Nate Berg is a freelance reporter and a former staff writer for CityLab. He lives in Los Angeles.
The makers of the Economist Intelligence Unit's oft-criticized Liveable Cities index turn their efforts into a contest.
The prospect of yet another city livability ranking is about as unremarkable as tomorrow’s weather report, and yet, like tomorrow’s weather report, another ranking is almost certainly on its way.
In fact, a new contest will ensure that happens. The goal is to create new city rankings and visualizations that identify “the best city in the world.” The contest is being organized by the Economist Intelligence Unit, the group behind the annual Global Liveability Ranking, a publication that sells for $500 – and BuzzData, a web startup that allows people to store and share datasets online.
The Economist Intelligence Unit is providing its livability and cost of living indices to people interested in building on them, remixing and augmenting them with other data sets to produce new kinds of livability rankings. The contest calls on data manipulators to create their own ranking systems and to visualize them into fancy infographics. The winning entry will be awarded $10,000.
That's a pretty big prize for what amounts to making a list of cities, but the hope is that the high stakes will inspire some more complex rankings that draw on a lot of data and information. Jon Copestake is the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Cost of Living and Liveability editor, and he says the reason for creating the contest is that with all the city rankings out there, there’s room for them to be much better.
“Hopefully it’s not just going to be a flat ranking,” Copestake says. “I would hope it gives the option of user-generated rankings with people changing weights, and to see how things change if they tweak indicators.”
People have until March 4 to submit their rankings and visualizations. Copestake is excited to see what readers come up with – largely because it will inform the future rankings created by the Economist Intelligence Unit – but also because he knows how hard it can be to create such instantly controversial lists.
“Livability is a very emotive subject, because people always have an opinion on it,” Copestake says. “And they regularly share it with me.”
“I’ve received hundreds, possibly thousands of emails and phone calls and complaints over the years,” he laughs.
Many of those complaints center around factors that are missing in the rankings. It’s a recurring (and often warranted) criticism of rankings that they only go so deep. Copestake says this contest is aimed at changing that. But in the end, any list that tries to define the “best” place will only succeed to the extent that the person reading the list agrees with what it is that makes a place good.
Weighting factors could play a huge role in making some of these rankings more appropriate to each person, and Copestake thinks some of the contest’s entrants will take that approach.
Copestake concedes that the contest – though seemingly well intentioned – is contributing to an already crowded world of city rankings.
“Rankings are good, but they’re also increasingly ubiquitous,” says Copestake. “Cities themselves are almost getting ranking fatigue.”