Once again, Melbourne has been declared the world's most liveable city, despite soaring housing costs and serious congestion challenges.
Melbourne's seventh consecutive year at the top of The Economist's liveability index was welcomed by the city's politicians and promoters, but planners and housing experts scoffed at the result.
The ranking held steady at top spot despite the obvious pressures on the city as its population swells dramatically – by around 2000 people a week, a quarter of them from Sydney, which was ranked at number 11.
"The results don't mean that Melbourne is most liveable for everyone," said Deloitte Access Economics partner Daniel Terrill.
The report is sold to corporations so they can decide on extra pay levels for executives who move abroad. It recommends a percentage employees should get on top of their salary if they are asked to live in a city with a poor liveability ranking.
Melbourne was a victim of its own success, he said, because the population boom was straining the city's roads and rail.
But the temptation to dismiss the results as wrong should be resisted, he said.
"If Melbourne suddenly became, say, Damascus, our roads may well become less congested and our housing more affordable. But we'd have vastly bigger problems as part of that package."
Damascus in war-torn Syria was deemed the world's worst among the 140 cities surveyed, followed by Lagos in Nigeria, Libyan city Tripoli, Bangladeshi capital Dhaka, and Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea.
Australian cities fared well in the annual rankings with Adelaide fifth and Perth seventh.
After Melbourne, the top five cities internationally were Vienna, Vancouver, Toronto and Calgary.
|8||Auckland, New Zealand||95.7|
|Source: Economist Intelligence Unit|
|136||Port Moresby, PNG||39.6|
|Source: Economist Intelligence Unit|
The Economist ranks each city a total score out of 100 for stability, healthcare, culture and environment, education and infrastructure. Housing affordability is not considered. (The current median house price is $865,712.) Melbourne's overall rating was 97.5. Mid-sized cities in wealthier countries tend to score best.
Lord Mayor Robert Doyle lauded the result, declaring it was the only time a city had been awarded the top spot seven years in a row.
He conceded that Melbourne had room to improve, particularly in areas such as crime and congestion, but said the city continued to stack up well in comparison to others."It's not that there's one area where we are so much better than other cities, it's because we are a great all rounder," he said.
Premier Daniel Andrews said the ranking was a "win for all Victorians, who contribute so much to making Melbourne the best place to live in the world".
"Liveable for whom?" Melbourne University urban geographer Kate Shaw asked. She said the number one ranking ignored Melbourne's growing economic divide between rich and poor.
"Melbourne is a profoundly divided city and if you are lucky enough to live your life within an arc ranging from St Kilda to Fitzroy, it's very liveable," Dr Shaw said. "It doesn't take into account what life is like for people who aren't completely cashed up."
She said the third ranked city, Vancouver, invested in far more new infrastructure than Melbourne. "And the income disparity in inner and outer Vancouver is not as marked as in Melbourne."
The report glossed over the realities of life in Melbourne for many, said Emma King from the Victorian Council of Social Services. "Did The Economist survey anybody who's living under a bridge or skipping meals to pay their power bills?" she asked. "Melbourne is a great city but, for many, it provides anything but an easy life."
And RMIT planning academic Elizabeth Taylor said The Economist's index was only a ranking of the comfort of cities for executives.
"The Economist also ranks Melbourne as one of the top 20 most expensive cities in the world but I don't see us bragging about that one."
But Dr Taylor added that being named most liveable city again was a good reminder Melbourne had qualities its residents could "sometimes be complacent about".
"Clean water, far less crime or corruption than most cities, more reliable services. It doesn't mean Melbourne couldn't do better or that everyone here has a comfortable life. It mainly means we're less bad than other places, and even then, only for some people."
But former Melburnian turned passionate Sydneysider Tony Shepherd said the verdict was "dodgy."
"Look, certainly Melbourne is a lovely city," said Mr Shepherd, once a leader at Transurban, ConnectEast and Yarra Trams but now the chairman of Greater Western Sydney football club.
"But it's an average three to five degrees cooler than Sydney, other than summer when it is hotter," he said. "Sydney is going through a massive infrastructure investment and when that comes online [from 2019] I am sure Sydney will catch up and overtake Melbourne."