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What Makes a City Livable? Essay

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Updated: Oct 13th, 2021


A city can be termed as a center of significant size and importance, forming the centre of economic, political, administration, social as well as other issues. For a city to be termed as livable it should include all aspects of it and this necessitates careful planning and design.

Planning of a city and its design must reflect the functions of a city. The cities must be planned to reflect the needs of the society, developers and the present and future economic importance. Livability of a city is determined by availability/access to or lack of social amenities, good environmental factors like sensitivity of the local authorities to eliminate or reduce pollution, and the beauty of a city including its planning nature and design. There are differing views by people who have attempted to rank cities according to various factors that may influence its livability. Different people may choose to approach the issue of ranking differently. According to a report (‘Vancouver is ‘best to live in’’, 2005), Vancouver was voted as the best city to live in. Forty indicators in the broad categories of education, infrastructure, culture and environment, health care and stability, were used in a ranking by the livability survey, an Economist Intelligence Unit, to rank 127 cities. Western Europe and North America had the majority of the cities in the top livability range. Canada was considered a destination most livable in the world due to highly developed infrastructure, low crime and low terrorism threats. David and Boyer (in Almanac) used the data that was available and added some more information to rank cities according to various factors influencing their livability and they added to local medical schools 300 points each and subtracted 100 points for air pollutants exceeding the set standards by the Environmental Protection Agency body.

In this paper, a general view of what would entail a city that is livable will be discussed as well as the ideas from visionaries like Howard and Jane Jacobs.

Main Discussion

While determining the livability of a city, different issues of importance may be put into consideration. These include recreation, health issues, culture and education, crime rates and their occurrence, and social amenities like housing. Although Almanac has been criticized for penalizing cities on some issues like housing costs which would make other cities attractive, it assigns points for the positive aspects like arts which makes Pittsburgh-a city ranked in the 78th for its rates of crime to make up for this poor performance. A city can therefore be termed as livable if, by ranking-in consideration of various factors, performs well. Good performance will be as a result of low crime rates in that city, easy access to social amenities like housing, good schools, proper health institutions, enough/good, proper cultural values including integration of multiculturalism and beautiful in its design.

For a city to be livable, many issues relating to human life and those that negatively and positively influence his way of life must be put into careful thought, for example when it is being developed or built up. Many people, for example, may only consider a city to be good to live in because it has lower crime rates than other cities but other factors like access to proper heath facilities may not be favored by the location of the same city. Therefore, a city can only be considered to be more livable than the rest if it performs better on consideration of a wide range of these and other factors. Other factors that may contribute to the well being of a city and make it a good place to live are directly and indirectly influenced by the policies that have been put in place by the local authorities and the government as a whole, for example, those that help in dealing with environmental pollution, disposal of wastes, structuring of the same city and the design. These policies help the country in dealing with the irresponsibility of industries, for instance, towards wastes and disposal of them but may influence the design of cities since some may dictate the location of some structures and buildings such as those to be used as factories.

Another choice in the ranking of cities by the economists begins with the idea that Americans have chosen where they live and it places Pueblo, Colo-which has a lower number of crimes, better endowment with teachers and a moderate climate. Large cities like Minneapolis, Chicago and Houston do generally perform poorly on this scale, while smaller cities do better. The economists consider the various variables on quality life and the statistical relationships between costs or wages of housing. For example, a clue on how many more Americans would pay to living near good schools would be given by a positive correlation between the average class size and costs of housing whereas, the clue on how less they would be prepared accepting in income to enjoy better public education would be shown by a negative statistical relation between class size and local wage rates. The values of amenities and disamenities for the cities were also considered (Passell, 1988). Therefore, it is necessary that in order for a city to be livable, the living standards in the country place or city must reflect the needs of the dwellers and take care of them. People will choose places to live depending on the availability of or lack of necessities and even suitability or non-suitability of climatic conditions of that place. In this it is important to note that pollution may shape the geographical or local climate of a place and thus the government should move fast to ensure that policies are in place to minimize such effects.

Each and every state or country should make sure that the diversities of cultures in metropolitan cities contribute to its well being and should harvest on their potential to make a city attractive and livable by different individuals of different cultures and values. Arvastson and Butler (2006) view that celebration of cultural diversity in a city which is multicultural through ethnic arts and festivals create representations of fixed identities and offer them for sale or usage. Culture identity and real nationalism may be grossed over or understated by them. The diversity of creative practice is dismissed and hidden in cities experiencing multiculturalism and results in introduction of ‘others’ identities. The authors have a view that adoption of the openness to cosmopolitanism strangers is the way forward.

The beauty and design of a city also determines its appropriateness as a better choice by dwellers over other lesser beautiful cities. According to Sonne (2003), designers should create excessfully beautiful and impressive urban spaces without the fear that values such as democracy, egalitarianism and peace may not be represented by the intensity of the monumentality in the cities. Such designers should be enabled to do so by the absence of the consensus on the meaning of urban form even to this day. The author views that there were beliefs that were held which encouraged the conveying of certain values of a nation by the urban forms. This may bring in the feeling that politicians may try to influence the design construction of a city and the monumentality and beautification by influencing the city designers who in turn convey this to the urban formation, thus influencing the beauty of the city which is a factor to making it a better place to dwell. The author gives a conclusion that pluralism of culture is illegible from facade designs and city plans. Detraction of the effectiveness of an urban design aiming at representing political values may occur since politics may change within a short period of time while it would take long to build a city. However, the advantage of representation of political values in the construction of a city may result since it would allow building of better and high quality designs in the urban centers (Florian Urban, 2008).

A city may be considered to be a driver of the economic development of a country and the ability of an urban to produce the once-imported goods is essential to economic development according to Jacobs (1961). She views that a city plays an important role-and not nations-in the macroeconomics. The writer is of the critic view to the urban renewal policies of 1950s which she claims created isolated and unnatural urban spaces and destroyed communities and goes ahead to propose mixed-use and dense neighborhood (Jacobs, 1961). Careful planning and development of a city to allow this, is therefore essential to improve livability of cities. Political, social and economical spaces and forms are as a result of interconnections (global and local) that takes place in the cities. A city cannot be therefore considered as being influenced by the play of one factor or perspective. Bridge and Watson (2003) gives an analysis of the city from different issues including economics and geography. Careful planning of a city to accommodate future developments while maintaining the current beauty and design is also necessary.

According to Howard, a garden city was an antithesis of a suburb and not a suburb. It was an integrated foundation for an effective urban life and not a mere rural retreat. The processes of management, economic and social construction were more important than the physical appearance of a city, according to Howard. The nature was supposed to be integrated to the urban formation. In his diagrams, he gave a look at infrastructure and located public institutions at the heart of the community. The park surrounding the institutions was bordered by a linear structure which had a roof of glass and enclosed the retail functions of a city. From this center were the residential of a mixed social status and beyond them was the industrial and manufacturing zone. The zone was served by a railway ring bordered by a farmland to limit growth as per the estimated population-32000 (Walters, 2007). Such and organization of a city would make its appearance good even in terms of physical appearance and infrastructure.

Jacob criticized the idea of Howard on conventional planning as being essentially paternalistic if not authoritarian. Jacobs saw the Howard view of smaller cities in a constellation as contrasting the idea which held promise for the cities- having dense, mixed-use urban neighborhoods. According to Jane Jacobs, the planners put into considerations the needs of the citizens and not developers and themselves (Collier Marty, 2005). Spontaneous order gives most health and organic cities which can be described as being messy and diverse. The city must not arise from a system scheme which is trying to force people how they should live and the appearance of neighborhoods. Jacobs’ vision was a city which is a dynamic economic engine thriving on a trial and error and private initiative. Unofficial plans, ideas and opportunities, according to Jacobs should be given priority to thrive and this is by responsible city planning and design (Tory Gattis, 2006).


Howard had sought to help the conversion of the rural into cities to enable re-investment of the profits created from urban use of cheap farmland, to creating better infrastructure. Rural poverty would be alleviated by the conversion of the depressed rural areas to prosperous new towns. Focus on such and some other ideas of Howard could help the Britain in the times of Howard when there was rural poverty and cities were faced with industrial overcrowding, squalor and urban problems. There was availability of cheap land and the Britain agricultural sector was undergoing recession at the end of the 19th Century. In the face of the developing world and global market competition today and in future, cities should adopt the ideas of Jacobs and plan cities to suit economic development now and in future. Factors influencing the appropriateness of a city to be livable by people include the wellbeing of the social amenities, access to them and also their costs, living standards of the city place, cultural dynamism and environmental factors. The spacial and social order within the society (internal perspective) in the city must be maintained so as to have a city which is a good place to live while it should act as a stable point in the globalization of the networks and flows (external perspective) and the two perspectives are affected by the external forces and globalization.


Bridge G. & Watson S. Eds. 2002. A Companion to the City. Oxford, Blackwell Publishers.

Collier Marty. Jane Jacobs takes aim at cityt 2005. Web.

Economic Scene; What Makes A City Livable? 1988. The New York Times Company, 2008. Web.

Florian Urban. The Limits of State Symbolism. Review Essay. Journal of Urban History 2008; 35; 196. Passell, Petter. Hall,

Jacobs, J. (1961), The Death and Life of Great American Cities. New York: Random House.

Eds. Arvastson G. & Butler T. (2006), Multi-cultures and Cities, University of Copenhagen. Museum Tusculanum Press.

Sonne, W. (2003). Representing the State: Capital City Planning in the Early Twentieth Century. Munich and New York: Prestel.pp.368.

Tory Gattis. Jane Jacobs’ “Opportunity City” vs. “Pleasantville”. 2006. Web.

’’. 2005. Web.

Walters David. (2007). Designing Community: Charrettes, Master Plans and Form-based Codes. Oxford: Elsevier.

Wolfgang S. 2003, Representing the State: Capital City Planning in the Early Twentieth Century. Munich and New York. pp.315.

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