Sunday, 7 May 2017

Lovable cities

We all know about the ranking tables that claim to tell us which cities in the world are the most livable. Melbourne, Australia, regularly tops such rankings. I suspect we also share misgivings, that what those tables tell us is nonsense.

Why aren't we talking about it more? I meant to, months ago, when I came across an article about the work of three academics at Deakin University – which incidentally is located on the margins of Melbourne.  The article leads off:
"Liveability has become one of the most important ideas to influence international urban governance and planning. On one level, this should be no surprise – after all, who can disagree that cities ought to be places where people can live? But from here things get tricky.
While debate continues on a precise definition of liveability, the idea has manufactured industry standards in empirical urban rankings based on an ever-growing number of data points. It seems timely to ask whether liveability, in its current state, tells us enough about the quality of cities as places to live."
As the authors explain, the answer to the question isn't simple. To begin with, it pays to understand who generates those tables and for what purpose? Though it's an oversimplification, most such rankings are for the guidance of corporate types, and reflect their needs and preoccupations as expatriates, rather than engaging with the sentiments of people for whom those cities are home.

Probably well aware that they are being cute, the authors set about a discussion of lovability. To quote again:

"The power of lovability is in re-engaging with people to understand the nuances of their interaction with places. Lovability is a powerful concept that, fused with other data, can cut through numbers to provide more direct, relevant information that could guide urban planning and policymaking by identifying a city’s assets through the eyes of its people. It also forgoes the increasing focus on urban competitiveness that liveability has encouraged in favour of richer and more meaningful qualitative data."

It's worth reading the original article published on The Conversation.  Short, and not too academic. The 2015 Melbourne Lovability Index Industry Report is available upon request.
The Conversation

Funny though. All the data in the world is unlikely to capture the qualities Italo Calvino does about Venice in Invisible Cities.  Or Jean-Pierre Jeunet in his love letter to Paris in the film Amélie.

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