The question of safety isn’t always cut and dried—what feels harmless to some of us may feel very different to others—but some data points are objective indicators of the experience you might have in any given city.
To determine which places offer the most peace of mind, the Economist Intelligence Unit recently released its Safe Cities Index for 2019, ranking 60 urban outposts around the world for digital security, health security, infrastructure, and personal security.
The list of global strongholds leans heavily toward destinations with high average incomes, with six of the top ten slots reserved for Asia-Pacific cities. For the third time in five years, Tokyo comes in first overall, earning stellar marks across all categories. Singapore was a close second, followed by Osaka in third place.
Don’t read too much into geography, though—there seems to be a stronger correlation between finances than location, with the report emphasizing that a city’s region didn’t seem to matter all that much. “Tokyo, Singapore and Osaka are not safer because they happen to be in Asia, but because of the specific urban environments their residents and officials have built,” it reads.
That said, cities in Europe and Northern America round out the top 10, with Amsterdam and Copenhagen taking the fourth and eighth slots (tied with Seoul), respectively, and Toronto and Washington, DC, coming in sixth and seventh. It’s not until you scroll down to the 27th position that you see a Middle Eastern city (Abu Dhabi, with Dubai hot on its heels), and you won’t find a Latin American or African city in the top 30 at all. (Dhaka, Karachi, Yangon, Caracas, and Lagos finish at the bottom overall.)
Again, this seems to go back to money, but in a less obvious way than you might think. “The index scores correlate strongly with average income in the cities,” the report says. “In part this reflects the need to invest sometimes substantial amounts in certain areas essential to security, such as high-quality infrastructure or advanced healthcare systems. The more surprising contribution to this correlation is that, across our index, those cities with less wealth also tend to lack policy ambition.”
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And one thing’s for certain—in the modern world, you need to have contingency plans in place for a wide range of eventualities. This year, researchers paid particular attention to the concept of urban resilience, or the ability of cities to bounce back from shocks, be they man-made or natural disasters. When asked why Tokyo has been so successful over the years, safety-wise, governor Yuriko Koike detailed the ways in which her city is prioritizing its residents’ needs.
“Given that earthquakes are endemic to Japan and we are also witnessing major climate change around the world, it is utterly critical that Tokyo protects residents and the city from natural disasters,” she said. “To do so, we have pursued a range of reforms, both on the infrastructure and the intangible side, expending a large budget. Tokyo’s having received high acclaim as a safe city results in part from the steady and consistent way we have pushed forward these initiatives over the years.”
To explore the full list, visit safecities.economist.com.