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New index for ranking world's cities

A Singapore institute has come up with its own ranking of the world’s cities, which it believes is more comprehensive than others in the market.

Its creators at the Asia Competitiveness Institute, which is part of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, also tout the index as more representative of ordinary city residents’ concerns, and also more constructive.

The Global Liveable Cities Index, which was released at the World Cities Summit 2012 yesterday, ranks Singapore third, after Swiss cities Geneva and Zurich.

Senior research fellow Woo Wing Thye said rankings typically measure either a city’s clout in the world or the comfort it offers to its inhabitants. But the new index marries both measurements.

‘We are a happy medium between the two,’ he said.

One major difference is that the index uses indicators that apply to the ordinary city dweller earning the median income, instead of a member of the social elite or an expatriate, as many other indexes tend to do.

Such a dweller has a limited budget and is concerned with issues like the average quality of education and the cost of health care, noted Professor Woo.

The index also tries to go beyond ranking just for ranking’s sake: Researchers took each city’s 20 weakest indicators and simulated its new rankings if it improved in these areas, to encourage cities to work on their weaknesses.

The Global Liveable Cities Index, which covers 64 Asian, European and American cities, is based on five categories: economic vibrancy and competitiveness; environmental friendliness and sustainability; domestic security and stability; social-cultural conditions; and public governance.

Singapore was ranked within the top five in all categories except for the environmental segment, where it placed 14th.

The co-director of Asia Competitiveness Institute, Dr Tan Khee Giap, indicated that Singapore could have done better if indicators such as water leakage in pipes and biodiversity were included. They were omitted because comparable data in other cities could not be found.

The lack of data also led to San Francisco - a strong contender as a liveable city - being left out.

To address such limitations, the researchers aim to conduct more field surveys to collect local data, and cover more cities.

To refine the index, ordinary city folk will also be polled for their own weightage of indicators. The index is scheduled to be published again in 2014.

The push for a new index came from the Government four years ago. It had ‘noticed gaps in numerous well-known liveability rankings of cities… each catering to very specific purposes and targeted audiences’, and commissioned the institute to start the project in 2008, the team said in a book on the index.

But Prof Woo dismissed any suggestion of the index being tilted in favour of Singapore, saying it gave equal weightage to all five categories of indicators used.

The new index also addresses a sticking point in some studies that rank Singapore poorly for environmental impact.

While those studies use criteria such as the amount of pavement used or the capacity to produce food, the Singapore institute’s index looks at a city’s carbon emissions measured against economic growth.

Prof Woo said ‘the goal is a higher level of income’ without polluting more than what one can take responsibility for.

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