The Relativity of Liveability Rankings Examining the Japanese Case against the Global Discourse

Marco Capitanio


Despite numerous lists ranking cities’ or nations’ liveability, and publications boasting comprehensive and sensible
assessment methods, the assumption that liveability can be exhaustively defined, measured and compared is highly
dubious. Despite a lack of academic consensus on a theoretical definition of liveability, at an operational level a
number of liveability rankings are being used worldwide as benchmarking tools, often employed to promote the
attractiveness of cities. In this research, we attempt to show the inconsistencies and biases behind the use of
liveability rankings by examining how and by whom they are compiled. Three global and five Japanese liveability
rankings will be analyzed, highlighting how assessment methods and liveability factors reflect the value system of
the compiling institutions. By examining global and local liveability assessments, we show that the objective
appraisal of quality of life is unfeasible, and that local characteristics, value systems etc. have to be taken into
account when compiling and interpreting liveability rankings. They are, therefore, to be understood as relative and
arbitrary benchmarking tools, in a global race of competitive urbanism.

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