It’s Not Your Imagination: American Cities Are Getting Less Livable

New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles have become less livable over the past decade.

It’s getting harder to live in America’s largest cities.


Recently, the Economist published a series of graphics showing how the quality of life in American cities has fallen over the past 10 years. The graphics use data from the 2017 Global Livability Ranking, which is published by the Economist Intelligence Unit–a research and analysis company that creates multiple global rankings on topics like cost of living and democracy. The company’s research on livability in 2017 shows that while livability has risen for the first time since 2007 globally, American cities aren’t doing so well.

The ranking rates livability based on a city’s crime and conflict, access to healthcare, culture and environment, education, and infrastructure, using a qualitative scale from acceptable to intolerable. Each city’s scores on 30 different factors, which are determined by the Economist Intelligence Unit’s analysts and field correspondents, are then weighed and boiled down into a single score between 1 and 100 (100 being the best).

The Economist’s map shows the changes in livability in cities all over the world, both positive and negative. Honolulu is the only American city to have improved its livability rating since 2007. New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Seattle have all worsened in this time frame, with Washington, D.C., remaining neutral.

Read the full analysis and see the rankings here. [Image: courtesy The Economist]
So where are the most livable cities? They’re concentrated in Canada and Australia. The two countries occupy 6 of the top 10 spots–with Melbourne, Australia, ranked as 2017’s most livable city.

Meanwhile, some of the biggest and most culturally and economically prominent cities in the world–like New York, London, Paris, Tokyo, and Hong Kong–are suffering in terms of the quality of life they offer people. While many of these cities rank relatively high on their scores, they’ve all fallen in the rankings over the last 10 years.

Read the full analysis and see the complete rankings here. [Image: courtesy The Economist]
Why? Large cities are suffering from old, failing infrastructure, overcrowding, and a lack of affordable housing. They’re also taking on increased responsibility when it comes to climate change–with potentially smaller budgets, in the case of those in the U.S. If you live in one of these worsening cities, this may come as no surprise. But for the cities themselves, perhaps the rankings should serve as a reminder that maintaining positive quality of life for residents will require more investment.


About the author

Katharine Schwab is the deputy editor of Fast Company's technology section. Email her at and follow her on Twitter @kschwabable