Monday, 16 June 2008

Multicriteria cities

According to a survey that seems to have been flashed around the world like a viral email, Copenhagen is the "best" place to live in 2008. The magazine "Monocle" (a "Lifestyle magazine" which is not in the journals abstracted for IAOR) took measurement on several criteria, weighted them and came up with a ranking which placed the Danish capital at number 1.

Operational researchers are familiar with problems of multiple criteria measurement. The cynical O.R. person will mutter about adding apples to oranges and trying to work out what the result is. Everyone will have their views on the best place to live, and what makes it so good. And that list will almost certainly not coincide exactly with the criteria used by the magazine. Let me admit that I like Copenhagen, perhaps because my late friend Ellen had a flat which was ten minutes walk from the gates of Tivoli Gardens, and so could hardly have been more convenient for visiting the place. Even without that personal experience, it is a very pleasant city, but my criteria would not have included (for instance) Monocle's number of international flights from the city airport, nor the ease of buying drinks at 1a.m..

So, seeing such analysis of multiple criteria optimisation, the O.R. person ought to reflect on how difficult it is to measure the "hard to measure" and on how to work with clients and decision-makers when some of the consequences of choice are determined by aesthetic and qualitative scales.

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