Wednesday, June 10, 2009


The Economist has released one of those predictable surveys ranking cities in the world for their "liveability". I'm amazed how a supposedly scientific magazine can present "liveability" as some sort of objective criterion. It also seems rather pompous to label the report "The Economist Intelligence Unit's liveability survey February 2009" and on top of that they expect online readers to fork out 250 US dollars to access the full report! All I've read, therefore, is the free summary and that tells us the top ten and the bottom ten cities.

India doesn't make it at either end but as today's papers tell us, both Bombay and Delhi are way down there. Now my irritation at the above article and survey is certainly not due to an inflated sense of where my beloved Bombay should lie. But let me say a few words about the winners. Three Canadian cities make it to the top 10: Vancouver (1), Toronto (4) and Calgary (5). Calgary is most easily demolished, it's dull as a garbage heap and ugly to boot (unless you include nearby Banff, but that's another city altogether). In addition to my personal impression, I've known a couple of people who have served time there. Of course someone will say liveability is altogether a different thing from aesthetics and liveliness. But I wonder, I wonder...

Vancouver is better. I've been there a few times and spent a good six weeks living in the very heart of downtown overlooking Coal Harbour (prettier than it sounds) - in an eminently "liveable" glass building where, if you're not careful, your entire personal life can be made into a feature film by the folks next door. The building had a full-size indoor heated swimming pool (there's not much of a market in chilly, rainy Vancouver for open-air pools!), sauna, jacuzzi, gym.. In short, liveable. Problem is, I found it a shade dull. No one there mentioned a museum or an art gallery seriously worth visiting. Bars inevitably consisted of a few despondent people watching TV. There really wasn't much of a buzz on the streets.

And here's the final blow. The supermarkets there sold average Canadian imitations of French cheese! And the "pesto" there is made from cashew nuts instead of pine nuts and generic oil instead of olive oil! Did I say "liveable"??

OK, OK. I have a brother, a sister-in-law, a cousin, a cousin-in-law and four nephews in Vancouver so I have to be careful what I say. It's a lovely city and if I found it a wee bit dull, it's surely my own limitation.

So on to Melbourne which comes in at number 3. And this is where
I begin to seriously wonder. The Economist claims its criteria for liveability are: stability, health care, culture and environment, education, and infrastructure. Somewhere in this list they must surely evaluate the ability to walk safely home from a train station at night. Good old Bombay comes out shining on that score. But in the last few weeks Melbourne's image has certainly taken a bashing. I'm not referring to the hyped version in the Indian media, who believe that every Aussie wants nothing more in life than to beat up an Indian, and that every Indian in Melbourne is an angel. I'm referring to the moderate Australian response to this situation, as typified by an article titled "Play fair, mate" by Aussie journalist Greg Sheridan reprinted in yesterday's Hindustan Times. Here is an extract, referring to Melbourne:

"All big cities around the world are struggling with a rise in urban violence, especially in the throes of the global recession. While I'm sure there has been a racial element in these attacks, there has also been an element of robbery pure and simple, and of random, big city violence".

Does it bother you that a city so casually described in these terms by a resident scribe ranks No.3 on the Economist's list for "liveability"?

Oh, I'm not convincing you? OK, then here's my next (and final) card. Please read the following excerpt from Wikipedia's article on the current swine flu outbreak:

As of June 6, Australia's second largest city, Melbourne, has been reported as the "swine flu capital of the world", with 1,011 cases in Victoria, mostly in Melbourne.

I think I'll settle for Bombay's liveability, or whatever that thing which I like over here is called. Oh, and the mangoes are just fabulous!


Arun said...

I dont think that a western publication is going to tell that the dirt and slum ridden Bombay is as "livable" as a Western/Westernized city, clean and all.

Ramanan said...

Sunil you live in Colaba! That part of Mumbai is so so different from the rest of Mumbai. Plus I think the Australian attacks have been super-hyped by the media. I am not at all surprised by Melbourne's high ranking. Plus remember the rape incident at Marine Drive ?

Such rankings are going to be controversial - its not as simple as ranking metals by their atomic weight or something. But the public is interested in such things. A kid living in Indore will get an idea of how good or bad different places in the world are.

My biggest personal criteria is the ease with which I can, on a Saturday afternoon, go for shopping. Sadly, I would rank Mumbai (minus Colaba) way below any city in India.

Ramanan said...

probably the Businessweek slideshow will get you interested more .. free .. no $250 required!

Rahul Basu said...

Sunil, why do you insist on calling it Bombay. The official name is Mumbai, old chap, and has been for some time you know, in case you missed the event. Madras is now Chennai and most of us call it that, respecting local sentiments and I suppose ditto for Kolkata.

I sometimes think you chauvinists of the other variety provide oxygen to the likes of Raj Thackerey. I am not quite sure what message you are trying to convey.

Sunil Mukhi said...


Do you say "Genève", "Venezia" and "Paa-rrreee" when speaking English, or do you just not give a damn about the local sentiments of your European friends?

As for "... you chauvinists of the other variety...", there's only one variety really. The same, alas, holds for windbags.

Sandip said...

In case you missed this......

Wouldn't the population density of the Indian cities, inherently resist increasing it any further? Do we really want more people in here? If we did, our cities would behave accordingly, I would think.