EDITORIAL: City livability list a flawed comparison

Comparisons are odious, as the ancient proverb states.

In its earliest written use – attributed to the English monk and poet John Lydgate, c. 1440 – he even goes as far as to say that they engender hatred.

The phrase pinpoints the still-valid idea that comparisons – particularly when made on a subjective, unscientific basis – can be unhelpful at best, misleading at worst.

Which brings us to the recent Maclean’s listing that places White Rock the ‘236th best place to live in Canada’ – after Surrey, which ranked 140th, compared with Vancouver’s 112th ranking. (In November Maclean’s found White Rock was 89th on the list of most dangerous places to live in Canada, but, reassuringly, the magazine also recently placed it 40th on its list of the richest cities nationwide).

Maclean’s makes some show of having used scientific method to measure its assertions about livability, balancing – and giving points to – such elements as wealth and economy, affordability, demographics, taxes, the commute, crime, weather, health, amenities, culture and community, suitability for families, retirees and new Canadians.

But the number of points given to each – and the weight assigned to each category – would seem to be highly subjective, and also governed by a many other factors, including when and how the information was gathered, which Maclean’s isn’t divulging.

White Rock has its share of problems – affordability, infrastructure, transportation and a small tax base among them. But many people are striving to make the community a more vibrant, resident and visitor-friendly place. Like all the other communities on the list, we would suggest, it’s not a community preserved in amber. The factors that determine the livability of each city are always in some flux – improvements are in process of being made and some factors that weren’t deemed problems before may now be seen as negatives.

As Mayor Darryl Walker commented on the Maclean’s listing, the cities under comparison are also vastly different in size, location, character and circumstances. Ascribing a comparative ranking to them without making sufficient allowances for such variation would seem to be, to use another time-honoured phrase, like “comparing apples and oranges.”

Cynical observers have long suspected that the list-itis that afflicts popular magazines – `30 ways to take off pounds,’ ‘25 things he won’t tell you about your sex life’ – isn’t about sharing information at all, but merely a way to make readers feel insecure and incomplete, driving greater demand for advertisers’ products to compensate for their feelings of inadequacy.

With such a broad – some might say seriously flawed – scope for its surveys, we wonder whether the purpose of Maclean’s lists are less about making valid points about the nation’s communities, more about feeding angst and generating ‘click bait’.

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