Friday, 27 April 2012

The quality of places

Earlier this week the Future Cape Town blog linked to an interesting article in The Urban Times online magazine. It makes the argument that cities, through agglomeration economies, drive growth. The article goes on to say that cities also have a complex social life and 
"the quality of that place matters – the range and affordability of housing, the job opportunities, the schools, health care and public transport – because it shapes day-to-day life and long-term opportunities".
The rest is a nice explanation of the value of the local community and of making the built environment greener. Well worth the read. There is also a South African perspective on this. Prof Valerie Moller has published extensively on the quality of life and quality of place in South Africa.

A few year ago I also collaborated with colleagues Wim Naudé and Stephanie Rossouw for a paper on the non-monetary quality of city life in South Africa. Simple socio-economic profiles showed that there were clear differences between South Africa's metropolitan cities.



We were interested in distinguishing between cities' economic quality of life, the higher wages and incomes due to higher productivity, and non-economic quality of life due to the scenery, climate, low crime rate etc. The analysis involved a regression model of income per capita on the human development index and we used the residual to construct an own index of non-monetary quality of life. The residual captures the well-being achieved independently of income. The details of the analysis are explained in the paper.

The results showed that although Johannesburg was ranked 1st in 2004 in terms of economic quality of life (using per capita income), it was only ranked 5th in terms of the residuals from the HDI, and 2nd in terms of the residuals from the new index constructed above. The City of Tshwane (Pretoria) is likewise ‘underperforming’ in terms of the non-monetary quality of life as measured by both the residuals from the HDI and this paper’s own index. Specifically, Tshwane is ranked the worst (6th) according to both measures. In contrast, the City of Cape Town is ranked 1st in South Africa on both estimates of the non-monetary quality of life,  although in terms of per capita income it can only be ranked 4th in South Africa. Ekurhuleni (East Rand) and Durban’s performances seem to be on average: their per capita income ranking place them respectively in 3rd and 5th place, similar to their non-monetary quality of life rankings.

Our point is that even with the limited data available in South Africa, there are ways to measure the ability of place to translate income gains into non-monetary quality of life.

If you are interested in this sort of thing, the South African Academy of Science and Arts is hosting a one-day workshop on quality of life on the 22nd of June in Pretoria. For more info contact linda@akademie.co.za 

NAUDé, W.A., ROSSOUW, S. and KRUGELL, W.F. (2009). “The Non-Monetary Quality of City Life in South Africa”, Habitat International, 33(4): 319-326.

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