When I lived in Vancouver, I remember seeing newspaper stories several times a year about some organization or another rating Vancouver one of the most ‘liveable’ cities in the world. While it seems plausible that Vancouver would be high in the global rankings, there are obvious problems of methodology associated with coming up with any particular listing. What should be included? Life expectancy? Weather? Green space per person? And what weight should be given to each?
Over on his blog, Chris Bradford has proposed a more objective measure: the ratio of median home prices to median household incomes. It does make sense that people will be willing to pay a larger share of their income to live in a more pleasant city. Furthermore, this is a much more credible signal than surveys or aggregate indices of the kind described above.
In such a ranking, Ottawa might be a special case, given the relative security of government incomes. Government employees face less uncertainty on both the upside (no chance of bonuses, predictable salary progression) and the downside (little chance of being laid off or demoted). There are also big non-salary benefits that accompany government work, such as a relatively short working week, generous health and medical coverage, and highly generous family benefits.