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. I live in Southampton UK. I grew up here. I have history here. Most of my friends (like me) moved away and have come back. My husband and I were born 3 days apart in the same hospital, here.

    I’ve lived in other places, but this is home and it’s where I want to live, regardless of the way my city gets ranked.

  2. I feel like I’ve got the best of both worlds: being in the far west of San Francisco means that the housing is considerably less expensive than the rest of the city, because it takes so long to get downtown, and also is prone to fog. It feels like a beach town out here, no too-tall buildings, no panhandlers, a good amount of parking, seriously quiet–but the light rail is a short walk away, and I can be to the Castro in 20 minutes, downtown in 40, and go see baseball in 50-60. LOVE.
    Still more expensive than a lot of places, sure, but it’s cheaper than a lot of the suburbs, if you do it ‘right’. Which for us, means that my sweetie and I share a 4-bedroom house with two other people. We get to have yard and laundry and a decent-size, nice kitchen!
    We’ve talked about moving somewhere with more room and privacy someday, but I *really* worry that I’d feel too isolated and that I’d miss my late-night grocery shopping. ;p
    We still go to enough concerts and ballgames that living here is totally worth it. ;D

  3. I LOVE L.A.!!! I grew up living 20 minutes outside the L.A./Hollywood area and I absolutely loved it. I loved the smorgasbord of things to do. And, I lived near the beach. AND, L.A. is the only place in the world where you can go snowboarding and surfing in the same day!!! I never did the fancy schmancy Hollywood glam thing, I was always into what was “underground”, which is a very different side of L.A.

    I could’ve done without many of the people, mostly the big fishes from little ponds who didn’t realize they weren’t the only big fish around, haha. But living just outside all of the madnessand close enough to it probably had a lot to do with my love for it.

    I currently live in Louisville, KY and it’s a cool little city, but I miss the variety that the big city has to offer. Most of the musical acts I adore don’t tour here. It all just boils down to personal preference

    • Wow. I have totally heard of people being all in love with Los Angeles. I could never get on board. I tried so hard there and I just hated it. I really wanted to figure out the magical thing that made people love L.A. I found most of the people to be totally rude and sometimes even cruel. I asked someone who was professing their love of things to do if they could list a few things that they thought I should try so I could get to know the city better. They said “Fuck off. If anyone wanted you in those places you would have been invited already”. I get the feeling I didn’t want to be in any of the places this girl liked. I kind of felt the same about San Francisco too though. I guess I’m just not CA material.

      • How rude!That makes me SO m/sad! I think half the fun here is finding the secret rad spots stuck in strip malls etc. Off the top of my head (if you ever return): Museum of Jurassic Technology or hiking the abandoned zoo..I hated it my 1st year(of 5)here, but now I’d miss the scent of mingled jasmine & smog 😉

  4. The people that are saying Vancouver is boring also said [and I’m paraphrasing], “that it’s boring because it doesn’t have poor people”. Um…what? Oh right, you mean besides having the second largest population of homeless people in Canada, and a downtown east side that basically everyone in Canada knows about.

    That article annoyed me, can you tell?

    On another note, vibrant cities that aren’t on lists (that I know of), and have loved: Cincinnati; Birmingham; Edmonton; Detroit (because of a nerdy urban planner fascination); and Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Vebrancy and livability are entirely dependent on what you enjoy and the lifestyles you take part in, I think. I like Vancouver, but prefer Toronto because it’s more “me”. And I think there are an awful lot of people who identify with places in a similar way!

  5. Its funny because I live in LA now (much to my dismay) and have lived in other “not livable” cities as well as smaller places which could be considered “livable” and have decided that its all really in the eye of the beholder. LA is livable in some ways: its easy to find parking (once you’ve fought traffic!) there are lots of clean playgrounds with water fountains for kids, the weather is awesome, the farmer’s markets are spectacular. But compared to a college town, its rife with impossible situations and super expensive (like haircuts are outrageous and food costs are high). I think its really all what you are used to and what “home” is. the suburbs of Orange County, for example, are not livable for me, though I know people are happy there. So in the end, I hate these lists and like to visit places and see for myself!

  6. Perhaps my view is colored by the fact that I have lived in Georgia my entire life, but you DO NOT have to live in a big city to have exciting things to do. I’m sick of people bad-mouthing suburbia like it’s just boring people with boring “normal” lives. My husband and I live in Athens, GA (home to the University of Georgia) and we love it here. I LIKE that we can buy a 3br/2ba house in a pretty, tree-filled neighborhood for less than 150k. I like that if you drive 20 minutes out of town it’s mostly farm land.

    I completely agree with the sentiment that “Only boring people get bored.” We have tons of things to do. There are tons of awesome local restaurants in our town, we go swing dancing twice a week (which I didn’t know about till I moved here) and have plenty of places to go see shows, art, and get drinks.

    I also like the fact that if we drive 1.5 hours in one direction we’re in the mountains, but if we drive 1.5 hours in the other direction we’re in Atlanta.

    Really as long as there are great people, anywhere is a great place to live. And you can find great people just about anywhere.

  7. I live in Boulder, which I feel is super liveable – I can walk to work, walk to shopping and food, walk to entertainment, walk to hiking trails. There’s also plenty of entertainment options offered via the university. And if I ever want more entertainment, downtown Denver is less than an hour away. Housing (I’m renting) is pricey, but I’m willing to pay for the luxury of not spending my life in my car.

  8. “For me, vibrancy IS livability.”


    We live in NYC and I can’t ever imagine ‘downgrading’. I’ll refrain from commenting more, lest I feed into the ‘smug, selfish, condescending’ etc stereotype of NYers. But if it’s worth it to you and you’re tough, I feel like there are ways to make it work. I lived here- to be fair, in Brooklyn, where I want to stay forever- on a pittance in the beginning but found ways to make it work. Museums have free nights, even hot restaurants have happy hours, and someone is always looking for a roommate. I always say that (unless you’re rich) you really need to WANT to live here. It’s hard work. I get resentful when people say they ‘choose’ not to live here when really they just couldn’t hack it. You get what you put into it.

    But, of course, I understand that it’s just not worth it to everyone. SO, yes, for me it’s vibrancy. I like visiting other cities but I wouldn;t live in a single other (North American) one. Hopefully we can continue to live here after we have kids too…

    • Agreed. I’m from far upstate NY originally, went to college in farmland areas of NYS, lived in London for a bit, lived/traveled around Australia for a bit and have never felt as comfortable anywhere as I do in NYC (other than maybe Melbourne, AUS, but thats a bit to far from my family).
      I do have to explain to people that living in NYC does not mean living in Times Square, or any other tourist zone.
      There are no flashing billboards in my neighborhood, but there are lots of great small restaurants (with vegetarian/ wheat-free/organic options), interesting comedy shows and passionate people all working on some sort of dream. 🙂
      Even after 5+ years living here I still get excited every time I see the skyline of Manhattan at night thinking “I can’t believe I get to live here!”

  9. Didn’t enjoy that article. It annoyed me how the author dismissed Copenhagen because he was bored when visiting. I don’t think it’s fair to judge a city’s livability when only spending a few days there. The amount of touristy things to do doesn’t determine whether it’s a good place to live.

    I’ve spent six years in Yokohama, which is half an hour by train from Tokyo. I could never live in Tokyo – even Yokohama is too crowded for me. Sometimes I love it here, but now that I’m moving to my tiny upstate New York hometown, I can’t wait to get out. It’s harder to bear the rush hour trains now that I’m not working and don’t ride them every day. I’m moving to a small community that lacks the restaurants and shops I enjoy here, but in many ways is far more vibrant than what I’ll be leaving behind.

    • I think anybody can see the authors wanted to make a point about not enjoying nature or being very much into art – just a 20 minutes train ride from the center of Copenhagen there is an amazing modern art space where you can easily spend the day. There are touristy things to do in Copenhagen, Munich, Vienna or Stockholm – and pretty safely too. So, they don’t enjoy cafes, restaurants, big parks, pleasant city architecture, day trips by bike, or wonderful modern art spaces in the middle of nature. They do enjoy poor people living aside luxurious building. And love seeing people living from one day to the other in favelas and slums. They call this daily struggle “vibrancy”. I prefer my daily life which is vibrant because i live near great architecture and have easy access to nature.

  10. I would LOVE to live in Vancouver, Vienna, Munich, and Zurich! haha Three of which I’ve actually been to.

    But I also currently live in a small Western town (Pendleton, Oregon. We’re best known for the Pendleton Round-Up that, one week per year, almost triples our town in size).

    And I totally concur with only boring people get bored. Mehehe

  11. First the article annoyed me with the slant against Pittsburgh, a city that I am not from, but have fallen in love with going to school near there, and meeting my fiancee there. It is a city that has recovered amazingly from its industrial collapse, is making jobs, cleaning itself, becoming more and more green, where you can actually afford to buy a house and has all the night life and cafes and restaurants you could ask for.

    But, the most infuriating thing about the article was the comment that the most liveable cities “have no poor people”… what? First, false. Second, I have never heard more arrogant elitist garbage in my life. And their point was that, essentially, poverty and struggle make a place interesting.

    If you enjoy living in big cities like LA, London, or NY, great, I am glad you can find your niche there. But for me personally, small cities really offer the best of both worlds. I currently live in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and while I doubt it is on anyones liveability list, I would rather be here than any of the big cities mentioned. There are things to do here all the time, throughout the year, and I love it.

  12. Whose definitions of “boring” and “exciting” are we using anyway? Do you have to live in a big city with a night life and events or exibits out the wazoo to be “exciting”? I live in a very outdoorsy location. For us weekend entertainment options include snow skiing, water skiing, rock-climbing, white water rafting, mountain-scaling, camping, snowshoeing, and a whole host of other activities that I personally find much more exciting than any night life options.

  13. Greetings from America’s most livable city! I am happy that we (Pittsburgh) make the list because we suffer from some self esteem issues at times. No one has to tell NYC or LA that they’re an interesting place to live, but it’s easier for Pittsburghers (at least those of us not obsessed with football) to feel that we’re not so great. We tout some “boring” claims- we’ve cleaned up our environment a lot and we’re a good place for hospital and universities.
    We suffer from too many young people leaving (but if you stay you get the best vintage clothes and houses as the old folks die off!- morbid but true). And public transport keeps shrinking, which kind of sucks, but it’s still hanging in there- my street still has both a bike lane and bus route.
    If you do want to own a house it is cheaper to own than to rent here a lot of the time- our friends in bigger cities totally envy our awesomeness of house to amount of morgage ratio.
    And we do have some pretty cool night life and art scene that feels like a city, except you totally run into people you know in a more small town fashion.
    My husband is working to make us a center for robotic art: http://www.rossums.org/. And although I am a now married OBB, I think it is cool that we just finished holding an indie DIY wedding show (vendors here if you’re still in the market: http://handmadeinmarriage.com/).
    Cool things around to be found. I don’t think livability necessarily precludes vibrancy, you just have to know where to look for what you care about. And in my livable city I can afford to live a comfortable life AND still have enough time and money to quest for vibrancy!

  14. Having lived in Vienna I must say I agree with any study that shows it’s the best city to live in. I came to live there for my first job after Uni. It was also my first time living further away from home than 1h train ride, my first time away from my country and my first time completely on my own, not knowing anyone in that city or country for that matter. My first couple of months were harsh but once I came to know the city better I came to love it like no other. It’s incredibly safe (even for slightly tipsy young women to drift home at late hours after a party), friendly (even if you don’t speak the language!!), and full of life. There was always something happening. A street party, an art event, a concert, whatever! And if there wasn’t, you can just make it happen! Go to the vineyards for a pic-nic, go to the opera, check out one of the many museums, have lunch in the many parks…The flats are just amazing, pretty cheap and super spacious, every part of the city is well connected by the public transport system and if you want you can ride your bike anywhere! If I could choose where to live and bring up a family, Vienna it would be! All these places just aren’t as advertised as Paris, LA, or NY. I think that’s what may make it seem like they’re less exciting when in reality they’re probably as much or even more (or maybe people like to feel the excitement of wondering whether they will be mugged/murdered if they walk down that dark street after 9pm…).

  15. I grew up in Philly, lived in Boston and Dublin for a while and am now in NYC. I’m finding myself missing Philly a bunch lately. It’s got everything NYC has but is just much more managable.

    That said, I know NYC has its problems, but, that article suggested that NYC doesn’t have an adequate public transportation system. Uhm…HUH?!!???? If NYC has anything going for it its the ability to get anywhere in this city via public transportation.

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