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America's most livable city isn't even on this continent

CBS News logo CBS News 8/17/2017 Irina Ivanova

If you're looking for a new U.S. city to call home -- perhaps one that lets you truly appreciate the infrastructural comforts of a mature post-industrial country -- try Honolulu.

Hawaii's capital was ranked the most "livable" U.S. city on the Economist's annual ranking, coming in at No. 17. Washington, D.C., was the next-highest, at No. 30, followed by Boston, Chicago and Miami.

Before they are ranked, cities on the list are scored out of 100, with 100 being ideal and 1 intolerable, and evaluated on factors like health care, environment, infrastructure and overall stability.

Honolulu is in the highest position it's ever been in, said Jon Copestake, the livability survey's editor. But some cities stateside have lately seen their scores dinged thanks to police violence and popular discord.

"U.S. scores have certainly declined over the last three or four years," Copestake said. "There's been a greater threat of civil unrest, and we've seen things like mass shootings and incidents of rising crime rates."

Rising crime rates led to lower scores this year for Atlanta, Cleveland and San Francisco; New York City and Chicago also fell after the killings of black men at the hands of local police led to protracted demonstrations.

Worldwide, Melbourne topped the list for the seventh year in a row, followed by Vienna and then Vancouver. The top 10 list is nearly identical year after year, with three Canadian cities (Vancouver, Toronto and Calgary) and three Australian ones (Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth). Auckland, Helsinki and Hamburg round out the list.

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No U.S. city has ever been in the top 10 -- but with 140 cities to choose from, being in the top 50 isn't too shabby. Once a city scores above 80, as all U.S. cities on the list do, it's considered top-tier, Copestake said. 

But the highest-ranking cities do tend to share commonalities. "Those that score best tend to be mid-sized cities in wealthier countries with a relatively low population density," the report found. In other words, there is a "sweet spot" where a city can be large enough to support a strong infrastructure and services but doesn't have the high crime rates or population density of global commerce centers.

"One of the worst-performing U.S. cities is New York, in livability terms, but that's because a lot of these big cities are victims of their own success," Copestake said. "A city that's large and economically wealthy attracts people, as a result of which the infrastructure can get overburdened."

In fact, Honolulu's worst score was in the culture and environment ranking, he added. The island's population is just under a million, meaning it's not large enough to support New York-level culture. The livability index also does not account for affordability, which could deter some would-be movers: Hawaii's cost of living is the highest in the U.S.


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