Monday, May 3, 2010

Most Liveable City

I have to take a break from the playoffs in order to bring up a most interesting article that I came across the other day that proclaimed Ottawa and the surrounding Gatineau area to be the most liveable city in Canada. Initially, I thought that there was some kind of mistake, until I read a little further. The article states that the different factors that were taken into consideration to determine the most liveable city included affordability, incomes, stability of the local economy, weather and social services.

The article further states that the factors that were not considered in this determination included the things that tourists often look for in a destination, such as the beauty of the city or its architecture or the numerous attractions that the city features. This can include, but is not limited to, world class museums, shopping, cultural events such as the opera or the ballet, and top notch restaurants.

On the one hand, this makes a lot of sense. Ottawa and Gatineau are both areas fuelled by a local economy of mostly stable, recession-proof, high paying government type jobs that offer a good base of benefits and salaries. It also features some of the more affordable homes in Canada when compared with the ludicrous markets of Vancouver, Toronto and Calgary.

On the other hand, this makes no sense at all. Many people in Ottawa will tell you that the city is prohibitively expensive and that the housing market is squeezing out regular public servants and relegating them to places in the outskirts such as Farrhaven and Kookie Kutter Kanata.

In the same vein, they will also tell you that property taxes have increased every single year and that services have not improved one iota. Our last mayor was elected on the promises of no increases in property taxes, but then these had to be collected due to the fees associated with his court case on the charges of corruption, a months long bus strike that literally froze the city and costs millions of dollars and the settling of our lawsuit with the Siemens company for backing out of a light rail deal that we didn't have the foresight to approve before signing off on the millions promised to the company.

Renters don't have a better story to tell in Ottawa either, as the laws that regulate increases in rent favour the landlord rather than the rights of the tenants. Granted, tenants did win a human rights court case which allows them not to be discriminated against if they have pets, which means that your landlord's hands are tied as far as bringing a cat home with you, but they have lots of leeway to jack up the rent every year to the maximum amount allowed under the Act. Score one for Fluffy, but average salaried employees need not bother.

Even with all of these housing options, such as the high rents and the pre fabricated homes in the outskirts, many people don't feel they get what they paid for. Many residents are paying the maximum allowable for their homes through the bank with mortgages over 30 years and what do they have to look forward to? Usually an hour of commute a day on a crammed bus when it bothers to show up.

Social services were another factor considered in the study, but did they bother to walk around the city and see how effective our social services really are? This is a city where daycare costs the same as a second mortgage and panhandlers are literally littering the downtown market. Recreational services also have to be bought on a per activity basis, whereas provinces like Quebec not only offer subsidized daycare at $7a day, but a one time flat rate on all their recreational services, including their pools.

Then there's weather. Because nothing is more pleasant than -40 in the winter and +40in the summer. That sounds very temperate and reasonable. Did Ottawa weather really pull ahead of mild Vancouver and Toronto? Is it because this survey decided that mildness was also not a factor? Or that mildness is not desirable? Because I think real people would beg to differ on that one.

Then there's the final and rich statement that they didn't consider anything a tourist may consider when they think of liveability. That's all the superfluous nonsense, such as beauty of the city and its attractions. Because we all know that when people rate the best places in the world to live that nobody cares about either attractiveness or cultural options. When you have reasonable house rates, a bus service and a decent job, who cares about the opera or that gorgeous heritage home, right?

Here's a few other things that the survey maybe should have considered:

Pride- The beauty of a place often instills the sense of pride in people to live somewhere. So even though this may be considered as a frivolous indicator, the beauty of a place does affect how people feel about it and this no doubt has an impact on its liveability.

Things to do- A place that is dynamic and has a lot of new activities and cultural life is generally a place that people enjoy living in, as there is often the option of doing something special over the weekend. And no, something special does not include a half day trip to Wal-Mart.

Happiness- take a look at the people on the bus in the morning rush hour. The sad mugs that you see all around? The frustrated commuters in their cars who flip off the buses as they jockey for position in the confusing array of one-way lanes in the heart of downtown? The haggard parents wrestling with their kids at the supermarket? Did anyone bother to ask them their opinion of the most liveable city in Canada? Determining the most liveable city in Canada without asking the people themselves is like determining the best place to work without polling the employees.

I guess that one final note that I can make on this post is the fact that the most liveable city may not be the worst statement, as liveability does not factor enjoyability with it. When we say that things are liveable, it's the same thing as saying that a meal is passable when we get it from some cafeteria on a day we're too busy and hungry to care.

Go Ottawa. Be liveable.

1 comment:

  1. I am happy to say that I am not originally from Ottawa and I am even more happy to say that I will never be from there again.

    I wouldn't put too much weight into these liveability rankings. They're often misrepresented as being objective measures, when the factors assessed are subjectively chosen.

    Most of these surveys include culture, entertainment and other non-economic factors. The fact that this one didn't is strange. The limited scope of analysis of this survey makes the results absolutely meaningless for most purposes, except determining which cities are the most depressing in Canada.

    The results should be immediately suspect to people who have lived there:

    We all known subjective well-being amongst govvies is very low (depression, anxiety and burnout are high). Given that the Feds are Ottawa's primary employer, and most of their jobs are in Ottawa, it is not a stretch to say that there may be high rates of these problems in Ottawa's rather small population (couldn't find any actual stats).

    And Ottawa doesn't deal with their serious problems as well as other cities (drug addiction, homelessness, affordable housing, public transpo solutions), all of which make living in Ottawa very stressful.

    Nevermind the weak cultural and intellectual life.

    All that to say, that survey is badly done.
    Other liveability rankings (The Economist and others) put Toronto and Vancouver amongst the most liveable in the world, despite the high cost of housing. Ottawa doesn't even rank.