Wellington ranks seventh in Safe Cities Index 2021

The Economist Intelligence Unit, sponsored by NEC, has released the Safe Cities Index 2021, covering 60 major urban areas. In its fourth edition, the Index consists of 76 sub-indicators grouped under 5 domains.

Copenhagen was named as the top-ranking city in 2021, with Toronto, Singapore, Sydney, and Tokyo completing the top five. Wellington placed seventh overall with an index score of 79.0. Copenhagen scored 82.4.

What is the Safe Cities Index?

The index was devised and constructed by Divya Sharma Nag, Shubhangi Pandey and Pratima Singh. The report was written by Paul Kielstra and edited by Naka Kondo. Findings from the index were supplemented with wide-ranging research and in-depth interviews with experts in the field.

The index is made up of five key pillars:

  1. Digital Security
  2. Health Security
  3. Infrastructure Security
  4. Personal Security
  5. Environmental Security

This latest iteration of the Safe Cities Index is the first to be carried out over a period in which the COVID-19 pandemic is the first global pandemic to strike humanity since we became a predominantly urban species.

As reported in the executive summary of the report, “In such circumstances, health is an obvious place to begin a discussion of urban security in 2021. Stopping there, though, would miss most of the picture. As Fang Zhao – professor of innovation and strategy at Staffordshire Business School – puts it, “covid-19 has changed the whole concept of urban safety.” Digital security is now an even higher priority as more work and commerce have moved online; those responsible for infrastructure safety have to adjust to dramatic changes in travel patterns and where residents consume utilities; agencies responsible for personal security need to address a large, lockdown-driven shift in crime patterns; and the priority that urban residents and officials assign to environmental security has risen markedly as covid-19 serves as a stark warning of unexpected crises.

Income and transparency remain strongly correlated with higher index scores

The 2019 Safe Cities Index report discussed in detail the fact that cities with higher scores in the Human Development Index (HDI) also do better in our Safe Cities results.

The statistical correlation is very high.

The Economist experts warn that cause and effect are not straightforward. Income can help fund safety-increasing investments, but economic growth, in turn, depends on an environment benefiting from every kind of security.

More straightforward is the likely link between transparency and security: the World Bank’s Control of Corruption scores and the scores allocated in the Safe Cities Index report also correlate tightly independent of HDI results. Clean government is a fundamental requirement for a city to be safe.

Interestingly, different regions from around the world score well across the different pillars. Well-off cities in the Asia Pacific region do better on average when it comes to health security. European cities score better on personal security and North American cities score well on digital security.

The Economist note that the sample size is too small to generalise the reasons, however, the difference suggests that the priority given to the various security pillars “may be affected by distinct historical experience at the regional, national or city level.

Wellington flying the environmental flag

A new pillar to the Safe Cities Index for 2021 is the environmental security pillar and it’s in this area that Wellington really shines.

Wellington was ranked the number one city in the world for environmental security, ahead of Toronto, Washington DC, Bogota and Milan.

The city scored 91.7 out of a possible 100 for environmental security, ahead of second-placed Toronto with 90.3.

The environmental security pillar includes nine indicators – four inputs and five outputs:


5.1.1) Sustainable energy

5.1.2) Incentives for renewable energy

5.1.3) Green economy initiatives

5.1.4) Waste management


5.2.1) Sustainable energy

5.2.2) Rate of water stress

5.2.3) Air quality levels

5.2.4) Urban forest cover

5.2.5) Waste generation

As in other areas of urban security, Covid-19 has exercised a substantial impact on the environment. The immediate outcomes can be mixed: the World Bank’s Mr. Wahba notes that, “reduced travel has improved air quality in many cities, but efforts to reduce viral transmission through packaging has led to an increase in single-use plastics and attendant pollution.

The report goes on to state that, “the experience of the pandemic will lead to more extensive and ambitious green policies.

The report noted that whilst most cities have good environmental policies, many are not implementing them. This is where Wellington stands out. As well as having a comprehensive environmental policy, the city is actively working towards the implementation of the goals identified in the policy, taking an overarching approach to environmental issues rather than a fractured one.

Wellington is a city that is working with its residents, rather than directing them and they are a great example for some of the world’s biggest cities when it comes to environmental security.

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