Saturday, June 13, 2009

Ranking the Cities: The Economist Speaks Out

The Economist Intelligence Unit, the consulting and research arm of The Economist magazine, has released its annual “livability index” and, as usual, Canadian and Australian cities occupy six of the top ten spots, with Vancouver at No. 1. The survey ranks each of 140 cities around the globe on each of “30 qualitative and quantitative factors across five broad categories: stability, health care, culture and environment, education, and infrastructure.”

The entire report is available by subscription only, so I haven't seen it all, but according a report in Mercopress, Buenos Aires (ranked 61st) and Santiago (ranked 64th) are Latin America’s most livable cities. Other major Latin American cities ranked far lower, including Mexico City (105th), Caracas (118th), and Bogotá (127th). The highest-ranked U.S. city is Pittsburgh (29th). Vancouver scored 98 of a possible 100 on The Economist's curve, while both Buenos Aires and Santiago scored above 80.

According to Patricia Arias of Santiago’s Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales (Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences, FLACSO), who is quoted in the article, foreigners perceive Chile as orderly with strong institutions, but the city lost some points due to “urban planning problems, pollution, and a weak infrastructure, including unpaved roads.” Arias suggests that Buenos Aires (whose Parque 3 de Febrero appears above) has more serious corruption problems, but enjoys greater green spaces and wider streets: “If we compare them, Santiago isn’t a very pretty city.”

In reality, this seems to me a curious cricitism of Santiago - in my opinion, it’s an underrated city,
and Buenos Aires cannot come close to matching Santiago’s magnificent setting at the base of the Andes (as seen from Cerro Santa Lucía here). Santiaguinos also enjoy other public parks, such the Parque Forestal greenbelt along the Río Mapocho, with eastward extensions into the boroughs of Providencia and Las Condes, and the enormous Parque Metropolitano on Cerro San Cristóbal, just minutes from the densely built downtown. It’s true that many Santiago neighborhoods are homely, but the same is true of large parts of Buenos Aires, as any arriving visitor will note on the ride from Ezeiza airport to downtown. It's worth adding that, despite unpaved roads in some areas, Santiago has some of the continent's most sophisticated highways and ring roads, and perhaps its best airport.

That’s not to denigrate Buenos Aires, which has so much to offer (and where we have a second home). It's merely to suggest that Santiago, with its surprisingly sophisticated cultural offerings, outstanding restaurants, glistening Metro system - not to mention first-rate activities such as skiing and whitewater rafting within an hour of the central Plaza de Armas - is not so far behind Buenos Aires as even some Chileans think.

1 comment:

  1. I am glad someone shares my enthusiasm for Santiago! It is just so easy to get out of the city to the mountains or to the coast and the culinary scene is getting more interesting by the day.

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