I’ve always found these rankings slightly puzzling. OK, so Baghdad is at the bottom of the table; that’s understandable. However, some of the other placings always seem off.
Barcelona at 40? London at 38? Come on!
So, let’s investigate this city-livability malarkey and see what’s really going on here…
The annual ranking is drawn up by Mercer, a private consultancy firm. According to their website, “Mercer conducts the survey to help governments and multi-national companies compensate employees fairly when placing them on international assignments. Mercer’s Quality of Living reports provide valuable information and hardship premium recommendations for major cities throughout the world.”
So, first off, the purpose of the list is to tell companies how much to pay their employees. It isn’t intended as a guide of where in the world you’ll be happiest.
In fact, calling the list a ‘survey’ is misleading. That makes it sound like they’ve actually bothered to ask city residents how they rate their quality of life. What really happens is that Mercer draws up the list by analysing living conditions according to 39 factors, grouped into 10 categories:
1. Political and social environment (political stability, crime, law enforcement, etc)
2. Economic environment (currency exchange regulations, banking services, etc)
3. Socio-cultural environment (censorship, limitations on personal freedom, etc)
4. Health and sanitation (medical supplies and services, infectious diseases, sewage, waste disposal, air pollution, etc)
5. Schools and education (standard and availability of international schools, etc)
6. Public services and transportation (electricity, water, public transport, traffic congestion, etc)
7. Recreation (restaurants, theatres, cinemas, sports and leisure, etc)
8. Consumer goods (availability of food/daily consumption items, cars, etc)
9. Housing (housing, household appliances, furniture, maintenance services, etc)
10. Natural environment (climate, record of natural disasters)
So, Vienna has high-quality international schools and banking services that are attractive to internationally mobile business executives. Fine, but that has nothing to do with the quality of life of your average Vienna resident, who may well envy the Catalans sipping beer on the terraces of Barcelona in November, or the Londoners enjoying world-class curries in the East-end.
‘Vienna is the best place to live in the world’, actually means ‘Vienna is the most cost-effective place to send your employees’!
I’ll give the final word to Mercer themselves. How confident are they in their city ranking report? “In no event will Mercer be liable for any decision made or action taken in reliance of the results obtained through the use of, or the information and/or data contained in or provided by, the Reports.”