Lessons from a most liveable city



TWO weeks ago The Economist Intelligence Unit put out a list of the most liveable cities in the world.
It ranked 140 cities in all, and the top six most liveable cities in the world in that list are Auckland in New Zealand, Osaka in Japan, Adelaide in Australia, Tokyo in Japan, Wellington in New Zealand, and Perth in Australia.
The top six least liveable cities in the world are Damascus in Syria, Lagos in Nigeria, Port Moresby in PNG, Dhaka in Bangladesh, Algiers in Algeria, and Tripoli in Libya.
The two lists, as presented, caused some people in PNG to react, some saying it was unfair.
According to The Economist Intelligence Unit’s website, each of the 140 cities was assigned a score for over 30 qualitative and quantitative factors across five broad categories of: stability; healthcare, culture and environment; education and infrastructure.
To consider where your city is ranked on a list like the one above, you have to ask questions whether your city scores highly in those categories listed.
We will return to this point a bit later. For now, let me share with you some observations I made over the years as I have lived in different centres in PNG and the Pacific.
Living in different centres in PNG
As a child, I grew up in two different centres in PNG, Wewak, in East Sepik, and Port Moresby.
I can tell how both centres have changed over the years.
Both centres now are not what they used to be, as back in the 1970s and 1980s.
There are now many more people living in those centres and the law and order problems are everywhere.
I was attacked twice on the street in Wewak, my hometown, in the mid-1990s.
In Port Moresby, I had money stolen from me at Gordons Market and in 2008, and while I was on my way to 6-Mile in the evening, a group of boys took my phone off me.
From 2017-2019, I lived in Kavieng, in New Ireland, and I must say it was the most peaceful of all the centres that I have been to in PNG.
In Kavieng, I could walk from town and down to the south to where I lived, a kilometre away, and no-one would cause trouble on the main road.
Petty crimes, like pickpocketing, in Kavieng’s CBD or at the market were unheard of in the three years I was there.
This may have changed a bit in recent times though.
Going elsewhere in the Pacific
In 2008-2009, I was privileged to have lived and worked in Nauru, in Micronesia. The two years spent there made me aware of how careless we are in PNG.
Even though that small island nation was coming out of an economic crisis and their education system was nowhere near PNG’s standards, I noticed some interesting features.
Firstly, their shops stay open until 10 pm and it was normal to see a mother and her small children walking a kilometre down the road to shop that late in the night.
Secondly, their main ring road was all sealed and there were no potholes.
Thirdly, all students and teachers go to school on buses provided by their government.
In 2012, I was fortunate to have gone to Noumea, in New Caledonia, for a two-week language immersion programme, and what I saw there further increased my appreciation of how urban centres could be better designed, built and managed.
True, this was a French territory, yet the way Noumea is managed should be a lesson for any city or town that wants to improve its services as well as its appeal to visitors.
Firstly, I noticed that their public transport buses were standard big buses, not 25-seater buses.
Secondly, the drivers of those buses were in uniform and were neat and tidy.
Thirdly, their CBD, Centre Ville, was policed by a group of auxiliaries, not police officers.
The auxiliaries, males and females, were properly attired and armed with two-way radios and batons, not guns.
Fourthly, people took care of their rubbish responsibly.
The time spent in Nauru as well as Noumea helped me realise that as big as we are in PNG, we need to learn and make the right changes to make our urban centres more liveable.
Living in a most liveable city
For 1.5 years now, I have been living in Adelaide, in South Australia.
If visiting Noumea was an introductory lesson on how to better plan and manage a city, living in Adelaide is like completing a full diploma programme on that subject.
Credit though must go to the people who first settled here back in the early 1800s.
From the start, this city and the state were well-planned.
Early settlers from Europe came to Adelaide after South Australia was founded in February 1839 as a province of Britain. Unlike the cities of the states to the east of Adelaide, the early settlers here were not ex-convicts who were resettled in some government initiative to work the land.
Hahndorf, a town in the Adelaide Hills to the east, was named by the German settlers who made the place their home and farmed crops. They escaped the persecution of believers in Europe to settle here.
I am of the view that how well the city and state have fared and remain an attractive destination is influenced by a culture that was shaped by the faith of the early settlers.
The many old church buildings can still be seen over the city hence it is nicknamed the “City of Churches”.
Well-planned event host
Adelaide is a good model for municipal planning and management.
South Australia’s first surveyor-general designed the city in such a way that the main part of the city has four terraces (roads) forming a quadrilateral around the Victoria Square, the centre.
And around the four sides of the city are a ring of parks, known as Adelaide Parklands.
Adelaide has been recognised as one of the most liveable cities in the world in past years as well.
The city of 1.3 million has made it to the top of different enviable lists over the years.
Adelaide hosts a number of international events, including Tour Down Under, a cycling contest which sees riders from around the world competing in.
The Adelaide Writers’ Week is staged early in the year and in October there will be the Adelaide Film Festival.
Adelaide therefore is also called the “Festival City”.
The city and the state host thousands of international students who attend the three main universities, the University of Adelaide, Flinders University and the University of South Australia, as well as other colleges and institutions.
Visit to city mall, or beaches or hills
Any first-timer to Adelaide can visit Rundle Mall, the main shopping area, to get anything you want – food, clothes, newspapers, books or cosmetics.
At the mall, you can also watch musicians busking, people performing card tricks or athletes displaying ball skills.
To get fresh vegetables in Adelaide, you can go to Central Market not too far away, and there is also a China Town with restaurants in that vicinity.
If you want to get to the beaches, Glenelg beach is to the south and Henley beach is directly west.
To get from one suburb to another, you can get on the bus, the train or the tram, depending on your route.
The city has a zoo and botanical garden but there are wildlife sanctuaries outside the city where you can eat a snack on a lawn with kangaroos hopping around, or you carry a koala while your photo is taken by your pals.
What makes it most liveable?
So, what makes Adelaide the most liveable city in Australia and the third-most liveable in the world?
Firstly, from what I can see, it is how it is managed.
It is the fifth most populated city in Australia, with a population of only 3 million.
The Economist Intelligence Unit said the Covid-19 crisis had changed a lot of things and the cities which topped that list were also the best managers of the crisis.
Adelaide went into lockdown only once last year, and that lockdown was lifted less than 24 hours later because the information it used did not warrant such an action.
Secondly, it is cleaner than other cities.
A Grade 12 male student told me at a bus stop last year that he had been to other cities and noticed that Adelaide is relatively cleaner.
Thirdly, it is well connected and traffic is not too congested.
This point came from the manager of the coffee shop that I get my drink from.
He said in Melbourne it would take longer to get from the city to the outer suburbs for the same distance as here.
That was sensible since in April it took us, our study group, one hour to travel from Adelaide to Victor Harbor in the south, a distance of 83 kilometres.
Transportation here in Adelaide is reliable and the drivers are friendly, as often permitting people who had no tickets or credits to take a ride to a place where they can top up their credits.
The tram service within the city and a few bus routes around it are also free.
Unlike Noumea, the main city streets here often have a pair of police officers, one male and one female, walking up and down with radios, handcuffs and sidearms. That foot-beat patrol is not done by auxiliaries.
Adelaide is not just the city centre, it also includes smaller towns that are built around proper bus interchanges where you can find the main shopping centre with banks, post offices, libraries and sporting venues.
Public toilets are also accessible at different locations and are well managed.
It is those things and the years of good management that has made Adelaide a most liveable city in the world.
Lessons for town planners in PNG
It is hoped that MPs and town planners can learn from some of the lessons in this article to better design their towns and cities and manage them.
Such questions must be asked and answers to them must be worked on:
•         Are my streets safer?
•         Do I have auxiliaries or police officers walking the streets?
•         Are the buses clean and safe, and run by a schedule?
•         Are proper bus stations or interchanges available?
•         Are public toilets accessible?
•         Are there parks, museums and libraries accessible to the public?
•         Are there public booths for visitors to get information from?
It is my view that if such questions are considered for better planning, any town or city can over time be viewed as a more liveable centre.
•         Next week: Learning from a published short story writer