As in the rest of the world, data suggests that cities have been the key engines driving economic activity and growth in India over the past few decades. The largest urban agglomerations have been a big driver of India’s consumer markets, and offer more job opportunities compared to smaller towns and villages.

Yet, India’s largest cities are today faced with multiple crises. Some are choking with bad air, others have choked transportation networks, and still others have broken real estate markets that make housing unaffordable for their residents. Left unaddressed, these crises threaten the competitiveness of these cities, and of the Indian economy as a whole.

The multiple crises which differ in magnitude across the major cities also make it difficult to compare the ease of living across cities. If one city has worse air, another has worse traffic. To make sense of different aspects of city life across six of India’s largest urban agglomerations — Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Hyderabad, Kolkata and Bengaluru — Mint examined different facets of city life across these cities over the past few weeks by bringing together data from a variety of public sources. In this final and concluding part of this data journalism series, we have combined all the data to create a composite livability index for these six cities.

The Mint Livability Index shows that the southern metros (Hyderabad, Bengaluru, and Chennai) are much more livable than the rest (Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata).

Southern metros more livable compared to rest

Hyderabad scores highly on account of high commute speeds, its attractiveness to migrants, low rents, and high access to social infrastructure. Bengaluru comes in at second due to its low levels of caste segregation, vibrant dineout scene, high greenery per capita, and cleaner air.

For the non-southern metros: Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata, while each of them do well on some indicators such as public transport (Delhi), green spaces (Delhi, Kolkata), low pollution levels (Mumbai, Kolkata), their overall score is brought down by their dismal performance on key indicators. Kolkata suffers from low commute speeds, high levels of caste segregation, unattractiveness to migrants. Delhi fares poorly on pollution levels, attractiveness to migrants, and municipal finances. For Mumbai, it is a combination of high rents, low commute speeds and a lack of green spaces that work against its favour.

The Mint Livability Index is an equally weighted index of 10 sub-indices. The Commute Speed sub-index reflects the median workweek speeds across major arterial roads. The Public Transport sub-index reflects rail density, metro density, and bus fleet sizes across cities. The Migrant Flow sub-index reflects the proportion of new migrants (between 2001-11) across cities. The Diversity sub-index is the inverse of a segregation index that measures caste-based residential segregation across city wards. The Affordable Housing sub-index reflects the median rental values across city wards. The Dineout sub-index reflects cost, variety, and ratings of top-rated restaurants across cities. The Social Infra sub-index reflects the number of schools and health centres per capita. The Greenery sub-index reflects the green cover per capita. The Clean Air sub-index reflects the inverse of the average pollutant (SO2, CO2, PM10 and PM 2.5) values for these cities in 2018. The Municipal Finances sub-index reflects the municipal spending per capita. Each of these sub-indices is normalized, with the indices taking values from 0 to 100, and higher scores indicating better performance. The final score is a simple average of these 10 sub-indices.

How metro cities fare on individual indices

For Kolkata, the final score is an average for 9 sub-indices since reliable data on the tenth metric (social infra) could not be traced. One caveat in the analysis is that different parameters involve different city boundaries. On some parameters, only the municipal limits of the cities have been considered whereas on other parameters, urban agglomerations have been considered. These choices have been driven by the quality of data available at different levels. For each parameter, a consistent definition has been applied across cities to ensure comparability.

Cities succeed because they are densely packed networks of economic activity, a wide body of research has shown. And networks grow where the conditions of living and growth are favourable. Hence, for Indian metros to maintain their dynamism and competitiveness, it is imperative that their faultlines and weaknesses are addressed urgently.

For now, the southern metros are miles ahead of the rest. The higher flow of migrants to the southern metros only affirm that they are indeed seen as more livable and dynamic by more Indians.

This is the concluding part of a 10-part data journalism series on life in Indian cities.

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