How livable is your city?

Recently, I was talking about livabilities of cities with my class, and to give them some more in-depth information, I did some research prior to class. (Dear students, see: Teachers actually do work.) The more research I did, though, the more confusing it became.

Those little tuck boats might contribute to Vancouver’s high quality of living, what do you think?

There are various sources analyzing pros and cons of international cities and all of them come up with different top 10. The Huffington Post e.g. declares that Vancouver is the most livable city worldwide. I can see that. Though not my personal favourite city of all, I think Vancouver is very attractive, offers beautiful housing areas, lots of fun stuff to do – and it has a Zara store which made it a highly desirable venue as long as we were living in Washington State. On the other hand, taxes are pretty high in Canada, maybe that would be a point to consider? Amongst Huffington Post’s top 10 are mostly Australian and Canadian cities apart from Vienna and Helsinki. Now as much as I like both towns, I have no idea what makes them more livable than let’s say London or Rome or Geneva.

The Economist on the other hand, didn’t even include Vancouver, instead they came up with Hong Kong being No. 1. I have never been to Hong Kong, but I would consider living there as pretty exciting, and I am sure the town has an awful lot to offer. But I also heard that pollution is a big issue, which I don’t find so terribly attractive. My fellow expats could maybe explain what is so special about Hong Kong? Apart from Hong Kong, The Economist lists 2 other Asian cities: Osaka ranks 3, Tokyo 10. And while the Huffington Post ignores all Asian cities and concentrates mostly on Australia, The Economist only includes Sydney in their top 10 as No. 5.


English: Stephansplatz and Graben street in th...

Without a doubt: Vienna is one of the most beautiful European cities. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mercer Human Resource Consultant focuses mainly on European cities claiming that Vienna was the most livable city in 2011. Apparently, the Austrians are doing something right. Might be their delicious desserts that let people believe they’ve already gone to heaven. Would I like to live in Vienna, though? Not really, as beautiful as I find the city, I don’t quite know what makes it better than let’s say Paris or London. (No offense, dear Austrians, but after all, you are not too keen on having us Germans anyway, are you?)

To determine whether a city is a desirable place to live or not, those research companies came up with plenty of criterias. Amongst those are:

– infrastructure

– weather

– job market

– culture

– education

– international accessibility

– health system

– safety

– political and economical stability

– recreation

– public services

– housing

– natural environment

This all makes sense to me. What I don’t understand is how you can rate them. Even in my little English group, everybody had a very different idea of what was important to them. After letting them rank the criterias, the only point we all agreed upon was that safety came as no. 1. Apart from that, everybody had very different priorities.

Of course, first you need to examine whether you prefer city or country living or whether you are more the suburb type. Then it depends on your life situation: Do you have children? Pets? Are you single wanting to have a good time? My friend Miss T. e.g. finds living in Italy very desirable, since she has a soft spot for Italian men. Based on that criteria, I on the other hand would rather pick a Scandinavian city – yes, I am allowed to say that, part of my husband’s family is from Norway. However, I would always prefer the Italian cuisine to the Scandinavian… Where you enjoy to live, largely depends on both your life situation, and of course on your personality.

Café Noir Morning.

This is what makes Miss N. happy on a rainy day. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For me e.g. the cultural offerings of a city are vital. For my students, however, they are not. Public transport on the other hand seemed to be an issue for everybody in my group. If I asked Americans, they might not even think about public transport, since many would love to live in their cars. My friend Miss N. would probably rank weather as no. 1 on her list. She could be in the most amazing of cities – if it was raining, she’d be miserable as hell. Unless there was a very good French patisserie, that would definitely sweeten the deal for her! For me, weather is not that important. As long as I have the opportunity to put on my rainboots and go for nice long walk, I am perfectly happy.

At the end of the class, I asked my students to define the livability of Playa del Carmen. This actually is something that had been on my mind for quite some time as there seem to be 2 types of people here: Some LOVE living here and never want to leave again, and some say it’s “quite ok” for a period of time, but then it is time to move on. I fall into the latter category, as I miss all things cultural (amongst other things). I don’t love living here, but I see it as a nice change – one I need to get away from on a regular basis in order not to go completely loopy. A student of mine, a very young girl from Buenos Aires, on the other hand, wants to grow old here which came as a surprise to me, as I always considered Buenos Aires to be far more interesting than this small town.

Who wouldn’t love this Caribbean flair – at least for a certain period of time?

In short, my students found the livability of Playa del Carmen moderately to very high. They’ve got the beach, they’ve got summer all year long, there are plenty of bars and restaurants – for them, that’s perfect. A friend who moved here from Europe ranks the livability pretty low. She has two children and isn’t too thrilled about the school system, and like me, she misses cultural attractions. Then I also asked some Mexicans who came here from other parts of Mexico. They all told me that they would go back to their homes in a heartbeat. They are not very happy here, they all find it too hot, too expensive (which is a very valid point, life is expensive at the Riviera Maya), but unemployment is almost non-existent in comparison to other regions of Mexico. That’s why so many come here and get work in the tourist industry.

Taking all this into account, I believe that there is no valid solution as to how determine an international ranking. Fact is, that people who are well-off, are more likely to enjoy living in whatever city, and people who don’t have a lot of money, will always find it a little duller and are more dependent on public services. And of course, there is this unexplainable criteria: the homely feeling. Very often, you don’t know why you feel very much at home in one city, and another one leaves you rather indifferent despite its attractiveness. Luckily, we don’t all want to live in the same cities!

So how about you? Have you ever thought what makes a city livable? What makes YOUR city livable? Which criterias are most important for you?


6 thoughts on “How livable is your city?

  1. Hong Kong can be very exciting, public transport is good, the sea/mountain contrast is beautiful, there are some great outdoor activities, and (if you can afford it) you can almost have any object or food your heart desires. But…most livable is odd considering the expense, pollution, typhoons and potential epicenter for future pandemics. Cambridge, UK was “livable,” Seattle is “livable,” Hong Kong…. let’s just say that many others had that same “huh?” feeling about that #1 ranking:

    • Thank you so much for your input! That’s what I seemed to get from yours and others’ blogs.
      The more I thought about this matter, the more it appeared to be impossible to label cities. We all have very different priorities, and whether we like living in a city or not is a very subjective feeling.
      Nevertheless, I hope I will get to see Hong Kong soon, it sounds fascinating and certainly changed a lot after my parents’ trip there in 1982…

  2. I actually work for the company that you quoted as your third source and we have that discussion internally as well. I think that most all of those equations have subjective factors that are easily switched out or reprioritized. The other question is – what income bracket are you in when you are living there? With money – pretty much any city is livable…

    • Wow! What a coincidence! Actually, your company seemed to me to be the most reliable since you included all continents. The other ones seemed to be a little one-sided. I also figured it depended quite a bit on whom they asked.
      And yes, I agree, it totally depends on your social status as well.
      Thank you for your feedback!

  3. Pingback: How to embarrass myself | Expatially Mexico

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