The 10 Most Livable Global Cities For Balancing Work And Play

Some cities, like New York and Tokyo, offer economic and cultural clout. Others, like Vancouver and Melbourne, offer “comfort.” A new ranking attempts to balance both.

How do the world’s biggest cities stack up against each other in terms of their livability? Every day seems to bring a different sort of ranking, and comparing the different rankings can end up highlighting more about the rankings themselves than any given city on them.


A new study, published in the World Review of Science, Technology, and Sustainable Development, tries to make sense of where seven different global city livability rankings overlap and why. Among the seven, it also examines its own new index, which unsurprisingly, it evaluates as the most “balanced” of the group.

According to the authors, who are three researchers from the Asia Competitive Institute in Singapore, the University of California, Davis, and Curtin University in Australia, existing major livability indices can be divided into two groups.

The first group, which the researchers dub the “clout club,” are those that value a city’s economic prowess and its agenda-setting power in global politics and culture as the main measures. Examples of cities that rank consistently in the top ten of these rankings include New York, London, Paris, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Tokyo. These are all cities that are good to work in and are good places to see and be seen, but are also expensive, crowded, often unpleasant, and can require long commutes.

The second group are the rankings that value pleasant living, such as a mild climate, easy transit, and clean environment, which the paper calls the “comfort club.” These rankings tend to include top 10 cities that are very different–cities such as Vienna, Melbourne, Geneva, and Vancouver. These are places we’d all like to live if our jobs and our families and our kids weren’t keeping us someplace else. (This recent ranking covered by Co.Exist fits the bill well).

Flickr user Peter

The index the authors create, which they creatively call the Global Livable Cities Index (GLCI), tries to provide the “work-life” balance of city rankings, by showing up somewhere in the middle of these two groups.

“The GLCI balances the emphasis of the clout club indices on a city’s ability to project influence and to provide economic opportunities against the emphasis of the comfort club indices on a city’s capacity to delight the aesthetic senses and to provide recreational activities,” the paper says. To do this, it uses dozens of data indicators in five categories: economic vibrancy and competitiveness, domestic security and stability, public governance, socio-cultural conditions, and environmental friendliness and sustainability.


So far, the authors have found enough data to rank 64 global cities. On their ranking, Geneva comes out as No. 1, and New York City falls at No. 17, despite being ranked as No. 1 by all three indices that highly value clout. Tokyo is No. 18, and London is No. 22. The bottom of the list (of only 64 cities, remember), includes Karachi, Moscow, Manila, Buenos Aires, and Jakarta.

By 2050, it’s projected that three-quarters of the world will live in cities, and many of them will be in very large cities with populations over 1 million. That’s a huge shift from the past. In the 1950s, only one-third of world population lived in cities. The authors argue that better metrics to make global comparisons and encourage policy innovation in cities around the world will only become more necessary, not less.

About the author

Jessica Leber is a staff editor and writer for Fast Company's Co.Exist. Previously, she was a business reporter for MIT’s Technology Review and an environmental reporter at ClimateWire.