Livability Ranking Not Worth Reading

We have finally touched bottom in the tortured charade known as "livability rankings". The Economist Intelligence Unit is out with its latest rankings and, to the delight of the Mayor’s office, has named Pittsburgh the nation’s most livable city. The same ranking places the ‘Burgh at 29th among world cities. Obviously, the Intelligence Unit rankers do not think very highly of the U.S. as a place to live.

Our analysis of previous livability rankings has pointed out the basic flaws in these attempts to compare cities as places to live. First, they are almost always metro area rankings and not core city rankings. Second, they focus on and weigh factors that are inherently difficult to assess in terms of livability because they are subjective and ignore many of the reasons people actually choose to live where they do. And, apparently city financial conditions are not included in the rankings otherwise Pittsburgh would be disqualified.

But in the case of the latest Economist Intelligent Unit ranking, it is literally not worth reading. For some reason the Unit is charging $500 to gain access to the ranking. They are releasing only the briefest of summaries. To learn details of the methodology or how data was collected will set an analyst back half a grand.

Here’s the ugly truth. This same ranking group back in 2005 named Cleveland and Pittsburgh as the country’s most livable cities. One would think Pittsburghers might want to look a little skeptically at a ranking that placed Cleveland on a par with the ‘Burgh. A Tribune Review article from October 10, 2005 dissected the methodology of the Unit’s rating system and was able to contact the survey editor. That article unearthed stunning revelations regarding how the Unit collected data. It turns out much of the data comes from "correspondents" who score the various factors. The freelancer who rated Pittsburgh education and infrastructure gave "perfect" scores. How is that for objective valuation?

No wonder the Unit is charging $500 to open the full report. They do not want people to know what they are actually doing. Surely, they do not believe anyone but Mayors of high ranking cities would pay for the study. And that is iffy once the mayors’ staffs learn that Cleveland was rated number one in 2005.

There is good reason the news coverage of this latest ranking story was so sparse. It is now clear to most thinking people that these rankings are little more than attempts to get publicity for the ranking firm.