Who wants to live in a livable city?

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Did you guys see this article that made the rounds last week, about how lists of livable cities almost never seem to include the cities where everyone, well, wants to live?

[These lists are] profoundly concerned with things like well-designed street furniture, a proliferation of eye-wateringly expensive artisanal retail, boutique hotels with good (English-speaking) service and environmentally friendly mayoral policies. Certainly these are all things which help but they skew the polls to a particular type of European or marginal Pacific city. What they also do is to strip out all the complexity, all the friction and buzz that make big cities what they are. [Read the full article]

The article points to the way that “livable” cities like Vancouver, Vienna, Zurich, Geneva, Copenhagen and Munich never seem to be exciting cities, like New York or Paris. As the author points out, “The big cities it seems … are just too big, too dangerous, too inefficient.”

I’m not the best to judge, as I bailed on living in two exciting cities (New York and Los Angeles) and adore two of the cities lambasted as livable-but-boring (Vancouver BC, and Copenhagen). That said, it seems to me that this article is about more than just cities… really, this question can be asked about any location:

Which is more important to you: livability or vibrancy?

Comments on Who wants to live in a livable city?

  1. Can I take a combo of the two? I also have a soft spot for Copenhagen, and the two cities I’d want to live in in the US are Portland and Seattle, which tend to be on these lists, at least when they’re confined to the US. LA? NOOOOOOOOO I feel so strongly about never wanting to live there, and I’d argue the “vibrancy” point too. New York holds more appeal, but not in any long-term way. I’m going to end up in Seattle, because Dude I’m Going To Marry got his dream job, which is the kind you retire from, there. Maybe it’s just me, but I’d much rather be able to live IN Seattle, and experience its “second-tier vibrancy” for my whole life than get a few exciting years in NY and then have to move to New Jersey to have babies or whatever. I realize people do raise kids in the city proper and love it, but though I never want to go all out cul-de-sac suburbanite, I do really like the idea of living in somewhat of a neighborhood – just a neighborhood that is surrounded by awesome restaurants and shopping and cool things going on!

  2. This article says what I’ve been thinking lately. I don’t love where I live. It’s livable, which is why we are here. It’s affordable and has stuff close to me and we could probably have a family here. But it’s boring. All the good stuff is in the real vibrant city, which is too far to go to on a regular basis and too close to ignore how second tier my town is. I want a city that’s booming and has things going on and has a life thread surrounding it. Livable to me means I’m missing out.

  3. I actually think the article is really problematic. Yes, it’s true, the famous lists tend to privilege a particular kind of cultural offering – and this is a problem. (I don’t want the mainstream theaters of Munich, I want the proliferation of cheap underground theaters in Berlin). BUT – there’s something to be said for cities that do things to reduce the gap between rich and poor, to offer efficient and ACCESSIBLE public transportation (not to mention bike paths), to create cities that minimize environmental impact. (And personally, I’d like to live in a place where I can afford a large enough kitchen to cook with some regularity – that’s also an aspect of life quality)
    Whenever I hear something like – “these cities aren’t the cities where people actually WANT to live” – I get particularly irritated. New York is not the only exciting place to live! I could never live long term in New York or LA, and I would LOVE to live in Copenhagen or Vancouver. (Or Toronto or Montreal or Minneapolis or Berlin or….

  4. I say yes. I live right outside of Portland, Maine, which is both vibrant and livable in spades. A lot of my friends, however, think that their resident cities (New York, Boston, and Tokyo) are so much more exciting as to make my beautiful little corner of the Northeast intolerably boring. It’s all a matter of personal taste! Even though I would happily overdose on museum and restaurant glory, my blood pressure wouldn’t last a month in a city like those. Lists of “livable” cities or “cultural meccas” are opinions, and like any other opinion, they are subject to the judgment of the reader. Unless you KNOW my opinions are roughly in line with those of the writer, an article like that strikes me as commentary, not advice.

    • Hey, just wanted to say ‘yes!’ in agreement. My husband and I vacationed in Maine last summer, and Portland was our favorite spot! Lots to do, amazing food, plenty of history. I could definitely live there, and I also wouldn’t last too long in a place like NYC, etc. We’re currently in Philly and love it here– it’s plenty ‘vibrant,’ but is very neighborhood-y and has a definite small town feel.

  5. I live in a suburb outside of Stockholm (one of those “livable” cities that doesn’t seem exciting) and I can say that any city can be exciting. You just have to find your corner in it.

    For example, Stockholm is beautiful – it’s a city built on several islands. Our architecture is historical & breathtaking. Lots of tourism in the summer. But as far as living here? It’s a lot of nightclubs, bars, etc. But like any other large city, there are those indie/underground/hole-in-the-wall places that make it worth it. Mine is a vegan cafe/anarchist bookstore/music venue called Kafe 44. It’s helped me connect with the punk community in Sweden, made me new friends, and helped me find MORE hole-in-the-wall establishments to hang out in.

  6. How about affordability mixed with excitement? I grew up in a smaaaalll town in a california valley. The rent is cheap as hell, but damn that place is boring! (It didn’t even have a mall!) And now I live just outside of San Francisco! EXCITING but damn expensive… What use is it to live in such a great city, if you can’t afford rent?

    • Ug, as someone who spent almost a decade paying off the debt I incurred trying to live in San Francisco, I HEAR YOU ON THIS! I have a post brewing about the lie that’s spoon-fed to young people about living in big/expensive cities. It’s going to be so exiting!! Except for you have to work 60 hours a week to pay your rent, and you don’t have any cash OR energy left over to go enjoy the city!

      • This a MILLION times over. I have a few friends who are always trying to convince me to move to whatever big city they are in – NYC, SF, etc, but I compare the rent there to here and while I’m no fan of this city (too racist for me, not enough true artistic flavor), I *like* that I can afford to work 40 hours a week, go to school, and not be so stressed about bills and rent that I have spending money to go out and do stuff. It lets me explore a little bit more to see if maybe there’s something worth staying for in this city (3 years later… no, not really, but I’m tied here until the hubs finds a job elsewhere.)

      • Yes. Yes. Yes.

        My husband and I moved from not-too-exciting Buffalo, NY to Seattle, WA. We love Seattle, and we love our neighborhood, and the crazy amazing views you see everywhere and the public transportation. Let me tell you though, a graduate student stipend goes A LOT further in Buffalo.

        Living in Buffalo was being comfortable, chilling with friends, without that many things going on in the broader city, culturally and so forth. Living in Seattle (which are not nearly the expensive as NYC or LA are) has been hearing about the awesome things you can do without being able to afford it. You cannot have your cake and eat it too, I suppose.

      • Oh ladies! After a decade living in New York, I will tell anyone who listens that I love San Francisco partly for it’s cheapness. Occasionally people here try to tell me how its so much more expensive than New York, to which I can only respond, “SHUT UP, NO.”

        it’s also so effing livable here, if you ask me. We pay the same for our rent in yuppie-by-the-golden-gate-bridge land as we paid for rent in I-saw-someone-shot-on-my-street-land in Brooklyn.

        But, you know, I REALLY like vibrancy. Clearly 😉

  7. I tend to think that if you don’t look for what’s fun and exciting and vibrant where you are, you won’t look for it somewhere else either. What makes my life vibrant isn’t a famous museum, it’s finding people who are making their own action.

  8. I think any city is what you make of it, to a certain extent. As long as you’re not in the total boonies, and have at least one like-minded person around, you can make a great life for yourself. It all depends on personal preference. I could be pretty happy out in the country or a small town, raising goats and organic produce, as long as I have high speed internet and Netflix.

    That said, I live in Los Angeles, I love it here, and I can’t imagine leaving. And I don’t take advantage of all the “exciting” stuff nearly as often as I should. But this city is so spread out, you just have to pick your neighborhood right to get whatever kind of life you want.

  9. I <3 where we live. It's the third largest city in our state and strikes a nice balance between lots to do and space to live. Lots of affordable music and art, and lots of green places. We live on the outskirts and it definitely has a small town feel, but a 10 minute drive takes us to the heart of the city where we can spend a day stomping around and enjoying the sights.

  10. I live in Vancouver and I adore it. ADORE it. And truly? The people saying that it’s boring obviously don’t know enough about it here to say that, and I’m sure the same could be said for any of those cities. Well designed streets, luxury hotels, and the shopping district downtown or on south Granville are big and loud and hard to miss. F that S.

    • Just wanted to say that from Victoria and growing up in a small town in Northern BC, Vancouver is super appealing, and vibrant. Maybe compared with New York, it’s not very vibrant, but I guess it all depends on what measuring stick you’re using.

    • I was surprised to read Vancouver being called “boring”. For me it’s certainly the most exciting Canadian city I’ve visited… and now the most exciting city I’ve lived in.

      I agree with the post above… only boring people get bored.

    • I don’t think I’ll ever be able to permanently live anywhere else. Good transit, good bike routes, great food basically everywhere, mild climate, GREAT libraries, and an incredibly diverse mishmash of people. I dig it hyoooooj. And I’m close enough to my favourite US cities (Seattle and Portland) to visit pretty much any time I feel like it.

      The only thing that sucks total butt is how expensive housing is. God help you if you want to buy. I share a three-bedroom half-duplex with a really cool hippie married couple and their guinea pig out of the major crush of the city proper, and my share of the rent is still $500, which is a lot for a student. At least BC has finally jacked up minimum wage, though not nearly enough to compensate for our outrageous home and rent prices. That’s the one major downside, really.

  11. I live in Vancouver, but not actually Vancouver. Its Richmond and it takes me 20 minutes by skytrain to get downtown. I am downtown all the time and its great. The transit is so amazing my husband and I don’t need a car. The people for the most part are friendly and there is so much to do here!

  12. I live in Minneapolis and I love it here. It is definitely NOT boring, there is more going on here than I could ever have time for. I can see some people like the excitement of NYC or LA but I’d never want to live there. Why would I want to give up the livability of my city for more stuff I would never have the time or inclination to do? Vancouver is so not boring either, it’s a beautiful and vibrant city. I could get this argument if this was a small town but Vancouver? Really?

    • I loooooove Minneapolis. It’s just a few hours away from Des Moines, and we actually honeymooned there. Weird choice, yeah? Had a blast, though!

    • I love it too! If I can find a job, I’m moving back! (It seems like it has gotten even better and better since I left over ten years ago!)

    • I could write a novel or a sonnet about how much I love living in Minneapolis. There are things to go do every night of the week, especially if you’re into local music or art or theater. There are amazing festivals and parades and art fairs all summer long (and even some during the snowy winter!). When you add St Paul into the mix, it’s pretty easy to find too much to do and overbook yourself…but the area is small enough where you can attend multiple events in one day without spending most of your time in transit. It’s pretty awesome here.

      • Haha – the new gay! Every time I visit, I always have all these plans packed full of plays, concerts, and museum visits… then I get distracted by biking around the lakes and the city (and investigating the stretches of recreated “prairie” that people installed into their backyards abutting the bike paths). And never have time to visit all my favorite cafes and restaurants… So much to do, so little time 🙂

  13. I live in a city in Kentucky that is more or less an overgrown small town that’s got big city. It’s got lots to offer, but it still FEELS like a smaller town. It’s relatively safe, there’s plenty to do, a super-stable economy, traffic is great… it’s a great balance.
    I don’t understand the draw of living in BIG cities. People tout the magic of possibility of doing in big cities, but really, how often do you do ANY of that stuff? Isn’t it few enough times a year that taking a small vacation would really cover it?
    I grew up in a teeny tiny town and I’ve definitely got the small-town mindset–big cities are just scary and frantic to me.

    • where in kentucky? I’m from Louisville, going to school in Richmond, and I love both places. Sure, there are more things to do in louisville, and i do have to drive to lexington to do a lot of things while at school. but even though they are both so differnt, i can still find awesome things to do in my small college town, you just have to look for them. (and odd as it may seem, louisville is a big city that can feel like a small town)

  14. Really, I guess it depends on what one considers “exciting”. Me, I’ve been to a number of cities (Boston, NYC, Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle, Montreal, etc…), and to be perfectly honest, the ones that are deemed “exciting”, to me are frequently terrifying in a sensory-overload, fear-of-getting-run-over-or-mugged-in-an-alley sort of way. Not to mention that unless you have unlimited wealth, most of the “exciting” places are too expensive for us working-class schmucks to afford more than a weekend visit! Seems like most of the “boring but liveable” places have a fair amount of really interesting things going on all the time, you just have to, ya know, go out and find them, rather than wait for them to knock on your door with a hand-engraved invitation.

    Me, I’ll take liveable. I’m an only child, I’m pretty good at finding all manner of interesting things to do to entertain myself with no matter where I am. 😉

  15. I feel like I’ve got a good compromise at the moment. I live in a relatively small town with all the basic every day facilities, lots of green space and a few things to do for fun, but also with really easy train links to both London and Birmingham (UK, not Alabama). The excitement of a big city is there if we want it, close enough to go for a day out, but not so close that we have to deal with all the downsides.

    But like other people have said it really comes down to opinion. Everyone has their own critera for what makes a great place to live and you can’t really take someone elses list at face value.

  16. For me, vibrancy IS livability.

    I am a lifelong NYC resident who moved to Chicago two years ago.

    I am quite literally at the point where I’d sell a kidney in order to give up the 3 BR house w/ yard that my 1 BR NYC apt (in a doorman + elevator building) bought me.

    If anyone wants my house plus kidney, I’ll give both in exchange for a studio in a walk up.

    I am not kidding.

  17. Livability. And my definition of true livability includes things like not being able to see the nearest neighbor’s house, having enough space for goats and possibly living on top of a mountain.

    Some of those “boring” cities mentioned are some of the only cities I would ever consider living in. I do find the “exciting” cities to be too big, too dangerous, too inefficient.

    I’m also going to be a librarian and am the sort of person who goes to museums for fun, so that probably tells you all you need to know…

  18. My husband and I currently live in a Florida suburb about an hour away from Orlando. We HATE it. We lived in New Orleans until Katrina forced us out, and Boston after that. He pines for another city.

    Anyone know anything about Austin? We have some friends in that area and they tell us it’s a pretty fun place.

    • I live in Austin!! I moved here from a small town in upstate New York and I really love it here. It’s affordable, has tons of stuff to do (being the live music capital and all,) lots of spots to go hiking, biking, swimming, etc. The university leads to a pretty diverse population as well. It’s small enough that it’s fairly easy to get around, but whether you want to live in a downtown condo, a cute little cottage or a big suburban house, you can. My only complaints are the heat (it’s frickin’ hot in the summer) and the fact that it’s surrounded by the rest of Texas. Austin is an oasis of liberalness (which I like,) in a sea of conservative cowboys. Still though, everything else makes it worth it to me.

      • University towns are great! Diversity, interesting public lectures, international food, good shopping! Libraries that you can get lost in for days!

        • I politely disagree. I live in a University town and the shopping sucks. It’s also extremely boring a lot of the time, unless you like sports.

      • I too am an hour out of Sydney! I dont find myself getting bored very often (read: ever!), but when asked about what my area is like, i only have one reply – “Boring as hell.”
        Are you north or south?

  19. I don’t understand how Vancouver ISN’T vibrant? Heck, I think Toronto is a little less vibrant (no offense to Torontonians), but “Scott Pilgram Vs. The World” was filmed, and took place there…yet Vancouver isn’t vibrant enough? Weeeird.

    I mean, technically, EVERY city is vibrant in its own special snowflake kind of way. I live in a Canadian city that would be called the epitomy of boring (Edmonton Alberta…which oddly enough has been used for many a Christmas/winter-based movie). But I don’t think it’s boring. And I’ve lived here for 20 years (spent the other 4 in Whitehorse Yukon).

    Every city has its own uniqueness that sometimes is not as obvious as other cities like Tokyo or New York (BTW, I would totally live in Tokyo, but NEVER New York). But that’s what makes those cities kind of cool…you might have to search for the vibrancy a little harder. I think people who are too quick to jump to the conclusion that a city is “boring” or “livable but not vibrant” are too lazy, inattentive and boring themselves.

    • Bit off topic but I think Scott Pilgrim was set in Toronto because that’s where the comic’s writer grew up and lives rather than because someone thought it was an awesome place to set a comic/movie.

      It’d be a bit like saying New Jersey must be just as exciting as New York because Kevin Smith set a whole series of movies there.

  20. Vancouver boring? That surprises me. I’ve been there a few times and I didn’t find it boring at all – I even have friends out there who just adore it and are always posting pictures of all of the fun things they are doing. I guess it’s all a matter of perspective. Some people would be bored in the most “exciting” cities in the world and then there is me, I am super psyched to be going out to the middle of no where this weekend. I live in the Broadway District of Saskatoon which has been showing up on some Canadian best places to live lists and I DO adore it here. I wouldn’t live any where else but I do love my little weekend trips out to the country too, and my trips to bigger cities when I get a chance. I also can’t wait to take some trips to Europe some day. I’m some what reminded of what my grade 10 science teacher said, “If you’re bored you must be boring!” I thought that was a little harsh at the time but looking back – when I lived in that small town I was never bored. I always found something to do, but now I always hear my friends who stayed saying how bored they are. It’s strange – but then I moved here and it’s much bigger and people say the exact same thing! And now I hear people say Vancouver (which is much much bigger than Saskatoon) is boring? I suppose to someone NYC is probably boring. I guess it all comes down to a livable city is truly the one that is livable to you, not some list 😉

  21. I too am a little shocked at Vancouver being classified as boring. I’ve lived there and while I prefer my quiet island life, I have to admit that Vancouver is anything but boring. It’s a city where you can ski in the morning, shop in the afternoon and still enjoy world-class cosmopolitan nightlife. Then again, liveable? I read a news item yesterday that said the housing prices there are higher than NY and London. Not extremely liveable.

    • That’s the kicker. I’m one of the rare breed born-and-bred Vancouverites, currently living in East Van, but I have to roll my eyes a little at the livable lists. Yes, it’s gorgeous and clean and vibrant (if a little stand-offish), but it’s also generally cripplingly expensive and low paid.

      Then again, lists always lack perspective, and that’s why so much debate gets thrown at them. Nothing wrong with that. I guess it’s just a reminder that compromises will need to be made no matter where you live – liveability vs. …?

  22. I think to a large extent livability–and all of the beauty/excitement that may entail–is about perspective. Where you’re coming from in all likelihood affects where you feel drawn to going, yes? For example, my parents were respectively from Battle Creek, MI and Amsterdam, and although they started out in New Orleans, within 5 years of being together they were back-to-the-land hippies drawn to first a 200 year old farm, then to house on top of a mountain in PA, no tv, 2 acre garden in the “back yard”, no neighbors. The 4 of us, raised in what we thought of as suffocating amounts of green and quiet, now live respectively in NY, LA, Philly and London! Of course, we all proudly email eachother pictures of our little backyard/balcony garden adventures ;)Our kids will probably all move to the country..

  23. I don’t know, maybe growing up right near Detroit has left me a bit jaded but I don’t think any big cities are livable!

    I love to visit them – it’s nice to feel the excitement and the ability to have everything within 10-15 minutes, but I’d hate to live there.

    But, I’m more of an outdoorsy kind of person. Give me some woods and I’ll love it! Some people may get bored in the upper peninsula of Michigan (read, middle of nowhere), but I love it.

    • “I love to visit, but I’d hate to live there”
      EXACTLY how I feel about the woods..heh. We used to visit Petusky alot as a kid, are you near there?

  24. Actually, I have lived in Copenhagen and it’s one of the most vibrant cities ever. You have all the big town advantages in a village-like atmosphere. Just the best!

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