The Eye of the Fish

August 10, 2014

Wellington – world’s most liveable city?

Buying the latest copy of Monocle the other day, as one of the few quality, intelligent, and witty magazines out there, I could not help but notice, once again, that Wellington does not feature at all in their list of the World’s Top 25 Cities for Quality of Life. Nor does it feature in the Economist magazine’s similarly titled list. Yet we know that Lonely Planet has already dubbed Wellington as “The Coolest Little Capital on the Planet” or something like that, and Wellington has now just overtaken Auckland as the most popular destination that NZ domestic passengers want to go to. That’s beating Queenstown, Rotorua, and Auckland, of course.

We all know (well, when I say “we” I mean those of our readers who live in Wellington) that Wellington already has some incredibly wonderful natural resources that help to make this city Liveable, and frankly, we here at Eye of the Fish think that a major international campaign needs to be started to get Wellington onto the list, and up high on the list, and one day, even perhaps to the very top of the list. Especially because, and this is the thing that boils my stone-cold fishy blood, that ridiculous excuse for an overgrown northern village, Auckland, has appeared on Monocle’s list of world’s most Liveable cities. Which, to be honest, I think we all know, is just absolute bunkum. Having lived in Auckland for a while, more than I would care to admit, I can faithfully confirm that it is in no way a pleasant place to be unless you happen to live in an inner suburb, have a boat, and a car to get around, and it is getting worse rather than better. If you can’t get to work in the morning within a reasonable time, or can’t get to the airport without a $100 taxi fare, or can’t afford to buy a house unless Daddy owns a law firm, then sorry guys, that’s just not a city with good quality of life to me. but rather than bitch about how bad Auckland is, let’s just concentrate on getting Wellington upon the list instead.

So, who is on the list at Monocle this year? here is the top ten…
#1 – Copenhagen, the first place winner three times now. Well-deserved.
#2 – Tokyo, which for a massive megalopolis is an incredible vote of faith.
#3 – Melbourne, just over the ditch, and just like Wellington, only bigger. Please note, that Melbourne is in the top 10, and Sydney is not…
#4 – Stockholm, again, well deserved, great city to live in.
#5 – Helsinki, which probably deserves to win on quality of architecture as well…
#6 – Vienna, superb patisseries, great public housing, and everyone wearing more fur coats than you could shake a stick at. Not a great city to be a fox in…
#7 – Zurich, which last time I was there seemed to have a heroin problem, but evidently the city has collectively kicked that habit.
#8 – Munich, home to beer, BMW, and the world’s finest pretzels.
#9 – Kyoto, luxuriantly green and full of old temples.
#10 – Fukuoka, somewhere in Japan that I have never been.

So, that’s a list that is top heavy with Scandinavian and Japanese cities, well done for Melbourne to making it into the top ten. The list varies each year – last year Auckland was in the top ten, which to be honest must have been because of a bribe – and you’ll notice that there is nothing from America, north or south, in the top ten. Now, for the full list, you will of course need to go and buy your own copy of Monocle, but I think that it is worth looking first at what the ratings are based on – apart from just Tyler Brulee’s individual whim and fancy of course. They (Monocle) note the amount of Sunshine hours, Book Shops, Charging Points, and then the number of Murders and Break-ins. Interestingly Auckland is the only city on the list that does not have a number for Book Stores, and instead has Green Space (832 sq km, apparently). Other things that Monocle check for are Population, Daily Newspapers, Museums/Cinemas/Art Galleries, percentage of Rubbish recycled, number of McDonalds outlets, Tolernace of Nationalities, Architecture, Public Transport, when do the public parks close, and whether the city is a stickler for rules or has a relaxed attitude.

Auckland comes in at #12, which I just think is daft, and indeed the wonderful and highly patronized Auckland-run Transport Blog has also done a recent post on the same subject ie Monocle’s list of best cities – click here to link to that. What I find interesting is the comments from one of the editors, Patrick Reynolds, who is both an architectural photographer (one of NZ’s best) and an urbanist (both his parents were excellent architects), and evidently, a pretty good advocate for better public transport as well. Reynolds says in the comments section, in response to someone who says that Wellington should be on that list (no, wasn’t me):
“Oh I think Wellington has long had that position in NZ [Honourable mention for Dunedin]. Not so much including the often rather strange ex-urban sprawl that has be added more recently, but Welly has been our most urban place for decades, and, frankly, is an outlier with it’s rich and varied movement options. Not to mention the huge number of nationally funded cultural institutions which means it has a richness way beyond its scale. Recent decades it has hugely improved it waterfront but also reinjected life into the inner city with often interesting residential additions to commercial buildings, but it has always had a intensity born of geographical constraint that also provides a stunning setting.
Quite clearly Matt is looking forward in his last sentence about Auckland. And in this I agree, not versus Wellington, but rather in its own terms, Auckland as a city is now on the verge of a huge reinvention. It is an exciting moment to be involved in.”

That’s rather good of you to say that Patrick, thank you. Because you are being so nice, I’ll go back and delete my rude comment about Auckland… He then goes on to say:
“The streets priority is nuts in Welly; pedestrians and cyclists get nothing. And it’s so fixable, They have angle parking on some city streets! So much width to play with and there’s hardly any traffic, FFS.”

I won’t go on to copy the rest of the comments – you should go read them yourselves – and anyway, back to the Monocle report. I’m just going to list down a few of their items from their list of what makes “The Perfect Fun Town”
01 – Pedestrians a-plenty
02 – Fresh Art
03 – Outdoor eating
04 – Getting out and about
05 – Planning
06 – Park Life
07 – Pick your ball sport
08 – Sport City
09 – Deeply dippy
10 – Cycling on pavements
11 – Barbecues in parks
12 – Late night free openings in museums

More about those in up-coming posts, but worth noting that we are not doing too bad on that list already.

Note: Illustrations all from Monocle off the web – hope they don’t mind – by their wonderful illustrator Satoshi Hashimoto – thank you!

10 - 08 - 14

Presumably smaller cities tend to slip under the radar for rankings like this. Less than a million maybe and you don’t quite count as significant enough to rate?

10 - 08 - 14

LX – you may be right, I may be crazy, but it just might be a new city they’re looking for… It could be argued that we don’t have enough people, but I still think we can push it till we get there. What may be more of an influence on matters, is that the correspondent for Monocle from down in NZ is one Simon Farrell-Green, who is a writer/editor for Metro, is based in Auckland, and has a very nice website under his name, and I think needs to come and pay another visit to Wellington.

10 - 08 - 14

The list is very Eurocentric. I’m done with Europe. It’s a grumpy place mired in endless recession. I’d prefer to live in cities where the people are generally happy and friendly and there is a sense of enterprise. Which means NZ and Australia mostly.

I’ve spent a bit of time in Melbourne over the past few years. On one hand it is a great place. But the laneways are overrated unless you think gloomy spaces with tagging, rubbish, rats, and the smell of urine are cool. And by “tagging” I don’t mean the superb street art, but the random spray paint that seems to cover the sides of a lot of buildings. I’m in Brisbane through to Christmas or so, and so far I think it is an excellent city. It’s clean, the weather is very pleasant, the South Bank and other open areas are really good. And they’ve build a pile of skyscrapers since I was last here in 2008. I could quite happily live here, whereas I’m not sure I’d want to live in Melbourne. Does that make Brisbane more liveable?

60 MPa
10 - 08 - 14

09 – Deeply dippy

What does that even mean?

10 - 08 - 14

Deeply dippy, my little concrete friend, means this: – “…swimming in the main river is a summertime ritual for most citizens… Nudity, in certain areas, is also condoned. Diving off the town’s main bridge by those willing to dare, while not encouraged, is tolerated.”

I’d have to say we are well on the way there. We have the jumpers of the bridge at the Lagoon (i saw some young folk diving off there 2 days ago, and judging by the perfect weather out there this weekend, they were probably there yesterday and today as well…). We’ve also got the jumpers on the bridge up at Porirua harbour, all day long in summer at high tide. And of course, we have the piece d’ resistance on the waterfront – the wonderful Wraight and Assocs Martin Bryant designed Diving Platform. I think we can tick that box. Shame about the lack of nudity though…

10 - 08 - 14

Davidp – you will be pleased to hear, I hope, that Brisbane sneaks onto the list of the top 25 cities, at place number 25.

Agree with you on the rats and the urine. Disagree on the cities in Europe though. Fair enough – each to their own…

Albert P Duddly
12 - 08 - 14

Nothing from America on the list? Not South America? Not North America? Not even Central America?

Seems to me that New York would surely have to be on the list as a wonderful place to be in, getting more liveable day by day. Or Rio ? Haven’t been there, but it always sounds wonderful? Or surely Buenos Aires? Even Tyler Brulee must have his tongue hanging out at that?

12 - 08 - 14

Vancouver in at position 25 i think, but no New York.
I think the high murder rate in some of those places you mentioned might rule them out as “nice” places to live. For the record: Denmark’s Copenhagen had just one. ONE. I want to live there!

12 - 08 - 14

It always seems that these lists boil down to a few not-very encouraging “standards.”

1. White people (or in the case of Asian cities, a racially homogenous population)
2. Socioeconomic and cultural activity roughly on par with White Plains, NY (toned down a bit)

The furture of great cities, for better or worse, will be forged in places like Lagos, Shanghai and Sao Paulo; the past of great cities exists in Paris, London and New York. The fact that some middle-class, middle-sized, middle-of-the-road burg in Anywhere Globalville has managed to keep its nose clean could be said of any decent commuter suburb in Connecticut.

13 - 08 - 14

DavidG – a bit harsh? Granted, the Scandinavian cities are quite racially white, but remember that Auckland is at number 12, and has the biggest Polynesian population in the world, as well as proudly proclaiming that it is one of the world’s most ethnically diverse cities.

I think it is relevant to note that the listing is about being a comfortably Liveable city, and yes, the standards they are working to are a collection of things that white people like. In fact, I strongly recommend that you go to the website as it is all rather amusingly accurate. But is there anything wrong with wanting to live in a city that is pleasant, has a low murder rate, and plenty of places to plug in your electric car. It’s a particular way of looking at the world, and yes, it may be white rather than brown, but that doesn’t automatically make it bad.

60 MPa
13 - 08 - 14

I think David G speaks to the eternal struggle, do you want to live somewhere safe, neutral-toned and synaesthetically bland or do you want to live somewhere pulsing and chock full of freaks and surprises even if it gets a bit loud and rambunctious at times?

Or, are you here for a good time or a long time?

13 - 08 - 14

I was interested to find out more about commuter towns in Connecticut, and so did some searching, and found this:
Which is interesting as I’ve never been there myself. Hartford, Stamford, New Haven, Bridgeport, Danbury etc – all seem to have a population about 5-10% of Copenhagen, but murder rates of around 20 each. That makes murder some 400 times more likely in small Connecticut commuter towns…. I think I can pinpoint at least one reason right there why Copenhagen is still on top of the list.
But actually, I’m suspicious of that Monocle claim that Copenhagen has had only one murder in the last year. Is that even possible? Surely even the great Danes must have lost their cool and offed someone in a fit of passion, even if they have less access to guns than the Yanks. Wouldn’t they have whacked someone with a skipole? Strangled them with an Arran jumper? Hit someone over the head with an Alvar Aalto glass vase?

13 - 08 - 14

How much does cost of living come into it. that is going to knock a few of the old metropolises off the list – especially NYC and London

13 - 08 - 14

You, eagle-eyed, will have spotted that NY and London arent on the list, probably for exactly those reasons…

13 - 08 - 14

NZ and Denmark have similar murder/homicide rates (but becuse the numbers are low, there is a lot of noise from year to year)

According to Statistics Denmark
There were 4 homicides in Copenhagen in 2013, 11 in 2012,

For all of Denmark the 2013 the number of homicides was 38, in 2012 the homicide number was 67.

In NZ the number of murders in 2013 was 47, while in 2012 it was 42

In Auckland in 2013 there was only 4 recorded murders in 2013, there were only 2 recorded in 2013

13 - 08 - 14

01 Pedestrians a-plenty – putting pedestrians at the top of the transport food chain (just below fish…). Yes yes yes yes yes!
11 Cycling on footpaths – putting them back at the bottom again! Nooooooo!

13 - 08 - 14

I’ll leave the Defence of those seemingly opposite statements up to Monocle themselves:
1- Pedestrians a-plenty – The public is encouraged to walk anywhere they like in our town: there are no off-limits corporate blocks and things aren’t gated off at night.

10- Cycling on pavements – Although a healthy number of bicycle lanes have been laid around the world over the past few years, the series of fatal accidents in cities such as London have proven that not every metropolis can become the next Copenhagen. That’s why we’d learn from the Japanese and allow cyclists on pavements when necessary, trusting they’ll have good etiquette in place.

15 - 08 - 14

Presumably, sheer size is also important to quality of life. Larger cities have a greater chance of offering niche services or at least offer more competition for niche services (how many Ethiopian restaurants does Wellington have?). As well as offering more general diversity in terms of events and facilities (how long would it take to eat out at every restaurant in Wellington, how often would you have to go out to see every new exhibition or piece of theatre?). At a certain point such diversity would suffer from diminishing returns as it wouldn’t actually be possible to take advantage of that diversity. And having bad transport options, or widespread sprawl, or high crime rates would mean that those benefits are harder to access. But note that even the smallest city on that list has a population of over a million people.

15 - 08 - 14

One and a half Ethiopian restaurants in Wellington – the Meeting Tree on Tory St and Afrika does Ethiopian on Sundays. Not bad for a small city.

A few more people wouldn’t go amiss though. Wellington’s challenge is whether it can grow its population and therefore offer enough of the variety that Philip mentions to compete with other Australasian cities. At the moment it seems to be losing the battle though as NZs population agglomerates in Auckland.

15 - 08 - 14

Your error is understandable but bears pointing out. “Hartford, Stamford, New Haven, Bridgeport, Danbury” are NOT commuter towns. They are small cities with ethnically diverse populations, important cultural centers (Yale University – the Wadsworth Atheneum – etc.) and a legacy of Connecticut starving its cities to please its suburbs. Commuter towns in Connecticut would include Greenwich, Cos Cob, New Canaan and other equally objectionable places. Which may or may not have higher murder rates than Copenhagen but which certainly pride themselves on dull homogenity, a surfiet of coffee shops and no reason to draw breath save to congratulate oneself for living there.

Interesting that the cartoon illustration to this post shows a rickshaw…and one drawn by someone evidently wearing a coolie hat.

How multicultural. How progressive. How white.

15 - 08 - 14

D Griffin – thanks for the correction. In my humble Defence, I would like to say that I did a search for “Connecticut commuter towns” and as that article (written, presumably, by someone in Connecticut) was all about Connecticut commuter towns, or so it said, then I thought I had struck the jackpot! Clearly not…. No worries – glad to have your presence back here. I honestly didn’t think that this blog would have a high readership amongst New Havenites or New Canaanites, so I’m not sure why you are calling them objectionable places, but I am intrigued to know how you found this blog? Half the people in this town haven’t found it, so I’m quite impressed that you’ve managed to pick it up.

In answer to your question – about the illustration – I believe it is drawn by Mr Satoshi Hashimoto, who (presumably) is himself Asian, although granted, it’s unlikely he wears a coolie hat. But I’m (presuming once again) thinking that perhaps he is an urbane, artistic dude, with a dry sense of humour, keen to project a sense of an international, semi-intellectual, public-transport oriented type of town. I mean, it could be Belgium, or Nottingham, or even Hong Kong, we just can’t tell. But everyone is happy, regardless!! Toot toot cried Mr Toad, as he drove along the autostrada, the type of jolly world that Monocle likes to promote.

But I’ve had a hard week, and right now I need a cup of team and a lie down, so that’s all from me right now…

15 - 08 - 14

Max>But everyone is happy, regardless!!

Except for the Asian person providing human-powered public transportation, which is why you can’t see his face. I suspect the illustrator is showing a NZ First and Labour election victory, he isn’t allowed to buy a home or a farm any more, and he is reduced to working in a sector of the economy reserved for Asian people.

Moving on from the illustration… Expensive London and New York aren’t on the list, but Tokyo is. The same Tokyo where people take out multi-generational mortgages. Does anyone think that is liveable? Housing affordability has turned some cities in to what are essentially gated-communities beyond the reach of poor people and most of the middle class. Vancouver and San Francisco are good examples. People here complain about affordability in Auckland, but that is mainly an issue with some desirable inner-city suburbs where by definition there will never be enough homes to satisfy the demand. However the outer suburbs of Auckland are quite affordable. I think livability must include affordability and a mix of resident incomes.

John B
16 - 08 - 14

Re the rickshaw – interestingly, many major cities around the world (London, New York, etc) have reintroduced cycle-powered rickshaws as a tourist gimmick thing, which seem to be quite well patroned. Personally I think it smacks of cruelty and would not want to be driven round by a sweaty bloke straining on the gears, but it seems there is no shortage of willing applicants to be the rickshaw drivers, including some strapping young kiwis.

Haven’t seen the return of the sedan chair just yet though, even if that was popular for centuries…. Give it time though. The vogue for retro is strong….

17 - 08 - 14

We somehow need to get Wellingtons population up a couple of notches.