The world’s biggest and most important cities aren’t often the best places in which to live. High levels of crime, traffic congestion, and long commutes can worsen the quality of life. So which are the best cities to live in the world?
We've put together a list of the world's 15 best cities, according to human resources consulting firm Mercer's 2011 quality of living survey. The annual report looks at living conditions in 221 cities worldwide and ranks them against New York as a base city in 10 categories such as economy, socio-cultural environment, politics, education, and the health sector.
This year the survey also identified cities with the highest personal safety rankings based on crime levels, law enforcement, international relations, and stability.
Cities in some of the world's biggest economies, including the U.S., Japan, and Britain, missed the cut. So, which cities made the list? Click ahead to find out.
By Rajeshni Naidu-Ghelani
(Posted: Nov. 29, 2011)
Toronto is one of only three Canadian and North American cities to make the list of the world’s top 15 places with the best quality of life.
Canada’s largest city is the fifth most populous city in North America. The cosmopolitan hub, which consistently rates among the world’s most livable cities, has been a popular destination for immigrants over the past few decades. Half of Toronto’s racially diverse population was born outside of Canada, compared with about 28 percent in global centers such as New York and London. About 30 percent of its residents speak a language other than Canada’s national languages, English, or French at home. The city is also Canada’s economic center, and home to the world’s seventh largest stock exchange by market capitalization. Its economy makes up almost a fifth of Canada’s gross domestic product (GDP).
Another key factor behind Toronto’s high ranking is the personal safety of its residents. Toronto is among five Canadian cities that dominate North America’s personal safety ranking. Tied with Vancouver, Montreal, Ottawa, and Calgary, Toronto is considered the 17th safest place in the world, more than 35 times safer than its closest American counterparts Chicago, Honolulu, Houston and San Francisco, according to the Mercer report.
Ottawa is the capital city of Canada and one of six capital cities to make the list. Home to Canada’s federal agencies and foreign embassies, the city has the most highly educated workforce per capita in the country. Ottawa is also home to technology giants such as Nortel Networks, Cisco Systems, Alcatel Lucent, and Dell, with more than 90 percent of Canada’s telecommunications research and development conducted there.
A high quality of life is often associated with a high cost of living in most cities on our list, but Ottawa defies that trend, being crowned the least expensive Canadian city to live in this year. Ottawa is ranked 55 places lower than Toronto — Canada’s costliest city — in Mercer's cost of living survey based on factors such as housing, transport, food, and clothing. It is also considered one of the cleanest in the world, coming in third in last year’s eco-city ranking, which measured factors such as water drinkability, sewage systems, air pollution, and waste removal.
Correction Note: In an earlier verison of this story, the cost of living in Ottawa was
Wellington is one of only three cities in the Asia-Pacific region to make the 2011 list.
The city is the world’s southernmost capital and has the most educated population in the country, with more than one-third of its residents holding a bachelor’s degree or higher. Incomes in Wellington are above average for New Zealand. More than 40 percent of households have annual incomes of more than $66,000. The city also has a great climate, with 2,000 hours of sunshine every year, compared to an average of 1,500 hours in global centers such as London and 1,850 hours in Vancouver.
Despite high living standards for New Zealand's cities, the country has experienced a net outflow of residents in 2011 for the first time in a decade, with more people emigrating abroad than the amount of immigrants coming into the country. For the year to Oct. 31, the country saw a net loss of a 100 permanent residents, compared with a net gain of 12,610 for the same period last year. Neighboring Australia’s booming economy, with higher wages and lower unemployment, has been a big draw for New Zealanders.
Amsterdam is one of the most visited cities on our list, renowned for its red light district and marijuana serving coffee shops.
Coming to world prominence through trade during the Dutch Golden Age in the 17th century, the city has maintained a high quality of living as the cultural and financial center of the Netherlands. It’s home to the world’s oldest stock exchange and its historic canals, buildings, and infrastructure are a big draw for tourists. The city promotes varying lifestyles and about 54 percent of its households are single people. Households with two adults make up only 20 percent of the population, according to government statistics from 2009. The city also ranks among the top 20 in the world when it comes to personal safety.
Once regarded among the more generous European countries in welcoming immigrants, the Netherlands reputation has changed over the past decade. The anti-Islam, anti-immigration Freedom Party is a key ally for the ruling coalition in Parliament and has used its influence to push for tougher immigration policies. In September, the government announced plans to ban face-covering veils worn by some Muslim women because lawmakers argued that it flouts the Dutch way of life.
Sydney is Australia’s biggest city by population and the economic hub of the country. It accounts for about one quarter of Australia’s GDP.
The city is home to some of Australia’s most iconic landmarks, including the Opera House and Harbour Bridge. Its metropolitan area is set in one of the world’s most stunning harbors and is surrounded by national parks, bays, rivers, and beaches. As a major business hub, Sydney is headquarters to almost 40 percent of the top 500 Australian firms, as well as the location of 20 percent of the country’s finance sector, and 44 percent of its broadcasting industry. The median average annual income for residents is more than $55,000, with nearly one-fifth of its workforce making more than $2,000 a week.
In comparison to the rest of the Asia-Pacific region, both Australia and New Zealand far outweigh their counterparts in living standards and personal safety because of their continuous investment in infrastructure and public services. Many Asian cities rank at the bottom of the survey due to social instability, political turmoil, and natural disasters such as typhoons and tsunamis, according to the study. Only three Asian cities — Singapore at number 25, Tokyo at 46, and Kobe, Japan at 49 — make the top 50 places in the quality of life survey.
Copenhagen has made Mercer’s list of top 15 cities for the past five years. The city’s staying power highlights Europe’s dominance in the quality of life survey. In fact, as many as eight of the top 10 cities in the world are in Europe. These cities continue to have high living standards because of their advanced infrastructure, and high-class medical, recreational, and leisure facilities.
Copenhagen was also the second highest ranked European city among the world’s most eco-friendly places in 2010. Known as the city of cyclists, it has a total 218 miles of cycle tracks, with about 36 percent of its population commuting by bicycle every day.
Health and well-being have become a big part of Danish lives, with more than 15 percent of its population over the age of 65. Increased health awareness has translated into Denmark becoming one of the leading consumers and producers of organic food in Europe. About 75 percent of food consumed in Copenhagen is organic, with organic food bought in every one of 10 purchases.
Bern is the capital of Switzerland and one of three Swiss cities to make the top 10. The city has consistently held on to the number nine spot in the quality of life survey for the past four years.
Located in the Swiss plateau, the center of the city known as the old town of Bern, became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. Bern has been able to maintain its medieval charm over the centuries and has retained most of its historic features, including arcades, fountains, sandstone facades, towers, and narrow streets. Often ranked among the most expensive cities in the world, Bern is the center of Swiss engineering and manufacturing with medical, information technology, automotive, and luxury retail products such as watches made there.
This year, Bern is ranked as the second safest city in the world, after Luxembourg. Switzerland’s neutrality, and reputation as the traditional banking safe haven for the world’s wealthy — has made it an attractive place for relocation. However, growing immigration has become a cause of concern for the locals. The right-wing Swiss People’s Party wants to limit the number of immigrants entering the country, and the movement has seen a rise in popularity this year after tapping into growing fears that immigration could hurt the Alpine country’s high standard of life. Foreigners make up 22 percent of the country’s 7.9 million people and have been blamed for rising rents, crowded public transportation, and higher electricity bills.
Geneva is Switzerland’s second most populous city and home to about 20 international organizations, including the United Nations, the World Trade Organization, and the Red Cross. Its international role is highlighted by the fact that delegates from more than 160 countries represent their governments in the city’s international conferences and organizations. Over 44 percent of the city’s population is made up of foreigners.
Located at the foot of the Swiss Alps, along the banks of Lake Geneva, the city’s natural environment also makes it one of the greenest cities in Europe. About 20 percent of Geneva is covered in green areas, giving it the name “city of parks.” Geneva has benefited from strict air pollution laws and other environmental regulations, given that it is the base of many global environmental groups.
As home to a large expatriate community, the cost of living in Geneva is the highest in Europe. It’s considered the fifth most expensive city in the world, according to Mercer. The cosmopolitan hub is also home to the world’s most expensive private schools and is said to have one of the world’s best education systems.
Frankfurt is one of three German cities to rank among the top 10 in the world.
The city is the fifth largest in Germany and considered the largest financial center in continental Europe. It’s home to major institutions such as the European Central Bank and the Frankfurt Stock Exchange. Frankfurt is also a major transport hub for central Europe given its modern infrastructure, including an integrated high-speed rail network and a busy international airport. About 114 million passenger journeys are made on the city’s subway system annually, while 50 million passengers pass through the airport annually — the ninth highest in volume globally.
Frankfurt is the 11th safest city in the world based on crime levels and law enforcement effectiveness. The city made headlines in September after its government banned local chapters of the Hells Angels and confiscated their assets, citing a history of drugs, weapons offences, and violence.
Vancouver is the only Canadian and North American city to make the top 10 on the list.
The city is renowned for making numerous rankings of the world’s most livable city over the past decade. It has ranked among the top five in the Mercer quality of living survey for the last five years. Home to one of the mildest climates in Canada, Vancouver is also its greenest city, with the smallest carbon footprint of any major city in North America. Surrounded by water and snowy mountains, Vancouver’s government constantly promotes green building, planning, and technology, with the ambition of becoming the world’s greenest city by 2020.
Despite being ranked as high as the 17th safest city in the world along with its Canadian counterparts Toronto, Calgary, Montreal, and Ottawa, Vancouver made headlines this past year for violent riots. Graphic images were shown around the world in June, after hockey fans went on a rampage following a loss in the Stanley Cup finals.
Dusseldorf has made the list of the top 10 places for the past five years.
The city by the river Rhine is the seventh most populated in Germany and boasts advanced infrastructure. Renowned for its fashion and trade fairs, the city has also become one of the top telecommunications centers in the country. It is home to companies such as Hewlett-Packard and Nokia Siemens. With more than 100 galleries, the city is also Germany’s leading modern and contemporary art capital.
German cities such as Dusseldorf have managed to maintain their quality of life despite the global financial crisis and the recent euro zone debt crisis, given the country’s resilient export-driven economy.
Munich is Germany’s third largest city and one of the country’s key economic centers.
As home to some of Germany’s most notable businesses, including engineering firm Siemens and insurer Allianz, the city generates about 30 percent of the GDP of the State of Bavaria. The city’s purchasing power per capita was more than $33,700 in 2009, the highest among all German cities and 32 percent above the national average. Drawing immigrants to its industries from all over the world, more than 40 percent of the city’s residents are foreigners.
Despite having a prosperous economy, Germany is facing a skilled labor shortage with its aging population. Associations estimate that 80,000 engineering jobs need to filled annually, along with 12,000 doctors and 66,000 IT specialists. Over the past few months, the country’s government has turned to debt-radden countries such as Spain, Portugal, and Greece to find job seekers.
Auckland has the best quality of life in the Asia-Pacific region. It has consistently placed within the top five best places to live in the last five years.
As New Zealand’s largest city, Auckland’s 1.35 million people account for more than 30 percent of the country’s population. About 63 percent of its residents are of European descent, while Moaris (native to New Zealand), and people of Pacific Islands descent make up 24 percent. The city is uniquely set between two harbors, with 11 extinct volcanoes and numerous islands making it the city with the world’s largest boat ownership per capita. Auckland is also ranked as the second safest city in the Asian region, behind Singapore.
Political stability is another winning attribute for New Zealand, compared to its Asian neighbors. In elections that just ended, the ruling center-right National Party was re-elected. The party, led by John Key, promises to spark economic growth by cutting debt and curbing spending. Key has been one the most popular political leaders in New Zealand’s history, leading the country through earthquakes, a coal mine disaster, and the global economic downturn.
Zurich is the largest city in Switzerland and previously held the title as the city with the best quality of life in the world.
Zurich is known as the economic engine of Switzerland, with one out of every nine jobs in the country based there. Its low tax rates attract overseas companies to set up headquarters, while the assets of the 82 banks based there are equivalent to more than 85 percent of the total value of all assets held in Switzerland. The city is also the country’s biggest tourist destination, famous for its lakeside location and chain of hills that run from north to south, providing an extensive range of leisure activities.
Zurich is Europe’s third most expensive city, according to Mercer’s cost of living survey. Its finance sector generates nearly a third of its wealth and about quarter of its jobs. The city’s housing market has become a source of tension in recent years, however, with a shortage of apartments driving up living costs.
Vienna has won the title of the world’s best city for quality of life since 2009. It is one of three capital cities around the world to make the top 10 list.
The city is Austria’s largest by population, as well as the cultural, economic, and political center of the nation. Vienna’s ability to transform old infrastructure into modern dwellings won the city the 2010 UN urban planning award for improving the living conditions of its residents. Under a multimillion-dollar program, the city refurbished more than 5,000 buildings with nearly 250,000 apartments. Vienna is also the world’s number one destination for conferences, drawing five million tourists a year — equivalent to three tourists for every city resident.
Countries such as Austria, Germany, and Switzerland have fared quite well in the quality of life rankings, despite recent turmoil in Europe. However, Mercer’s senior researcher Slagin Parakatil says these cities are not immune to decreases in living standards if the region’s economic troubles continue to go unsolved.