By 2050, it’s estimated that 68 percent of the world’s population will live in cities, compared to 56 percent who currently do in 2019. To keep up with rapid urbanization, it’s crucial that cities are able to keep residents, businesses and visitors safe with a wide range of security measures.
So, which cities get it right, and which ones don’t? Since 2017, The Economist Intelligence Unit has published the Safe Cities Index. It ranks 60 cities across four pillars: digital security, health security, infrastructure security and personal security.
Here are the 15 safest cities in the world today, according to that research, as well as the 10 that rank at the very bottom of the list.
Safest — 15. New York
New York City, consisting of five boroughs, is the most populous city in the U.S. It’s home to the headquarters of the United Nations and has the largest foreign-born population of any city in the world. According to the 2019 Safe Cities Index, The Big Apple ranked eighth for digital security and tied at 12th for infrastructure security, but trailed behind for personal security, where it ranked 30th. Personal security rankings look at everything from gun regulation and political stability to rates of drug use and threats of military conflict or terrorism.
Safest — 14. London
London, the capital city of England in the U.K., is the most densely populated city in the European Union — for now, at least. Over the years, London has been named the most powerful city in the world as well as the most influential, most innovative and most expensive. Based on international arrivals, it is the world’s second most-visited city, and has the world’s busiest city airport system based on passenger traffic. In the Safe Cities Index, it ranks 10th for digital security, which is its highest ranking in any of the four pillars.
Safest — 13. San Francisco
Northern California’s cultural, commercial and financial center, San Francisco became the birthplace of the United Nations in 1945 and is known for being a place of liberal activism in the U.S. San Francisco ties in fifth place for digital security with another California metropolis, Los Angeles.
Safest — 12. Stockholm
Sweden’s capital city — and the most populous urban area in the Nordic countries — is one of the fastest-growing regions in Europe. Like all cities ranked in the top five for health security, Stockholm — which ranked fourth — got the basics right. It scores well for areas like water and air, healthcare access and quality, safe food and speed of emergency services. The pillars where Stockholm lost a bit of ground were infrastructure security and digital security.
Safest — 11. Chicago
Situated on Lake Michigan in Illinois, Chicago is one of the largest U.S. cities, and the third most populous. In 2018, Chicago was named the second-most visited U.S. city, after New York City. Like all the cities making up the top five for digital security, Chicago (in third place) got full marks on every digital security input indicator; meaning it has low levels of infection by computer viruses and malware. Like the other American cities on the Safe Cities Index, Chicago lost a bit of ground in the pillar of personal security, where it ranks 26th.
Safest — 10. Melbourne
The capital of the Australian state of Victoria, Melbourne is home to 19 percent of Australia’s total population. It was hailed as the most livable city in the world from 2011 to 2017 and currently ranks second on that list. Melbourne shares seventh place for infrastructure security with fellow Aussie city Sydney. According to the report’s authors, “good policy is essential to become a leader in infrastructure security,” which requires high scores for “continuity management plans, pedestrian friendliness, institutional capacity and disaster-risk informed development.”
Safest — 8. (Tie) Seoul
The Seoul metro area is home to nearly 10 million people. This huge South Korean capital city is home to five UNESCO World Heritage sites alongside many impressive modern architectural constructions. In fact, it was named World Design Capital in 2010. Seoul’s highest ranking is for health security; it comes third after the Japanese cities of Osaka and Tokyo.
Safest — 8. (Tie) Copenhagen
Denmark’s capital, Copenhagen, is also its most populous city, and one of the main financial centers in Northern Europe. For many years, Copenhagen has ranked highly in international quality of life surveys, due to its stable economy, education services and level of social safety. It ranks second for personal security and is the second highest-ranking European city on the overall list. Its total security score was tied with that of Seoul, putting them both at eighth.
Safest — 7. Washington, D.C.
The U.S. capital is one of the most visited cities in the world, welcoming more than 20 million visitors annually. With all the top-secret government business going on, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that it ranks high for digital security. It comes fourth in that pillar, after Tokyo, Singapore and Chicago.
Safest — 6. Toronto
The highest-ranking North American city on the list, Toronto’s highest score is in the pillar of personal security, where it ranks in eighth place. The capital of the province of Ontario is Canada’s most populous city and is recognized as one of the most multicultural and cosmopolitan cities in the world. Level of police engagement, community-based patrolling, gun regulation and enforcement and effectiveness of the criminal justice system are some of the factors taken into account when ranking the cities for personal security.
Safest — 5. Sydney
The city of Sydney in New South Wales, Australia, ties for seventh for infrastructure security. This pillar takes into account enforcement of transport safety, pedestrian friendliness and disaster management/business continuity plans. This appears to contradict analysis carried out by The Sydney Morning Herald, which found that deaths of pedestrians were “going through the roof” in the area, largely due to distracted, impaired and careless drivers.
Safest — 4. Amsterdam
The Netherlands’ capital and most populous city, Amsterdam ties for fourth for health security and is the overall highest-ranking European city on the list. It’s where some of the world’s largest corporations have operations, including Netflix, Tesla and Uber, and it also houses the world’s oldest stock exchange. However, although it ranks fourth in the index, the city’s inhabitants might disagree. The 2019 edition of the Crime Index, published by Dutch newspaper Algemeen Dagblad, deemed Amsterdam the least safe city in the Netherlands.
Safest — 3. Osaka
Osaka, a port city in Japan’s Kansai region, is one of Asia’s safest places. Osaka is a major financial center in Japan, and is home to a number of multinational corporations, including Panasonic. This city is the list’s leader for health security, which is based on things like access to healthcare, the number of beds per 1,000 people, and access to safe and quality food.
Safest — 2. Singapore
Officially the Republic of Singapore, this sovereign, island city-state off the southern tip of Malaysia is home to 5.6 million residents. It ranks first for both personal security and infrastructure security; its 96.9 points for infrastructure security is the single highest score for any city across all four pillars. In addition to being one of the safest cities in the world, Singapore holds several other titles, including the most competitive economy, the world’s smartest city and the most expensive city to live in. Hey, security doesn’t come cheap, I suppose.
Safest — 1. Tokyo
Least Safe — 10. Bogotá
Now we’re going to look at the cities ranked lowest in the 2019 Safe Cities Index.
Big changes are underway in Colombia’s capital city of Bogotá — particularly in terms of its public transport system — but it still has a long way to go, which is reflected in its position at No. 51 on the Safe Cities Index. While Columbia’s national poverty rate continues to drop (although it remains more than double that of the U.S.), the opposite trend persists in Bogotá. This is largely due to the high unemployment rates; with no real social welfare system in place, people who lose their jobs quickly find themselves below the poverty line.
Least Safe — 9. New Delhi
The world’s second-largest city and India’s capital city, New Delhi, gets its fair share of bad press, especially when it comes to air quality. In 2016, it was ranked the most polluted capital in the world by the United States Environmental Protection Agency, and in 2018 it was reported that 89 percent of people in the city “feel discomfort” due to air pollution. At No. 52 overall on the index, it has plenty of room for improvement in terms of security for its residents, especially in terms of infrastructure security, where it ranked 57th of 60 cities.
Least Safe — 7. Casablanca
Western Morocco’s commercial hub, Casablanca, which ranks 54th overall on the index, is one of the largest and most important cities in Africa. Although it is Morocco’s most connected region (thanks to a high-performance road and motorway network and an international airport with links to more than 100 world capitals), its residents and visitors face many problems. In a SkyscraperCity poll, the main issues concerned public transport, trash and lack of cultural activities. The famous movie that’s set there also doesn’t offer much of a ringing endorsement for potential visitors!
Least Safe — 8. Jakarta
At No. 53 on the overall index is Jakarta, the largest, most populous and capital city of Indonesia. It’s also the most populous city in Southeast Asia. Rapid urbanization has contributed to high pollution levels, heavy traffic and sinking in several places. Experts warn that by 2050, parts of the city could be completely submerged.
Least Safe — 6. Cairo
In 2014, the Atlantic Council described Cairo as “Egypt’s failing infrastructure.” This was in reference to the capital city’s real estate market, but the same could be said for the city as a whole. Its economy, safety and health system have all suffered from a catalog of political disasters, making its overall ranking at No. 55 on the Safe Cities Index unsurprising.
Least Safe — 5. Dhaka
The Asian city of Dhaka is one of the largest and most densely populated cities in the world. The capital city and cultural and economic center of Bangladesh, Dhaka suffers from many of the same problems experienced by other overcrowded megacities. Air, water and noise pollution, traffic jams and natural disasters such as earthquakes impact the overall quality of life in Dhaka, explaining its overall position at No. 56 on the list.
Least Safe — 4. Karachi
The capital of the Pakistani province of Singh, Karachi — No. 57 on the Safe Cities Index — is Pakistan’s main industrial and financial center. However, it has a dark side and one of the highest crime rates in the whole of Asia. Residents suffer from congested roads and poorly planned but expensive public transport systems, and a complete lack of low-cost housing has resulted in the rise of slums.
Least Safe — 3. Yangon
Formerly known as Rangoon, Yangon is the largest city in Myanmar (formerly Burma). The old capital has become a popular tourist spot in recent years, but everyday life is far from easy. The general state of healthcare in Myanmar is extremely poor; when the World Health Organization (WHO) last ranked it against other countries, it was pegged last out of 190 countries in terms of “overall health system performance.” It ranks last for digital security on the Safe Cities Index, and No. 58 — third to last — overall.
Least Safe — 2. Caracas
While it’s not the bottom of the table, this Venezuelan city’s 27.3 points for infrastructure security is the lowest score for any location in a single individual pillar. It also ranks second lowest for personal security. To makes matters a little worse, Caracas has the second-highest homicide rate of all cities in the world (after Los Cabos), according to World Atlas: 111.19 murders per 100,000 people.
Least Safe — 1. Lagos
Despite being the largest city in Nigeria, the living conditions in Lagos are not very inviting. Over half of the city’s residents live in slums. This “floating population” — lacking a right to stay even where they are, let alone access to various healthcare and other local assistance schemes — typically live with poor employment, social and housing conditions. Of the 60 cities ranked for the index, Lagos comes last overall; it’s also last for health security and personal security. “The biggest challenges facing Sub-Saharan African cities reflect a lack of effective planning and management,” said the report’s authors.