Your city has just topped a ranking by a highly respected media as the best place to live in the world. You are surprised, excited, perhaps even doubtful, thinking to yourself ‘how can this be?’, on a day in Toronto where its -20 with a blizzard warning in effect.
But here you are, reveling in your civic pride. The Economist’s Intelligence Unit is no slouch and you have to respect that some quality research and algorithms went into this. The much more qualitative observation from Vogue for example, equally ranks Toronto as a top place, naming its West Queen West the 2nd coolest neighborhood on planet, right behind Tokyo’s Harajuku. This ranking you could say, was perhaps embraced even more so than the Economist’s declaration, especially among the Toronto’s cool hunters.
But, what does this mean? How does it make you feel? Will it effect a change in behavior? Perhaps some will rest on this achievement, while others may become empowered to further bolster community and civic confidence.
Do Torontonians feel they are in the best overall place to live? Is it the best place to live for those who make over $70k year? Or is it the best place to live for those in poverty? The reality is, the average reader is not going to dig to the bottom of the ranking to see how things were weighted. They are going to say thank you, tweet it and move on to their day.
It appears the media cycle has past. This story had its moment on our collective conscious and we are back to -20 with spring a distant sight away. The reason I bring up the weather is that I often hear, “Toronto would be great if it did not get so cold”. Which is insane because it is probably the warmest place in Canada outside Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland of British Columbia, but I can understand it in comparison to other cities on the ranking that missed out on the top spot like Melbourne or Singapore, or Copenhagen where our friends experience a milder version of winter.
The fact of the matter is that local climate may not matter; the architectural vernacular may not matter either, neither whether a city is sustainable or affordable; it may not matter at all how fashionable its citizens are. Depending on the media you are consuming, some of these criteria are either irrelevant or of utmost importance.
This is because each ranking and index weighs things differently – according to its readership and editorial bias. What are they looking to discover here?
For example, now that the Economist and Vogue view the city so favorably, can Toronto even crack the top 25 in Monocle’s Quality of Life Survey this summer? You can ask, how is that even possible? To have one media view it so favorably and another not even recognize it among its peers. The differences show that within certain categories a city and its citizens still have some work to do. Knowing this, do we call for a more comprehensive and holistic ranking? But again, who would that ranking be for? When I was growing up, we had the United Nations Quality of Life ranking and it was the standard. Now there are are too many of them to list here quickly.
It is an interesting time to take note of
the Canadian city in the global context. We are having an urban renaissance, overcoming dated stereotypes.
Cities are now being consumed as a product and a set of services. They might just be the most complex product out there given their number of inputs and outputs. I think of the identity of a University where it’s location, academic programs, sports team, alumni, corporate partners are all critical in determining its reputation and future success. Scale this to the level of the city and we see it competing head to head around the world with other cities of its size and stature.
This said, you can’t deny a great performance in a ranking system. It’s a splash of positive impression for all the institutions, brands, destinations, and organizations that seek to leverage the quality of their place into winning business, attracting investment, visitors and students and even to build better communities.
It is an interesting time to take note of the Canadian city in the global context. We are having an urban renaissance, overcoming dated stereotypes. Last week, the mayors of Canada’s largest cities met in Toronto to discuss their role in a national and global context. I welcome this exploration but not at the expense of the rural and of our national identity. Let’s have global cities—designed, inhabited, and operating in the Canadian way.