What makes a city liveable

The seats nearer the front of the bus are foldable and are usually left vacant by other commuters for the elderly, handicapped and mothers with prams or strollers.

VANCOUVER - Thank you!

The phrase resonates from the exit of every public bus, at every stop, every time.

Commuters automatically move to the back of the bus without having been asked to, leaving the front to the elderly, the handicapped and mothers with strollers.

The friendly voice on the other side of the Trans- Link Service line patiently entertains repeated questions and provides information without a hint of annoyance.

Is this Utopia? Nope. It is Vancouver.

This perennial contender for the title of world's most liveable city came in third in the ratings by The Economist this year, behind the No 1, Melbourne, Australia (97.5), and No 2 Vienna, Austria (97.4).

The magazine's Intelligence Unit has defined liveability by the following criteria: stability, health care, education, infrastructure, culture and environment.

Vancouver achieved an overall 97.3 rating out of 100. (See graphics on facing page.) It looked like the Canadian city has accomplished what many other cities can only dream of.

In terms of infrastructure, it has managed to reduce traffic on its major roads even as its population has grown.

Its policies, going as far back as the 1970s, meant that its roads were not widened to accommodate more single-occupancy vehicles. Also, Vancouver prioritised and established a strong transit system with light rail, buses, ferries and walking and biking connections, making the city healthy.

Practical choices

Given the convenient transport options that do not involve driving, many people in Vancouver seem to make practical choices not to drive.

Even the buses have racks in front for bikers to "hang" their bikes, should they decide to change their mode of travel halfway.

So, what exactly is Vancouver doing to make itself more liveable than Singapore?

After all, Singapore has in place similar hardware - the amenities and policies that made it a firstworld city to live in.

Yet we came in at 52nd out of 140 major cities, with an overall 88.7 rating out of 100, despite scoring 100 for infrastructure. Vancouver has achieved full marks for health care, culture and environment and for education.

These are all the software - more appropriately the heartware - that makes a city and its people.

Perhaps it could be that the city of Vancouver and its people are very committed to making it an even better place in which to enjoy life.

They aren't in such a rush in the rat race and are considerate and easy-going.

Service staff know they are providing a service and are often polite and patient, especially when they have to repeat the same information to the elderly and tourists.

Commuters take time to appreciate the bus drivers by thanking him or her before alighting.

I found out from my nine days there that what really makes a city liveable does not depend fully on its infrastructure or its policies.

It boils down to just one thing - its people.

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