Take it easy, Vancouver - MoneySense

Take it easy, Vancouver

It’s ok if other cities win something once in a while.



I’m beginning to notice a trend in the comments to our Best Places to Live list.

It seems that where you live in this great land of ours has a strong influence on how you’ll react to our findings.

For example, folks from Ottawa are (unsurprisingly) supportive of the study’s findings and rhyme off the reasons why they love their town.

Torontonians are largely AWOL from the comments section, and I think I know why. After coming in 88th spot (solidly mid-pack) two years running, there’s not much to say. Hear no evil, see no evil …

Meanwhile, Maritimers and Newfoundlanders lament their hometown’s showing on our list, but in their opinion it’s the greatest place to live in the country and that’s all that matters. Even the Mayor of last-place New Glasgow — who has ample reason to be annoyed with us — was nothing less than friendly while he told me he believes our methodology is flawed.

The few Northerners who took the time to comment seem content to have garnered a mention, and Albertans love the fact that five of the top 20 places are in Wild Rose Country.

However, the howls of indignation coming from the West Coast are nothing short of amazing. I’ve received so many emails that begin with “How can Vancouver not be on your list?” that it crashed my computer. “Where did the writers of this article get their education?” an enraged West-Coaster demands. “Vancouver is not even on this list… go and get it right people.”

It seems that for Vancouverites, expectations for their city’s showing on such lists are on par with those of Canadian Olympic hockey. Silver medals — while shiny — are for losers.

The outrage seems to stem from the city’s back-to-back wins in the Economist’sMost Livable Cities” list. If such an august authority as the Economist deems Vancouver worthy of No. 1, what’s the deal with MoneySense?

The difference, in a word, is audience. Here at MoneySense, our audience is everyday Canadians who are trying to get the most out of every dollar they make and spend. For the most part, our readers are not rich. They are working, middle-class folk with a job, a mortgage, a family and all the associated expenses. This is why our Best Places to Live list is focused on financial issues such as job prospects, real estate values and taxes. It is aimed at the average Canadian who might be considering a move to another city. A quick look at our list will give them a good idea of the fundamentals of a place they’ve never visited, which may help them in their decision.

The Economist’s list is a whole different story. Even a cursory browse through that magazine makes it very clear that John and Jane Public from Main Street Canada do not fit their target demographic. The Economist caters to the world’s elite: executives, diplomats, hedge fund managers and politicians, all of whom typically have salaries with more figures than my SIN number. Their “Most Livable Cities” list caters to people who have the luxury of buying a property anywhere in the world. If you belong to that club, then yes, Vancouver is where it’s at: mountains, ocean, lots of beautiful parks and a temperate climate are but a few reasons to call the city home.

However, for the average Canadian Vancouver has some substantial obstacles to overcome. First of all, the average house price is $795,000, putting it dead last when it comes to housing affordability. This pushes the “time to buy” figure (average price divided by average 2011 estimated household income) to 9.47 years, dead last again.

Were Vancouver’s household income levels the best in the country, this wouldn’t matter so much. In this category the city scored 52nd — not a bad score, but not enough to balance out the astronomical real estate values.

Crime and job prospects are problems too. Vancouver ranked 111th (out of 180) in overall crime and 110th in unemployment. In crime severity, it ranked 148th.

And then there’s the weather. While relatively warm, the city gets 170 days of precipitation a year (ranking 134th) for a total of 1,275.5 mL of precipitation. If you like rain, Vancouver is paradise. But anyone who has spent time there knows that grey, wet skies can stretch on for weeks at a time, which can be hard on your mental outlook. There’s obviously nothing Vancouverites can do about this, but it does affect the overall “happiness” factor.

A note about the environment: Few will argue that Vancouver’s skyline places it amongst the most beautiful cities in the world. However, that can’t be measured in an empirical way, which is why “natural beauty” or “epic sunsets” are not found in our methodology.

So please, keep the comments coming. We’re all about interactive journalism around here. But before you let loose a scorching missive based on your city’s ranking, have a close look at the numbers. They don’t lie.

To the citizens of Vancouver, it’s great that you take pride in your city. But sometimes the truth hurts.

Just ask Toronto.