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Lockdowns are sending “liveability” in cities spiralling down

Neil Ashman, Senior Location Ratings Analyst at ECA International

The liveability of 70% of cities around the world has been affected by recreational limitations and a quarter (25%) by socio-political tensions according to the latest annual Location Ratings Report* The implementation of strict lockdowns and restrictions on freedom of movement during 2020 was a major contributing factor causing all UK locations to drop in the global liveability ranking for European expats, compared to the likes of Canada, USA and New Zealand.

As a result, New York (40th) has overtaken London (55th) for the first time. Edinburgh (21st) has fallen out of the top 20 for the first time since 2018, while Oslo in Norway, Helsinki in Finland and Toronto in Canada, all entered the top 20 this year.

Belfast shares joint 55th position with London, both dropping eight places. Cardiff (30th) and Manchester (43rd) dropped six and four places respectively.

Neil Ashman, Senior Location Ratings Analyst at ECA International, said: “At the time of publication there were relatively few pandemic-related restrictions in place in New York, unlike London where a new lockdown had just been imposed. During the height of the pandemic in 2020, London was in a state of lockdown for almost 19 weeks between the periods of March to July and November onwards. This resulted in London dropping in the rankings, while many of the US locations, where scores were not as affected, were pushed up the rankings as a result.”

Cities around the world are evaluated annually by ECA on a variety of liveability factors including availability of health services; housing and utilities; isolation; access to a social network and recreational and leisure facilities; infrastructure; climate; personal safety; socio-political tensions and air quality.

The Recreation scores represent a realistic assessment of the social activities that were, at the time of analysis*, totally unavailable compared to those that could reasonably continue online, or reasonably be accessed despite capacity limits. Most regions across the UK were (and continue to be) under strict lockdown restrictions, therefore their Recreational score and liveability rank has been negatively affected.

ECA’s Location Ratings system objectively evaluates a host of factors to form an assessment of the overall quality of living in over 490 locations worldwide. The system helps companies establish appropriate allowances to compensate employees for the adjustment required when going on international assignment. The impact of some of the factors assessed will vary according to the home location of the assignee.

How liveability scores map the extent of lockdowns across Europe
Scandinavian cities were the least impacted by Recreation limitations and restrictions on freedom of movement at the time of publication, as the authorities adopted less stringent lockdown measures and were not beholden to the same tough restrictions that were implemented elsewhere in Europe in at the time. As a result, Scandinavian locations make up six of the top 20 most liveable cities for European expats.

Copenhagen in Denmark has retained the top spot as the most liveable city in the world, Stavanger, Norway has ranked second, pushing Bern, Switzerland (3rd) from the joint top spot it shared with the Dutch capital in 2020.

Ashman continued: “Historically, pollution, access to healthcare, transport and access to social networks were among the key contributing factors to the low rankings of many major European cities. However, socio-political tensions were one of the key factors affected at the time of the ranking’s analysis, as 36% of European locations, including Italy and France, were experiencing strict lockdowns and restrictions on freedom of movement, sometimes in the form of curfews.”

Elsewhere in Europe, major cities such as Rome and Lisbon fell over 15 places from last year’s rankings, while Paris dropped 18 places and fell out of the top 50 most liveable locations.

Dublin (15th) has fallen out of the top 10 for the first time since 2018. Having grown in popularity as a hub for expats from across the world in recent years, due to its low crime rates, good air quality, culture and infrastructure, it has dropped five places due to the impact of Covid-19. Pandemic restrictions were seen across Ireland at the time of the data’s publication, with travel being severely impacted, meaning that freedom of movement scores have been affected, as well as recreation scores.

Non-European locations high on Europe expat liveability list
In contrast, Toronto (17th) has entered the top 20 most liveable cities in the world for Europeans, rising 10 places and beating major European cities such as Berlin (43rd), Barcelona (59th) and Paris (63rd), despite the distance from Europe.

“Canadian cities have consistently outperformed many European cities in the scoring of crime levels, and air quality, which is why Toronto has scored so highly in the rankings. However, due to stricter lockdown measures affecting its Recreational score compared to other parts of Canada, Montreal dropped four places.” said Ashman.

While some United States implemented restrictions, they were in many instances applied at a local, county level rather than deployed nation-wide. Los Angeles in California for example was locked down much more severely than other cities and states in November, at the time of publication, which has caused it to drop six places (92nd) while most other cities rose in the ranking.

At the time of publication, New Zealand had no restrictions in place. So, although Wellington and Auckland’s liveability score hasn’t changed, their ranking rose 19 and 18 places to 25th and 33rd respectively, overtaking several UK locations despite its distance from Europe.

Varying degrees of Socio-political tension affect the liveability of Hong Kong and Latin America
Since the last Location Rankings report, the Socio-political tensions and Public transport scoring in Hong Kong (112th) has improved, seeing it rise four places in the ranking. While there remains unrest since the new national security law was passed in 2020, crime rates are down, transport restrictions have been eased and protests have calmed, which has reduced the tangible threat level to assignees. However, it has still not returned to its 2018 ranking of 107th.

Argentina experienced a particularly extensive lockdown which has affected the country’s Social-political tensions score this year, causing Buenos Aires to drop by 10 places to 143rd.

Top 20 most liveable locations for European expatriates

Location 2021 ranking 2020 ranking 2019 ranking 2018 ranking
Copenhagen, Denmark 1 1 1 1
Stavanger, Norway 2 5 5 4
Gothenburg, Sweden 3 9 9 9
Bern, Switzerland 3 1 1 1
Aarhus, Denmark 5 12 12 11
Basel, Switzerland 5 7 6 6
The Hague, Netherlands 7 3 3 3
Luxembourg City, Luxembourg 8 9 9 9
Eindhoven, Netherlands 8 5 6 6
Geneva, Switzerland 8 3 3 4
Amsterdam, Netherlands 11 7 6 6
Zurich, Switzerland 12 14 14 14
Rotterdam, Netherlands 13 12 12 11
Stockholm, Sweden 13 19 19 19
Dublin, Irish Republic 15 9 9 11
Oslo, Norway 15 27 27 30
Toronto, Canada 17 27 31 30
Helsinki, Finland 17 27 27 28
Bonn, Germany 17 15 15 15
Munich, Germany 17 15 15 15

*research from global mobility expert, ECA International (ECA)

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