Navigating a new place can be challenging no matter where in the world it is, but certain cities make day-to-day living a lot easier than others.
These ‘most liveable cities’ are ranked every year by The Economist Intelligence Unit, which rounds up 140 of the world’s biggest cities and ranks each one according to more than 30 factors that influence liveability, including safety, access to healthcare, quality of food and drink options, access to education, and quality of the roads and transportation.
While the top cities get plenty of attention every year (Vienna overtook Melbourne for the top spot in 2018), we decided to focus on the cities that have been climbing the rankings over the past decade. What has caused such significant improvements in these places, and what do residents have to say about their city becoming more ‘liveable’ than ever?
Honolulu, United States
Hawaii’s capital has seen huge jumps in liveability in the past 10 years – and now ranks as the most liveable city in the United States due to its high scores in education and culture. Residents say the improvements can be attributed to the growth of the global economy and a focus on developing a more urban lifestyle that hasn’t traditionally existed in Hawaii.
“There was finally a recognition by the government, businesses and the public that an urban core needed to be developed,” said Todd Apo, who has always lived in Hawaii and is senior vice president of community development for real estate company The Howard Hughes Corporation. “In an isolated island destination, you have to have all the pieces of the puzzle in the right place, and it’s been a long-term effort by a lot of people to get us to this place.”
As part of these initiatives, Honolulu has built out walkable communities, like Ward Village, which combine retail and residential spaces, and has invested heavily in the HART rail system, Honolulu’s first rail system, which is set to be operational by 2020 and will eventually run from downtown Honolulu to Kualaka‘i, 20 miles west.
With expats moving here from around the world, especially from Japan and other Asian countries, Honolulu is its own melting pot that welcomes all people and traditions. “Everyone's in the same canoe to make sure everyone's experience in coming here and living here is very peaceful and enjoyable,” said Simon Treacy, Hawaii president of The Howard Hughes Corporation, who recently moved from New York. “Honolulu [has] got a beautiful culture; it's got this Aloha spirit; it's got all the elements of a city, of a community, of an environment that's inspiring yet very refreshing and healthy.”
Hungary’s largest and capital city has made improvements in infrastructure and neighbourhood development in the past 10 years, and residents have noticed.
“I’ve lived in Budapest for eight years, and the city has made huge progress,” said Wiktoria Skiba, founder of Budapest magazine The Spoiled Queen. “There are way more cycling paths and better 24-hour buses and trams, and many parts of the city have been revitalised, like the VIII district which was always less developed.”
Though Hungary has been a wine-growing region since the 5th Century, its craft beer scene is now exploding, along with a new wave of street food and coffee shops. The revitalisation has also come with an uptick in international companies moving in, looking to secure an EU presence while also paying more affordable wages. This has led to an increase in job opportunities for expats who don’t speak Hungarian.
The growth hasn’t all been good, however. “Due to many cheap bars that have opened recently, especially in district VIII, this part of the city [has] become overcrowded and filled with tourists,” Skiba said, noting that the uptick in tourists and expats have caused rental costs to rise. “Expats who are planning to move to Budapest should check the rental cost on various Facebook groups, which are run by locals and by expats, to make sure they pay fair prices and not higher ones just because they are foreigners, which frequently happens here,” she said.
Kuwait City, Kuwait
While Kuwait City ranks in the middle of the pack when it comes to liveability, the city continues to make strides in its score by becoming more culturally open and making massive improvements in its highway system. Nestled between Saudi Arabia, Iraq and the Persian Gulf, Kuwait City has long been an important port for international trade, and that global influence has begun to appear in everyday life here.
“Growing up there was a lot more stricter and tighter rules about music in public, and theatre and cinema, and all that is changing,” said Aaqib Usman, founder of multimedia company Midwest Immersive, who grew up in Kuwait and now lives in the US. “While I was growing up, [popular music] concerts were virtually unheard of. The first concert I ever attended in my life was in India, not even in Kuwait. Now there's a lot more concerts happening over there, and that's surprises me. And that's happened over the past five years.”
Usman attributes the change to globalisation and internet culture, which has also driven a surprisingly robust interest in international cuisine. “Because alcohol is prohibited, people look to restaurants as entertainment, and they want to try every franchise in the world,” he said. “The Cheesecake Factory wasn't interested in expanding out to Kuwait, but then a Kuwaiti company decided to invest in the Cheesecake Factory just to bring the franchise over there.”
Even though Kuwait has become more global than ever, with financial freedom and life expectancy reaching record highs, expats should still be aware of challenges to living there long-term. Only Kuwaitis can own land, and foreigners who want to start a business must have a Kuwaiti partner who owns 51% of the business. With no sales tax or income tax, however, it can be a great place to work and save money for a few years, Usman said.
Auckland, New Zealand
Consistently a frontrunner in global liveability scores, New Zealand’s northern city has seen its liveability score inch up over the past decade. With especially high scores in the culture category, residents have noticed the difference.
“Auckland is culturally rich, and continues to get better,” said Auckland native Christopher Hill, consultant for family travel agency Hands Up Holidays. The influence of the indigenous Pasifika culture, Asian and Western cultures – and even South American cultures more recently – has led to an explosion of diverse restaurants and more cultural festivals than ever before, including Chinese New Year and Diwali.
Auckland also has made gains in healthcare and education in recent years, though Hill says private schooling and privately funded healthcare generally show better outcomes than their public offerings. Tertiary education (universities and trade schools), however, remains “first-class”.
The city still has room to improve, however, especially when it comes to infrastructure. “Auckland is a sprawling city that was poorly planned, but the powers that be are working hard to improve the traffic jams, and public transportation has continued to improve,” Hill said.
This means that residents should think strategically when it comes to where they want to live. “Places near the beaches tend to have the worst traffic, so decide if your priority is ease of access to work or lifestyle,” Hill said. “Though if you work in the city, the ferry from Devonport [a trendy village on the north side of the bay] does enable you to have the best of both worlds.”
Living anywhere in Auckland won’t come cheap however. The city was recently ranked the fourth most unaffordable housing market in the world, and the government is taking steps to ban foreigners from buying existing properties.
This East Asian hub continues to move up the liveability rankings, particularly as the municipality continues to invest in infrastructure and healthcare. The Metro extends to almost every area of the city, including to the well-connected international airport. Residents also have glowing things to say about the healthcare and education available here – even to expats.
“The healthcare system is amazing – and coming from a Canadian with universal healthcare, that means something!” said corporate advisor Shannon Watson, originally from Ottawa. “As an expat, we can receive a health card with equal coverage to citizens once we become an ‘alien resident’ (through work, family or school). The health card covers seeing Western or Chinese Medicine doctors, as well as dentists, and usually includes the medicine and treatment for a very small fee.”
Families love the varied education opportunities available here as well. Judy Tsuei, who is originally from the US, and founder of media consultancy Wild Hearted Words, found a Montessori school for her daughter, which also provides meals for students and teaches Mandarin. The whole community also looks out for children, making Taiwan ideal for young families. “You can be on a fully crowded train, and people will give up their seats if they see a child,” Tsuei said.
Though some level of Mandarin is important to get most jobs here, residents are friendly and eager to help foreigners, even when there is a language barrier, said Tsuei.
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