I've claimed before that the annual rankings that list this or that city as "most livable" are bunk. Economist Ed Glaeser happens to agree. In his recent book, Triumph of the City, Glaeser expounded on this point:
Real wages -- incomes corrected for local prices -- are an effective tool for assessing urban amenities. If places have unusually low real wages, then quality of life must be high. If places have unusually high real wages, then something is wrong with those places. Somewhat paradoxically, the decline in real wages in places like New York provides us with the best evidence that, all in al, big-city amenities have become more valuable.
The market for legal services in Texas nicely illustrates this point. Austin attorneys receive relatively low pay compared to attorneys in other markets. Austin attorneys earn an average of $57.65 per hour. By contrast, Dallas and Houston lawyers earn an average of $71.15 and $68.96. This isn't terribly surprising since I'm sure that Houston and Dallas lawyers are, on average, more productive than Austin attorneys. But Austin attorney pay also lags pay in such places as Midland, Longview and El Paso. And, of couse, Austin has the highest cost of living among these cities. Travis County has the third highest median home prices in Texas, after Dallas's suburban Collins County and Hill Country's Kendall County. Austin attorneys, in other words, have unusually low real wages for Texas, which implies that -- at least for attorneys -- the quality of life is high.
This does not imply that every Houston attorney would prefer working in Austin if he were paid more. People have different tastes. But by aggregating the wages lawyers are willing to accept, we get the market valuation of the cities' relative amenities. That's a much better guide than rankings based on an arbitrary weighting of an arbitrary set of factors.