Far Out Time Out, The Way You Rank Cities Is All Wrong
Okay people, let’s all just calm down for a moment, shall we?
Yes, it’s true that in Time Out’s list of the world’s best cities, Melbourne came in second while Sydney lagged way behind at 39th. But there’s no need for anyone to get carried away by the news.
First of all, Time Out did not name Sydney as “the 10th worst city in the world”: only the 10th worst city out of the 48 best cities. Which is still pretty good: I mean, if you’d baked the 39th best pie in the world you’d be happy with that; and it places Sydney well ahead of, for example, Adelaide, Hobart and Brisbane.
Secondly, any high ranking Melbourne achieves on a “best city” list has to always be tempered by the fact that anyone visiting Melbourne will have to co-mingle with millions of smug Melburnians telling you about how high they ranked on the latest best city list.
But beyond these basic truths, the fact is that any list such as Time Out’s is inherently unreliable anyway, because it doesn’t use the right criteria.
Look at what it uses to judge the cities on the list: “culture”; “nightlife”; “relationships”; “eating” and “drinking”.
These are things that simply don’t matter.
I mean for God’s sake, one of the reasons Melbourne ranked so highly was because of its live music scene. That might have been an important factor in the 19th century, when live music was the only music around. But guess what, Melbourne? We have this thing called “recorded music” now -- you can listen to it right in your own house without the need to go out and come into contact with poorly-groomed strangers.
If anything Melbourne should lose points for its live music scene, as it perpetuates the intolerable social pressure people feel to act against their best interests by going to see live music.
When will we finally see a “best cities” list that focuses on the important things? Like shopping centres?
Any reasonable ranking would have to take into account the relative merits of Melbourne’s Chadstone and Southland versus Sydney’s Parramatta Westfield and Castle Towers. Which is a real ding-dong battle, but then Melbourne also has Doncaster, so maybe that tips it over the edge.
But what about Penrith Plaza? You see how the job of determining the ranking could be difficult, but all the more worthwhile for it. Which city, for example, has the best laid-out food courts? Which one’s JB Hi-Fis are located conveniently close to its EB Games? Which ones’ malls charge for parking, because that loses you a LOT of points?
Most lists ignore shopping centres, because they ignore everything that happens outside the tiny confines of the city’s CBD. But suburban malls are where the action is in every city, and when the night is over, the daylight comes and the wine bar closes, it’s the quantity and quality of phone case stands that makes the difference between happiness and misery.
And how can a list include “street food” as a factor, but not drive-thrus? Who cares whether your city offers an array of meals to awkwardly try not to spill while standing on the footpath: what we need to know is the proliferation and range of drive-thru fast food outlets, and how many of them are open 24-hours. I have no need of a kerbside kebab: what I need from my city is the security that comes from knowing that at 3am, any day of the week, I can choose between McDonald’s, Hungry Jack’s, AND Oporto, without having to put on shoes.
And it’s not only drive-thrus: what about drive-INS? Time Out is all about “culture” but there’s no mention at all about whether the cities on its list still have drive-in movie theatres. In fact the list is really pretty neglectful of cars in general, and this seems pretty bigoted. Any truly great city will be designed around keeping to an absolute minimum the amount of time people need to spend outside their cars.
But what of nature, I hear you say? What, indeed. A great city is one that offers natural beauty as well as man-made. Not that you’d know it from Time Out. It was so diligent in investigating which cities had the most enthusiastic cocktail drinkers, but it didn't even bother to check which ones offered the highest quality giraffe-feeding experiences.
Of course, Melbourne would’ve ranked fairly high on this measure too, as in Melbourne Zoo and Werribee Zoo there are two excellent options for close-up giraffe action.
But Sydney’s Taronga giraffe feed is outstanding and would almost certainly have lifted it a few places, had Time Out gotten its priorities straight.
Green wedges are also an important consideration when judging a city: does it have too many green wedges? Are its parklands ruined by not having cricket nets attached? Does the city have enough trees to provide shade, but not so many they obscure the view across the roundabout?
Perhaps the biggest omission on the Time Out list is the consideration of how cities cater to parents.
Raising children is one of the most important tasks that goes on in cities, so why is the list of best cities not weighted heavily towards those metropolises that provide the easiest and most affordable options for leaving your children alone while you sit and have a drink and some potato wedges?
No mention from Time Out of play centres. No discussion of which cities have the best ones, the ones with the speediest café service and highest slides. No comparison between the shopping centre play centres and the gloomier-yet-more-spacious industrial estate play centres. No mention of which cities’ play centre staff will allow you to stay there the whole day, and which will start coughing and giving you significant looks after the fifth or sixth hour of ignoring your kids.
Yet this is somehow a “best cities” list?
No, Time Out, I’m afraid not. I knew your list was nonsense the moment I saw that it didn’t include a category for phone charging points at airports, and the more I read, and the clearer it became that it had been compiled without analysis of where the best Bunnings is, the more disgusted I became.
Until we get a Best Cities list that pays attention to the things that actually matter, there’s no point getting excited about which city finished where.
But I’ll make one note: Sydney, the 39th best city in the world, has five Outback Steakhouses. Melbourne, the 2nd best, has none. The brokenness of the system has never been more blatant.