The 2012 Mercer Quality of Living Ranking survey has Auckland as the world’s third most liveable city – retaining the same ranking as 2011. The survey is designed to assist employers in the placement of expatriate staff and how much they should receive in living allowances, so the results tend to indicate quality of living if you’re really well off, however they give a useful guide. Here are the top 20:The explanation for how the results are collated is helpful in making sense out of them:

Mercer evaluates local living conditions in more than 460 cities it surveys worldwide. We analyze living conditions according to 39 factors, grouped in 10 categories:

Political and social environment (political stability, crime, law enforcement)
Economic environment (currency exchange regulations, banking services)
Socio-cultural environment (censorship, limitations on personal freedom)
Medical and health considerations (medical supplies and services, infectious diseases, sewage, waste disposal, air pollution, etc.)
Schools and education (standard and availability of international schools)
Public services and transportation (electricity, water, public transportation, traffic congestion, etc.)
Recreation (restaurants, theatres, movie theatres, sports and leisure, etc.)
Consumer goods (availability of food/daily consumption items, cars, etc.)
Housing (rental housing, household appliances, furniture, maintenance services)
Natural environment (climate, record of natural disasters)

The scores attributed to each factor allow for city-to-city comparisons. The result is a quality-of-living index that compares relative differences between any two locations that we evaluate. For the indices to be used effectively, Mercer has created a grid that allows users to link the resulting index to a quality-of-living allowance amount by recommending a percentage value in relation to the index.

For 2012, Mercer also prepared an Infrastructure Index, based on Electricity, Water Availability, Telephone, Mail, Public Transportation, Traffic Congestion & Airport Effectiveness. The results for this index are in many places quite different, with Auckland dropping from 3rd for liveability to 43rd for infrastructure provision. This most likely highlights that transport, particularly public transport I suspect, is the main barrier to becoming number one. The table below runs a comparison between the lists for those cities which appeared in both lists – those which scored better in the infrastructure are shown in green and those that scored better in the liveability are shown in red:It’s interesting that Auckland and Wellington are the two cities which outperform their infrastructure score in the final liveability ranking so much. What’s also interesting is that the cities with the top two infrastructure scores which haven’t corresponded to ending up in the top 50 liveable cities are Dallas and Atlanta: notoriously car dependent cities.

What is very interesting is that Auckland’s poor infrastructure score, relative to liveability, is perhaps reflected in Auckland generally scoring quite lowly in terms of economic performance compared to a number of these other cities. This is outlined in the Economy chapter of the Auckland Plan quite starkly:

Measured internationally, Auckland’s performance is relatively poor: it is ranked 69th out of 85 metro regions in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in terms of GDP per capita. New Zealand’s economic performance has declined relative to other OECD countries in terms of GDP per capita to its position at 21st, but has stabilised at around 80% of the OECD median.

Pulling a few strands together, I think there’s likely to be an argument that Auckland’s historic under-investment in infrastructure – particularly the kind of transport infrastructure that encourages productivity through boosting employment densities – has held back our economic growth. This is reflected not only in our relatively poor economic performance, but also in our relatively low infrastructure scores in the Mercer survey. Because our transport investment in the past has been so focused on encouraging employment dispersal we have missed out on the agglomeration benefits that would have otherwise been enjoyed and therefore missed the economic growth that we should have had.

Fortunately there seems to be a growing recognition of this faulty thinking and a growing realisation that smart transport investment is about encouraging and facilitating land-use patterns which support economic growth – particularly through agglomeration. Let’s hope the government finally starts to understand this point and sees how critical a project such as the City Rail Link is in boosting Auckland’s economic productivity by allowing much greater employment densities in the city centre and in major centres on the rail network across Auckland. I can’t say I have too much hope though, sadly.

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  1. Composite indices can produce vastly different rankings when slightly different weights are given to the various components. That is, they really aren’t worth much.

  2. Mercer’s lists are famously opaque, a bit of googling shows that the Airport Effectiveness includes the number of long haul flight destinations from local airports !!!,
    Until you actual see that weightings used in these lists, I would actually not really give it too much attention in relation to us local plebeians.

    From the Swiss version

    “Bern and Geneva simply do not have enough long-haul flights so that expats and their families may return home directly.”

    “Infrastructure in German and Danish cities is among the best in the world, in part due to their first-class airport facilities, international and local connectivity, and a high standard of public services.”

  3. That is an interesting point about infrastructure and relative QoL rankings, but this index seems to be missing an important component. Hands up all those who would rather live in Bern, Dusseldorf, Zurich or Frankfurt than in New York, London, Paris or Barcelona?

    1. Me, have you actually lived in any of those cities you list or are you just going on your tourist opinion?

      The study used specific guidelines to get the result they did, they could have used others to get a different result, it’s all pretty meaningless IMO, but a city being fun as a tourist is quite irrelevant when you actually live there.

    2. The whole point about this list is the the people generally do not have a choice,
      They are being sent their by a large multinational business and it is just that their office is now in a different country…….

  4. These liveability indices are overhyped and are not aimed at long-term residents. I used to work for a large multinational and was posted to several developing countries. They were useful in determining how much salary and benefits uplift were to be paid but they are elitist and don’t fully address the issues of importance for locals. I find Len Brown’s mission satement to be inappropriate, ill-defined and, for rural Aucklanders, irrelevant.

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