There’s something perverse about placing cities in a “liveability” list and then doling out winners and losers; nevertheless, the Economist Intelligence Unit’s 2016 Global Liveability Report makes for fascinating reading. Presumably the former residents of Damascus, currently sat in muddy slum conditions on the Macedonian borders, have already figured out that a life in the list’s winner Melbourne, Australia might be a lot lovelier than either staying put or “going home”. Likewise, no one in Tripoli is waking up this morning to the shock news that life is breezier in Vancouver. However, whether residents of London, ranked at number 53 in the index, expected to find themselves 52 places behind Melbourne is highly debatable. To set up a life here in London and to be consumed by it, as I have done for 20 years, forces a person to become numb, or even cheerfully fond, of its inhospitality.
Yet here are Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth all wiping the floor with our capital city on factors related to safety, healthcare, educational resources, infrastructure and environmental matters. If I’m honest, the clues about Australia have been plastered all over Facebook for years, as multiple friends and ex-colleagues have sidled off on Qantas Airlines to “see how things work out”, never to return. Ben Swain from The Thick Of It may well have written off Australia as “full of people in khaki squinting” and “just the world’s largest collection of poisonous things”, but the reality is that Australia’s distinct liveability is borne out in those photos of our emigrated friends, steeped in Vitamin D, playing some sort of sport by floodlight and jovially wrestling enormous spiders out of their “second utility room” which is the size an entire Streatham £1500-per-month bedsit.
Interestingly, it’s not just London doing badly in the liveability list, but other European cities such as Zurich, Geneva, Frankfurt, Berlin, Oslo, Luxembourg, Brussels, Paris, Rome and Lisbon. All of the cities have seen declines in appeal, said to be “mostly stemming from heightened fears of terrorism in the wake of attacks in Paris and Brussels”. Ah yes. That “getting oneself blown up, shot, ran over, decapitated or stabbed to death” matter. It does take the joy out of living somewhat, doesn’t it?
But perhaps the Economist Intelligence report is being rather defeatist by admitting this. I’ve heard many times that altering one’s life in any way due to terrorism is “letting the terrorists win”. And in that case, they’ve certainly gained some ground because number 2 in the 2016 global liveability list is the frankly surprising Vienna in Austria. Who dreams of moving to Vienna? Clearly everybody, in the fullness of time.
Less surprising to me about Economist Intelligence’s findings were Vancouver, Toronto and Calgary at places 3, 4 and 5. My relatives, over the past century, have fled to Vancouver in droves from Cumbria and never returned, falling in love with scenery, the simplicity of life and well, the unabashedly masculine men, if I’m honest. But a recent work trip to Toronto made me reassess everything I felt to be true about my salary-sapping London life of black snot, random stabbings and blaring police sirens. Life in Toronto was slower – not backwards, but certainly a less stressful affair fuelled by Tim Horton’s double-double coffees, boxes of Timbits donuts and news reports made up mostly of “threats of humidity”.
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One Canadian colleague wanted quite genuinely to know why people in London and Manchester – which also does badly in the liveability list – are so fond of beating each other up. He felt, as a traveller, that he’d seen dozens of fights in bars, the street and on public transport: “And the thing is, in Toronto, we’d stop and stare! We’d film it! But in Britain, it’s just, well, normal.”
After several attempts to explain to Canadians our intricate modern British dissatisfaction with our healthcare, politics, educational resources, infrastructure, and the way we treat the environment, I had to conclude, “We also just really love fighting.” On another telling occasion, I failed dismally to convince a bunch of Toronto-dwellers that Britain really does have a thriving republican movement composed of people who loathe the Queen and Prince Charles and would have them all turfed out and stripped of their assets. “But, but… why?” they cried, shaking their heads, refusing to believe that anyone could really be against such nice harmless things such as street parties, horse-drawn carriages and Kate Middleton shaking hands in a lovely frock.
Canada is far from a wonderland, but it does seem in 2016 to have a distinct dearth, in relative terms, of angry, embittered, jaded, dissatisfied headbangers – and I count myself among them – who could start a fight in an empty room. Let’s all move to Canada. They’ve had it too good for far too long.