The unprecedented global health and economic crises brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic have worsened living conditions in most cities around the world. But several island locations have proven to be the exception to this rule.
Indeed, New Zealand and Australia have seen their cities’ livability scores spike over the past year due to their ability to control COVID, according to a new report from The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), which is a sister company of The Economist. Auckland, New Zealand, has been named the most livable city in the world on the Global Liveability Index 2021, bumping the Austrian city of Vienna, which had been in the top spot since 2018. In fact, this is the first time that Auckland has made the top 10 since 2017, when it was in eighth place.
The EIU report credits New Zealand’s tight border control and low COVID case count — which has allowed its cities to keep schools, restaurants and cultural attractions open — for bumping Auckland and capital city Wellington up to the No. 1 and No. 4 spots, respectively. Neighboring Australia also has four cities on this year’s top 10 list for the same reasons, with Adelaide taking third place. What’s more, as the CDC relaxed its travel guidance for vaccinated Americans on Wednesday, Australia and New Zealand were among the lowest-risk, Level 1 countries considered safe to visit.
In fact, the Asia-Pacific region dominates the most recent rankings, which were calculated from data collected from 140 cities between Feb. 22 and March 21, 2021. Cities were scored across stability, healthcare, education, infrastructure, culture and environment. And this year, pandemic-related indicators such as the stress on healthcare resources, as well as social-distancing restrictions on businesses, schools and cultural activities, were also factored into the scoring.
Osaka, Japan, landed in second place thanks to high stability scores, and Tokyo tied with Wellington, New Zealand, for fourth place. Hawaiian capital Honolulu — the highest-ranked U.S. city on the list — was the biggest gainer on the entire list, jumping up 46th places to hit No. 14. This was largely thanks to its COVID-19 containment efforts (made somewhat easier thanks to its island location) and its rapid vaccine rollout, the report noted. Indeed, Honolulu’s healthcare score jumped 33 points as half of its population became vaccinated and COVID positivity rates dropped this spring, which eased the stress on its hospitals.
Houston was another one of the biggest climbers on the list, moving up 25 spots to hit No. 31, which was attributed to Texas becoming one of the first U.S. states to reopen. Outside of the Pacific Rim, the Swiss cities Zurich and Geneva held on to their places in the top 10.
The world’s most livable cities 2021
1. Auckland, New Zealand
2. Osaka, Japan
3. Adelaide, Australia
4. Wellington, New Zealand (tied)
4. Tokyo, Japan (tied)
6. Perth, Australia
7. Zurich, Switzerland
8. Geneva, Switzerland (tied)
8. Melbourne, Australia (tied)
10. Brisbane, Australia
COVID cases and lockdown measures often correlated with how well cities fared on the livability list. European cities such as Vienna, as well as Frankfurt, Hamburg and Düsseldorf in Germany, plummeted during the pandemic. Canadian cities including Montreal, Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto, which had previously scored well, also slipped over the past year. Overall, the global average livability score fell by seven points compared with the average pre-pandemic score.
On the other end of the spectrum, however, there wasn’t much change in the least livable cities. Syrian capital, Damascus, remains the least livable city in the world, according to this report. And Lagos in Nigeria; Port Moresby, the capital of Papua New Guinea; and Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh; were also on the lowest end of the rankings due to ongoing civil unrest and military conflicts hurting their stability scores. And conditions worsened during the pandemic, particularly in healthcare.
The world’s least livable cities 2021
1. Damascus, Syria
2. Lagos, Nigeria
3. Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea
4. Dhaka, Bangladesh
5. Algiers, Algeria
6. Tripoli, Libya
7. Karachi, Pakistan
8. Harare, Zimbabwe
9. Douala, Cameroon
10. Caracas, Venezuela
Looking forward, the report fears that conditions in the poorest cities will continue to get worse if these areas cannot get enough COVID-19 vaccines to prevent the coronavirus or its variants from spreading. And the livability recovery in most places will depend on how well vaccinations, testing, tracing and quarantining can control COVID, and whether cities can ease the strain on their healthcare systems. Indeed, more cities have reopened and raised their vaccination rates since this data was collected, so some places may have improved already — or, slipped, if cases of COVID-19 have been rising.
But barring any major setbacks, the report is cautiously optimistic that many cities could see their livability scores improve as schools and cultural institutions reopen.