The U.S. is great at a lot of things, but other countries have the market cornered on the best places to live.
A new ranking of the world's most livable cities shows that Australia and Canada have a monopoly on comfortable urban areas. Of the top 10 most livable cities, seven are in those two countries. The U.S., meanwhile, is nowhere to be found at the top. Among the 140 cities ranked, the most highly ranked U.S. city, Honolulu, doesn't appear until 26th, tied with Amsterdam.
The rankings from the Economist Intelligence Unit, a forecasting and analysis firm within the same group that publishes The Economist, reflect little movement among the top cities. The 65 top cities have exactly the same scores and rankings that they did six months ago, according to the report, though there has been minor shifts since last year's rankings. The stability among the top cities may be a sign of a slowly recovering global economy.
"This may primarily reflect renewed stability as some economies begin to recover from the global economic crisis of a few years ago," says a report announcing the rankings, though it notes that the euro crisis and tight budgets may also have contributed to the lack of movement, as they stalled some city improvement projects.
Below are the top 10 most livable cities, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit:
The EIU's ranking system takes into account a broad range of factors that make a city "livable." Stability (which covers the areas of crime and conflict), healthcare, culture and environment, education, and infrastructure are the five categories that the researchers considered.
So where do the top cities shine where other fail? The report points to Vancouver, which has begun work on a new mass transit line and has begun several other urban improvement projects. The Australian federal government has also undertaken a program to improve the country's roads, which may help to boost city livability.
But much broader factors may allow certain countries to have more areas with comfortable living conditions, says Jon Copestake, editor of cost of living and data services at EIU.
"My theory is that cities that tend to do best on the survey tend to be in developed countries with lots of space and low population density," says Copestake. The low population density in these countries leads to stronger infrastructure, he says, as the country keeps its far-flung people connected, and also makes for lower crime rates and much smaller burdens on infrastructure and healthcare systems.
By the same token, large, dense cities can be far less livable, even as they remain bustling centers of commerce. The "big city buzz" that these areas have, according to the report, can also mean a tightly packed population that taxes public transit, leads to congestion, and promotes crime.
The report names popular urban centers like New York, Tokyo, Paris, and London as examples of cities that are "victims of their own success."
While no U.S. city made it into the very top of the list, Copestake notes the thin margins that distinguish the highly-ranked cities from one another; a margin of one-tenth of a point on EIU's rating system separates each of the top four cities, for example.
Of the 16 U.S. cities ranked, nine have scores at or above 90: Honolulu, Pittsburgh, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Atlanta, Miami, Detroit, Boston, and Seattle. All U.S. cities in the rankings score above 85.
While the quality of life may be similarly pleasant across in the top 50 cities, it is a totally different story in the least livable cities on the list. 13 cities have scores below 50, all of them in Africa or Asia. According to the report, conflict plays a large part in bringing these cities' scores down. Dhaka, Bangladesh, the least livable city, comes in with a score of 38.7, exactly where it was last year.
Danielle Kurtzleben is a business and economics reporter for U.S. News & World Report. Connect with her on Twitter at @titonka or via E-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.