On Thursday August 18, the Economist’s Intelligent Unit (EIU) released its Global Livability Ranking for this year, in which only 140 important cities of the world are rated along five criteria – stability, healthcare, culture and environment, education and infrastructure.
It is one of the three notable ranking exercises that attempt to gauge the standard and quality of living in important cities world over. The other two are the Mercer’s Quality of Living Survey and Monocle Magazine’s Most Livable Cities Index.
In that ranking by EIU, which is a sister company to the Economist Magazine of London, Lagos was ranked 138th, down by one point as against last year’s in a ranking that saw the city of Melbourne in Australia retaining its Number 1 position for the sixth consecutive year. In that contentious ranking, Australia and Canada alone have three cities each in the Top 10, while majority of the African countries considered are in the lowest rung of the ladder, as always.
To the EIA, while little has changed among the ranks of the most comfortable cities, political instability, terrorism and conflict have caused several formerly ‘safe’ cities to drop in ranking. Those ranked to be worst livable cities are said to be those blighted by war, poverty and political turmoil.
“The continuing weakening of global stability scores has been made uncomfortably apparent by a number of high-profile incidents that have not shown any signs of slowing in recent years,” says EIU.
I have considered the ranking with equanimity, but will nonetheless acknowledge its recognition of Lagos state’s with high scores in the areas of culture and environment as well as in infrastructure. I commend those marks because it is pointless debating the ranking’s attribution of perceived threats from Boko Haram as the basis for the instability and a drop in ranking for Lagos in the report.
It would seem that the factors that cause cities low ranking, in the wisdom of EIA’s monitors, are not necessarily things they failed to do, but ostensibly the presence or perception of extraneous factors that are usually beyond their control or, in the case of Lagos, a factor that is totally misplaced.
Paris and Brussels, two of the world’s most visited and culturally-diverse global cities, dropped in ranking too because of the terrorist attacks that happened there. In the case of American major cities, they are far from the top because of terror threats and Police – African-American upheavals in many cities. Even Sydney in Australia fell four places from seventh last year to 11th in 2016 due largely to “a heightened perceived threat of terror.”
The formula for high ranking appears to favour mainly wealthy and educated countries with a population density of 3.1 and 3.9 people per square kilometer. According to the report, “those that score best tend to be mid-sized cities in wealthier countries with a relatively low population density that can “foster a range of recreational activities without leading to high crime levels or overburdened infrastructure.”
The EIU’s parameters for choosing their idea of best livable cities may be vaunted and desirable, in theory, but they do not speak to factors that make huge, global cities like Lagos functional and resilient. If many notable global cities do not ever come high in rankings of this nature, it is simply because they are mega cities dealing with mega issues and mega challenges, which ironically have continued to make them prime destinations for visitors, businesses and investments and, of course, cultural diversities.
Cities like London, Paris, New York, Los Angeles, Barcelona, Mumbai, Rio, Shanghai, Seoul, Johannesburg and even Dubai fall within the class that Lagos belongs and draws inspiration as a mega city. If urban renewal challenge and complexities of cultural inclusiveness are factors that deny them high ranking in livability index, it is those same issues and how they are being managed on a day-to-day basis that confer on them strengths and opportunities that ‘livable’ city of three or four million usually, sorely lack.
If lack of threats from terror or extremist groups is such a major factor that makes a city prime destination, how come none in the Top 10 in the livability ranking makes the Top 10 list of the Most Visited Countries of the world? With Germany being the only country in the Top Five Economies of the World that has a city listed in the Top 10 of the livability ranking, it is probable that cities that attract more tourists, business visitors and investments do not necessarily have to be ‘perfect.’
Of course Lagos considers itself a very livable mega city.
It is working tirelessly to improve on both areas of strengths and weaknesses, which is why there continues to be massive investments and maintenance attention being given to security of lives and property, social and physical infrastructure as well as job creation, the same reason that the effort of the present administration has been acknowledge in the EIA report in the areas of culture and the environment.
But Lagos chooses to be a resilient city that does not evade or wish away challenges. Rather, like every mega city alive to its responsibility, it chooses to constantly find answers to the myriad of issues that may arise out of the boom and expansion that every mega city witnesses. It chooses to develop capacities to confront every manner of threat or internal upheavals in order to maintain the comparative advantage that a huge head count and human capacity confer.
For sure, Lagos acknowledges its listing among the 140 important cities ranked by EIU, out of the several hundred capital cities of the world and thousands of other cities in every continent of the world that were not even considered. But it cherishes its listing, earlier in May, as one of the 37 new members of the 100 Resilient Cities of the world a lot more.
Lagos was chosen as a resilient city on the basis of willingness, ability and need to become resilient in the face of future challenges. Every Lagosian imbued with the spirit of resilience definitely believes this says something more practical; and clearly defines the go-get-it-done rugged spirit that is required for cities that want to confront the brutal fact of the 21st century.
This is what Rio displayed in forging ahead to host a successful Olympics last month in spite of grumbling by naysayers. This is what Paris displayed too in hosting UEFA Euro 2016 in spite of terror threats. It is the same resilient toga that Lagos will don in December when it will host the 2016 African Beach Soccer Nations Cup and in February 2017 when it will once again host the Lagos City Marathon.
The point really is that different rankings speak to different situations. In CNN’s report of the EIU ranking, Lagos was described as ‘Nigeria’s sprawling megacity.” The same CNN said if there was one thing that was wrong with living in Melbourne, “it’s probably the boring inevitability of being named one of the best places on the planet year after year.”
It is not the first time that the EIU ranking will court curiosity and criticism. A New York Times article once condemned it for equating livability with speaking English, since only Anglophone countries are always ranked in the top position. And except for Tehran which gained a few point this year, the ranking tend to ignore Islamic cities. Even this year, not a few has expressed shock that in spite of rising crime and growing number of homeless people in Melbourne, like any other growing city, it has continued to retain the No 1 position in a ranking that is open to intense lobby.
International stability may be waning globally, but the cities that will survive are not likely to be those that have been lucky thus far with little turmoil but those that have developed resilient skin against hostility and capacity to confront every untoward development.