It’s been an interesting week of discussing urban issues, and I want to thank Sharon Astyk of Casaubon’s Book and all of our commenters for making it so fun. I learned some interesting things from the comments – especially that vertical agriculture probably doesn’t make sense, even if it sounds like a great idea to a non-expert urban reader (and page after page of Google results have nothing but praise for it).
I started off my first post explaining how I decided I wanted to live in the city, and several of the comments make points about why urban living might or might not be such a good idea. (Short answer: it depends how soon you expect Peak Oil to completely upend the current reality.) We’re all working from the assumption that we can choose where we want to live. But it hasn’t always been so easy to choose where to live, and for millions of people the idea of moving to a better place is a dream they might never achieve.
In the developing world, many rural residents migrate to the city because they figure it’s their only shot at rising above poverty. It might take years to save up for the move, but it’s an investment millions of people are willing to make. China actually has a system, known as hukou, that requires permits for urban residency, so many of the rural migrants who arrive in cities without official permission have a status not unlike that of undocumented immigrants.
In countries where economic opportunity is more widely available, moving to a city is far from the only path to prosperity, but it’s still a quick way to access a concentration of job opportunities. Faster, cheaper communication and travel have made it easier to leave the place where one grew up; a cross-country move no longer seems like such a barrier to staying connected to the family and friends left behind.
Family and jobs are often two major factors in decisions about where to live, but then the decision can get complicated. It seems that news organizations are constantly issuing new top ten lists that rank cities on their desirability or livability. Here’s a sampling:
- The Economist Intelligence Unit ranks cities around the world based on stability, healthcare, culture and environment, education, and infrastructure. Vancouver tops the list, and in general Canadian and Australian cities get high marks due to perfect scores for healthcare and education.
- Forbes bases its rankings of US metropolitan areas on figures for unemployment, crime, income growth, cost of living, and artistic and cultural opportunities. Pittsburgh, PA comes in at #1, and other areas with college towns score well, too.
- Outside Magazine ranks the 100 most populated US cities based on cost of living, unemployment, nightlife, commute time, access to green spaces, percentage of population with college degrees, income level in relation to home price, weather, and “quality and proximity to biking, running, paddling, hiking, and skiing.” Colorado Springs won the top spot.
- The American College of Sports Medicine developed an index that considers “a composite of preventive health behaviors, levels of chronic disease conditions, health care access, as well as community resources and policies that support physical activity.” According to their index, the DC metropolitan area is the healthiest in the country.
I suspect these top ten lists are largely developed as ways to generate publicity, but it’s interesting to look at the factors different organizations use. I doubt most people would make a choice about where to live based on this kind of number-crunching, though I do know one person who used a spreadsheet to generate a list of places to consider.
David Byrne’s list of “what makes a city livable for me” is probably a better example of how most people decide which places are their favorites (for potential vacations if not necessarily for relocation); it’s a mix of quantifiable and intangible assets. I can’t really concur with his rationale for size and density (not enough anonymity in San Francisco; too little density in LA leads to plastic surgery), and I can personally do without “chaos and danger,” but I agree that intangibles like sensibility are important, and public transportation and mixed use are key. And as someone who feels the need to bundle up when it’s forty degrees outside, I have to add weather to the list of important factors.
How did you decide where to live? Have you seen a ranking that captures the elements that are important to you?