At the beginning of the year a status update on social media announced that both Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi had made it into the Top 10 list of the world’s most dynamic cities. Ho Chi Minh City had come in at number two and Hanoi at number eight.
The update quickly gained traction online as followers shared, liked and expressed their pride at not just one Vietnamese city finally making it into a Top 10 list, but two.
And this wasn’t just another of those series of stats measuring the amount of pollutants in the air or the country’s positioning on the world corruption index. This was a legitimate list staking both cities’ claims as great places to live.
Or was it? Just as quickly as the post ignited outpourings of Vietnamese national pride, netizens who had bothered to read the article linked to the post, pointed out that the index — called the City Momentum List — was of cities where change is occurring most rapidly, identifying them as cities to be closely monitored. Not the world’s most liveable cities, as many had been quick to presume.
And The Winner Is…
Apart from demonstrating our penchant for compiling lists and ranking things from best to worst, the post also demonstrated, how, as city dwellers (more than half the world’s population now lives in cities), we get excited about the possibility of being from, or having chosen to live in a city that has just been anointed the world’s most liveable city.
Currently it’s Vienna for the eighth time running, that’s if you are an expatriate looking for a high quality of life, according to Mercer, a UK company claiming dedication to improving the health, wealth and careers of over 100 million people. Singapore ranks highest for infrastructure.
But on another measure, it’s Tokyo if the number of international air routes, the cost of a monthly public transport ticket, the number of indie bookshops, and the time dance clubs close, is your criteria for what a liveable city is. That’s according to Monocle, a magazine on global affairs, business, culture and design. They now have their own annual quality of life conference.
And don’t forget Melbourne. It made it to the top of the Economist Intelligence Unit’s world’s most liveable cities in 2016, based on factors such as stability, healthcare, culture and environment, education, and infrastructure. There are currently no Asian cities in the top tier in that list.
Closer to Home
In our own neighbourhood, one city with a mission to join the rankings above is Yangon. Despite Myanmar’s chequered history and ongoing conflict in the north, there are efforts taking place to learn from the mistakes of more developed cities in the region, and to advocate the preservation of the city’s heritage and its sustainable development.
The Yangon Heritage Trust (YHT), an NGO founded in 2012, is on a mission to help turn Yangon into Asia’s most liveable city. In a short time, YHT has gained the trust and respect of Myanmar’s newly formed government. Now, regulations require developers to ensure that YHT is notified whenever there are plans for a new development.
YHT’s mission is ambitious, but what it shows is initiative and a commitment to preserve its British colonial heritage, and also to promote development in a way that improves the quality of life across all segments of the community.
While much of a city’s development is out of the hands of many (or at least feels that way), perhaps we should do as former New Zealand Prime Minister and now candidate for the position of Secretary-General of the UN, Helen Clark, has argued, and pay more attention to happiness rather than the “tyranny of GDP” as a measure of progress.
Given we as humans enjoy making lists, perhaps as individuals we can take it upon ourselves to make Vietnam’s cities more liveable. We can do this by keeping track of things like how many times we keep a door open for somebody, smile at someone in a lift, or hold our tongues when someone cuts us off on the road. Being mindful must surely be a key criterion for making a city truly liveable.