Here we go again! Another ranking of the “best” places to live. I wonder how many of those there are. They just pop up on your computer screen like unwanted ads. Perhaps there are so many “best” cities rankings that at some point most cities end up winning or being in the top 10. Mayors and chambers of commerce know it, just like car companies. If you don’t win the top prize you will simply pick a category and exploit it to death to sell your product. It could be safety, trunk size, fuel efficiency, resale value. In the case of cities, it can be average house price, commuting time, unemployment rate, safety and the pièce de resistance, the vaguest criteria of all, the one that makes rankings such subjective tool: amenities.
What does it mean for MoneySense to be the best? A look at the methodology shows that the criteria are quite typical of most rankings: crime, amenities, commuting, heath, housing etc. Also, the number of points given to each criterion varies from one to another and are totally based on the mood of those who design the ranking. If you think that dry weather is important then you will give it more points. If you dislike bike paths you give it less point. If professional sport teams seem unimportant, you simply don’t use it as a criterion.
One big mistake that those guys do is to mess up distinctions between metropolitan areas and suburbs. Too often, they only include the boundaries of municipalities and break up larger cities into pieces even though they are really parts of greater metropolitan areas. For example, The Greater Toronto Area (GTA) has close to 6 million residents. The Municipality (or City) of Toronto has about 2.5 million people. Mississauga, a populous suburb of the GTA, but has its own place in the very same ranking. How can this be? This is major flaw, a very common one.
So let’s take look at the ranking. We indicate when a city was part of a Census Metropolitan area):
- Calgary, Alberta
- St. Albert, Alberta ( a suburb of the Census Metropolitan Area of Edmonton)
- Burlington, Ontario (a suburb of the Census Metropolitan Are of Toronto)
- Strathcona County, Alberta ( a suburb of the Census Metropolitan Area of Edmonton)
- Oakville, Ontario (a suburb of the Census Metropolitan Are of Toronto)
- Ottawa, Ontario (Since all suburbs of Ottawa has been amalgamated it couldn’t be broken down like Edmonton or Toronto)
- Saanich, British Columbia ( a suburb of the Census Metropolitan Area of Victoria)
- Lacombe, Alberta ( a suburb of the Census Metropolitan Area of Edmonton)
- Lethbridge, Alberta
- Newmarket, Ontario (a suburb of the Census Metropolitan Are of Toronto)
It would be hard to end up with a more flawed ranking. There is a mix of small cities (Lethbridge), the mid-size city of Ottawa, with suburbs that have been amalgamated into one unified City of Ottawa, without taking account that the Census Metropolitan Area includes the City of Gatineau, across the Ottawa River, in the Province of Québec. It is simply impossible to judge a suburb or a city that is part of a metropolitan area and ignore the fact that its amenities, transportation system, jobs, highways etc. are all linked. How would Mississauga’s economy perform if it wasn’t of Toronto, or its airport, (located in Mississauga!)? How would Ottawa do if they didn’t have its pool Gatineau and its pool of 75,000 civil servants living in its more affordable houses, commuting by across the Ottawa River by one of its 5 bridges?
I am not pro-gentrification nor a big fan of downtown living, at least not until my kids will live at home. I myself live in an Ontario suburb of Ottawa, while commuting by train to Montreal a few times a month. However, I am fully aware that my suburb would not exist if not for downtown Ottawa. When 75% of the labour force living in my suburb commutes to downtown Ottawa each day to go to work, if the city had not been amalgamated in 2000, I would have laughed at any ranking that would have considered my suburb as a stand- alone city.
Please guys, you do not rank cities like you rank sports teams.