IN previous weeks, I shared how the lack of a comprehensive urban plan led to the low quality of life in Metro Manila. To serve as a contrast and as an optimistic possibility for Metro Manila, I want to discuss livable cities and the characteristics and best practices that the most livable cities in the world share. Simply stated, the concept of livability assesses which cities in the world offer the best or worst living conditions. Ideally, cities and human settlements must be inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable, as stated in the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 11.
According to The Global Liveability Index 2019, among 140 cities, the top 10 most livable cities are Vienna, Melbourne, Sydney, Osaka, Calgary, Vancouver, Toronto, Tokyo, Copenhagen and Adelaide. The cities were rated based on five categories: 1) stability, which indicates the prevalence of crime, terror and conflict; 2) healthcare, which reflects the availability and quality of private and public healthcare; 3) culture and environment; 4) education; and 5) infrastructure, which indicates the quality of good housing, road networks and public utilities. It is notable how Australia and Canada dominated the top 10 rankings, with three of their respective cities included in the top 10.
Vienna garnered an almost perfect rating of 99.1 and scored 100 in stability, healthcare, education and infrastructure. Achieving a near perfect score reflects the commitment and endeavors the local government has devoted to make its citizens happy, healthy and secure. Vienna’s exceptional and progressive housing system offers superior yet affordable housing to residents. In fact, 62 percent of its residents live in social housing and are very glad about it. The success lies in Vienna’s practice of prioritizing top-quality housing for the working class. The city government owns approximately 25 percent of Vienna’s housing stock, and it is dedicated primarily to lower-income residents. Rental rates are strictly regulated by the government — residents should not pay more than 20 percent to 25 percent of their household income. Subsidized housing, collaboration with private developers, and mixed-income neighborhoods are the keys to Vienna’s housing success. The city’s infrastructure programs and services are part of its sustainability and resiliency initiatives. It has allotted €1.3 billion, or $1.4 billion, to its infrastructure projects to ensure that its water and energy supply and wastewater management can serve the projected population of the city.
Before Vienna obtained the No.1 spot, Melbourne held the most livable city title for seven years. It took more than three decades for Melbourne to obtain the status as the most livable city for several years. Formerly known as the Rust Belt of Australia and described by architect and urban designer Jan Gehl as “utterly dead” and “boring,” the city transformed itself into one of the liveliest and most ideal cities in the world. What are the city’s programs that are making Melbourne residents happy? According to Robert Adams, the city’s director for design and urban environment, it is all about steady, consistent and carefully planned transitions in the city’s plans that are primarily for the benefit of the people. Planting more trees; providing more spaces for outdoor activities and recreation; reclaiming streets; and taking cars out of the roads while highly prioritizing walking, cycling and public transportation planning are just a few of Melbourne’s lauded initiatives. Melbourne’s central business district (CBD) continues to revitalize itself. Did you know that the Carlton Gardens at the northeast edge of the CBD is a World Heritage Site? The landscaping, tree-lined avenues, and gardens have been well-preserved since the 1880s and remain one of Melbourne’s historical and cultural gems. To control urban sprawl and make the city more livable, Melbourne has initiated “20-minute neighborhoods” as part of its Plan Melbourne 2017-2050. This planning principle enables residents to enjoy walkable neighborhoods in the city where they can access a majority of their daily needs within 20 minutes from their home, may it be through walking, cycling, or public transportation. These neighborhoods feature mixed-income housing; safe cycling routes; and convenient access to public transportation, health facilities, shops and parks, among others.
The Asian Development Bank, along with three other regional banks, published the Creating Livable Cities Regional Perspectives report. The publication identified the common challenges of rapid urban development, but it also presented how cities can view these as opportunities to prepare and apply plans and programs that promote inclusivity, sustainability and resiliency. According to the report, green economies and green finance veer away from traditional urbanization models that rely heavily on carbon-intensive methods causing extensive pollution and waste. An increasing number of government and business leaders are gearing toward prioritizing the protection and preservation of ecosystems, people-centered development, climate change mitigation, and more inclusive and sustainable markets and industries.
According to the International Labor Organization, a green economy can potentially create 18 million jobs in Europe, the Americas, and Asia and the Pacific by 2030. Another opportunity is through technology and big data, which have helped create smart cities. Data-driven cities empower local governments to improve the welfare and living conditions of citizens through sustainable urban planning, conservation of dwindling resources, disaster resilience, smart mobility, and the provision of efficient and transparent services and transactions, among others.
By identifying the elements that make livable cities successful, we get a powerful perspective of the potential our cities can achieve. As exemplified by the city of Melbourne, it is not always about numerous grand projects; it all boils down to consistent, well-planned, well-managed and sustainable transformations taking place over the long term. Through holistic and inclusive city planning, local governments will know what citizens really need. As Jan Gehl put it, it is by willingly giving people the spaces they need that we can create a true livable city.