What makes a city liveable?

6 September 2019

EUROCITIES presents the world’s most liveable cities

All seven of the EU cities in 2019’s top 20 most liveable cities Economist world ranking are active EUROCITIES members, as is the EFTA city of Zurich, which also made the top 20. While it’s best to take such rankings with a grain of salt, there’s no question that these cities are collaborating through our network to improve the lives of citizens across Europe.

Coming in at number one, Vienna has long worked in with EUROCITIES on economic and social issues, from preventing eviction and homelessness, to ensuring dignified living for the elderly. The city has always been enthusiastic to reach out to other cities through our network by hosting events, study visits and conferences. It also uses our projects, like EUROPEANMOBILITYWEEK and CREATE, to platform its best practices and make them available to inspire others. Another city in our mobility project CREATE, working to spread its famous fervour for cycling, was Copenhagen, which came in as the next most liveable EU city.

Liveability demands inclusion

Following these is Zurich, a key player in our project VALUES, on migrant integration through volunteering. From a migrant-run radio station, to a welcome desk with an open door policy, Zurich is doing a lot of work with us to develop its integration activities and share them with our members. Zurich calls our forums a source of “valuable suggestions for developing its urban policy.”

Frankfurt, one of the two German cities that made it into the top 20, is a founding member of our network, working with us since 1986 strengthen cooperation between European cities. Participating annually in our Cooperation Platform, its Silver Screen initiative for socialising among the elderly was a runner-up for last year’s EUROCITIES Awards. The other city, Hamburg, was a major player in our #Cities4Europe campaign, farming smart ideas from citizens with a local panel on ‘consumption and responsibility’. When it comes to liveability, listening is the most important ingredient.

Sustainability and circularity

Helsinki, the northernmost city on the list, is collaborating closely with us on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). They have a best practice which we are very excited about, a ‘Voluntary Local Review,’ which is a self-assessment tool that uses municipal data to measure progress on each of the 12 goals. We worked with the city to organise a presentation of this practice to the UN, and are facilitating a public presentation at the EU Week of Regions and Cities, which your city can now sign up to attend.

It’s no surprise that Amsterdam, very active in our work on the circular economy, also found itself in the top 20. Its pioneering policies in this field and its success bringing giants like Uber and Airbnb to heel have been an inspiration to many cities in our Imagine the Urban Future events.

Healthy scepticism

We mentioned that these rankings should be taken with a grain of salt; perhaps it should be more than a grain. The best way of defining ‘liveability’ is more a matter of taste than of science. As we’re discovering in our SUMI project, indicators, while important, are very difficult to pin down, and always involve decisions that could go either way.

In SUMI, we wanted an indicator for which city has the best bicycle infrastructure. At first, it seemed obvious that we should ask which has the most kilometres of bike lanes. However, some cities have bike lanes that are three meters wide with safety barriers and bike traffic in both directions. By our indicator, these would be half as good as cities with a bike lane one either side of the road, even if it was only a foot wide and barely visible to motorists. Even something seemingly scientific, like which village is the highest in Scotland, is a matter fraught with arbitrary decisions.

So, while we applaud all our members that made it to the top of this list, we would like to alert the Economist to 132 more EUROCITIES cities that have each deserved the title of ‘most liveable’ in their own way. If you want to get a taste of how these cities are improving the lives of their people, from supporting entrepreneurship with abandoned buildings, to heating a zoo with waste heat from a thermal spa, just take a look at our stories on this site.


Anthony Colclough Eurocities Writer