Apparently, Toronto still isn’t in the big leagues. But that may be a good thing
U.S. firm PricewaterhouseCoopers has released a list of the world’s best cities, in which “best” is defined by a high score on an index that’s intended to highlight “cities of opportunity.” That New York City took the top spot is no surprise—they did, um, pay for the study—but we’re a little bit tickled that Toronto came in a close second, despite what the report calls its “beta city” status, which, apparently, means that it isn’t “part of the conversation with London, Paris and New York.”
We decided to dig into the PWC report, and what we found turned out to be rather intriguing: for instance, while the Big Apple beats the Big Smoke on a number of financial scores (ease of doing business, economic clout, etc.), Toronto has New York’s number on sustainability, cost of living and health, safety and security. In short, Toronto may not be the best place for stockbrokers—but it’s a much better place than NYC for basically everybody else.
The Financial Times did some digging of its own, exploring the tension between a “great city” and a “livable city.” Their conclusion: lists like these may not really be worth the pixels they’re printed on:
Most of these people are profoundly concerned with things like well-designed street furniture, a proliferation of eye-wateringly expensive artisanal retail, boutique hotels with good (English-speaking) service and environmentally friendly mayoral policies. Certainly these are all things which help but they skew the polls to a particular type of European or marginal Pacific city. What they also do is to strip out all the complexity, all the friction and buzz that make big cities what they are.
I spoke to Joel Kotkin, a professor of urban development, and asked him about these surveys. [He says,] “I’ve been to Copenhagen…and it’s cute. But frankly, on the second day, I was wondering what to do.” So, if the results aren’t to his liking, what does he suggest? “We need to ask, what makes a city great? If your idea of a great city is restful, orderly, clean, then that’s fine. You can go live in a gated community. These kinds of cities are what is called ‘productive resorts’. Descartes, writing about 17th-century Amsterdam, said that a great city should be ‘an inventory of the possible’. I like that description.”
Everyone has an idea of what makes a great city. For, say, the mayor’s brother, it’s NFL football and a monorail. For the PWC index, it’s good transit and capital accumulation. For most of the people actually living in Toronto, more of the same might not be terrible.