Houston if it had more jobs. But it doesn't.

I think we can try to break out "places people want to live" and "places businesses want to hire", especially since the two frequently work against each other.

If "livability" is supposed to measure how attractive a city is as a place to live, it doesn't make sense to break out "places businesses want to hire" or any other characteristic that makes a city more attractive or less attractive to people.

If, on the other hand, "livability" is supposed to be a set of characteristics cherry-picked to appeal to the particular sensibilities of educated urban liberals, knock yourself out.

The movement of population is at the margin. We are looking for an absolute measure. By the assumption you are making, the best city should really be the one with the most population. Whereas, the migration patterns give us something like the most improved city.

I don't think this is a very fruitful way of thinking about the question, though. I don't assume the most popular car is the best car for me. The virtue of breaking it down to metrics is that the ratings can be adjusted for each person's priorities.

Social and technological conditions that influence the desirability of a city change dramatically over time. Inland cities became much more desirable as advances in transportation made it easier to reach them. Cities in the south and southwest became much more desirable after the invention of air conditioning. Las Vegas became more desirable after the Nevada legislature legalized gambling. If you want to find out which cities are the most attractive places to live now, you have to look at recent migration patterns. Differences in total population may be largely the result of conditions in the distant past that no longer exist.

You can't just look at where people move to. Cities like Dallas can expand their boundaries, grow larger, and absorb more people; whereas New York and San Francisco are geographically constrained. You'd have to compare the entire Bay Area, not just SF. Even then there are state parks and mountainous terrain preventing further expansion. There might be some value to your metric, but there are too many confounding factors.

The EIU report doesn't take into account tax differences. People are leaving California because of its high tax rates; but it's still a highly desirable place to live.

So, they were happy with the Economist's "because we say so" when it was flattering and completely stupid, but now don't like it because it's slightly less flattering but still completely stupid?

(What Dhanson said, though that would necessarily tend to limit the ratings to "within a given sphere of mobility"; if a million people move to (notionally) Shenzen, does that mean it's the most liveable city in the world, or just the place that Chinese nationals most want to move to to get work?)

As a Canadian and a Calgarian, I was quite happy to see Vancouver get the downgrade, though as pointed out above, at least one reason for the downgrade was kinda stupid.

Not all Canucks live in Vancouver. Not all of them want to, either.

These rankings are just a total crock. Vancouver's a nice enough place - but livability is in the eye of the beholder - I can think of all kinds of cities I'd rather live in then Vancouver. I stopped by there last year for a couple days, the way people rave about it I was expecting something great but it kind of seemed a bit dull - it's probably the best city in Canada but that's REALLY REALLY not saying anything.

Vancouver doesn't have any highways, so they definitley shouldn't worry about one being closed down. In fact it takes about three days to drive anywhere within the city. Livable my ass.

@Dhanson - "Easiest way to determine the most livable cities would be to just look at population migration patterns"

Of course not. Would the easiest way to determine the most drivable car be to just look at the most commonly purchased model? I have nothing against the Toyota Camry (I was happy enough with the 10 year old Camry I drove as a student) but I doubt it's the best car you can find.

Would the easiest way to determine the most drivable car be to just look at the most commonly purchased model?

Depends on what you mean by "drivable." A BMW might be more drivable than a Hyundai by some mechanical standard of drivability, but you couldn't drive the BMW at all if you couldn't afford it.

I actually work with lots of Canadians, my favorite tip for annoying them, ask them who was the last Canadian team to win the Stanley Cup.

Otherwise, I try to keep my taunting province specific. But usually when I say that Calgary is the only city in the country I could imagine living in it works pretty well. If they are from Calgary then I just resort to proclaiming my francophilia.

For Anglo Canadians I find trashing the Avro Arrow pretty effective as well.

As a canadian I would say Montreal followed by Toronto are the most sought after city in term of life style. Vancouver is too expensive, too far and too rainy.

Vancouver has twice the crime rate of Toronto and almost twice the crime rate of Montreal. I've never understood why people see it as the most desirable place to live, even within Canada.

This is slightly dated, but it shows Vancouver having a higher rate of crime in every broken-out category than Toronto or Montreal, on page 13:

You are all jealous of my Vancouver! Thats it I'm going for latte and a walk in the sea wall and then some yoga ! sol long!

A part of Canada without real snow just seems wrong. So maybe Vancouver has passed up Winnipeg as Canada's third city, but #3 in Canada has never been all that stable a perch, maybe someday very soon Calgary will unseat it. Calgary is already the third largest municipality in the country and it is growing like crazy.

If I wished to be civil I would describe Vancouver as being quite ordinary.A over sized version of Moose Jaw,if you will,with some tired looking hills on it`s northern flank.If I wanted to kick ass I would probably eviscerate Vancouver for all it`s many many shortcomings.It is a grossly over rated town with myriad challenges and issues compounded by a vacuous insularity which borders on the absurd.Vancouver is narcissistic in the extreme and it needs to get over itself.It is a very failed town in many respects.

Having traveled to the majority of cities in Canada and the United States, my most appealing reason to rank Vancouver #1 is the ideal of a multicultural society that has blossomed on the west coast with colorful cultures from all over the globe thriving in harmony.
Firstly you must comprehend what the EIU livability rating does evaluate, otherwise it's just another
“Americaa Is The Best” boast.

Comments for this post are closed