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Can there be a city that is crime and pollution free, with excellent public transport and great schools to boast?
Human resources consulting firm Mercer has put together a list of cities that come closest to offering you all that. In its 2012 Quality of Living report it looks at living conditions in 221 cities worldwide and ranks them against New York as a base city in 10 categories - economy, socio-cultural environment, politics, education, and healthcare.
Cities in some of the world's biggest economies like the U.S. and Japan don't make the cut. So, which are the world's best places to live in? Click ahead to find out.
By Rajeshni Naidu-Ghelani
(Posted Dec. 4, 2012)
Climbing one spot from last year, Sydney breaks into the top 10 best places to live this year as the only Australian city to make the rankings. However, it is one of five Australian cities to rank within the top 30 – highlighting the country's prominence for the quality of life it offers.
As Australia's economic hub and most populated city, Sydney is a favored destination in the Asia-Pacific region to live and work. Its metropolitan area is set in one of the world's most stunning harbors and is surrounded by national parks, bays, rivers, and beaches. Sydney is also the headquarters of about 40 percent of the top 500 Australian firms, and 44 percent of its broadcasting industry is located here.
The city also ranks eighth in the world for its infrastructure based on Mercer's ranking. The survey took into account factors like electricity and water supply, transportation and traffic congestion. In comparison to the rest of the Asia-Pacific region, both Australia and New Zealand also far outweigh their peers in living standards and personal safety. Singapore is the highest ranked Asian city at 25, followed by Toyko at 44.
Bern, the capital of Switzerland, fell one spot this year to tie with Sydney at No. 10 after coming in 9th in the quality of living survey for the previous four years.
Located in the Swiss plateau, Bern has been able to maintain its medieval charm. In 1983, its city center known as the old town of Bern became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 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 products such as watches made there.
Last year it was ranked as the second safest city to live in the world after Luxembourg, according to Mercer's survey. Switzerland's 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 major cause of concern for locals who fear that an inflow of foreigners is threatening the Alpine's country's high standard of living. In November, a Swiss environmentalist group presented the government with 120,000 signatures to force a by calling for an annual limit on the country's population growth via immigration to 0.2 percent. The Swiss population hit the 8 million mark this year – an 18.5 percent rise from 1990.
Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark, has held on to the ninth spot from last year and marks its sixth consecutive appearance on Mercer's list of the top 15 cities to live in.
Health and well-being is a big priority for the Danish people with nearly a quarter of them aged 60 and older, according to government data. Increased health awareness has translated into Denmark becoming one of the leading consumers and producers of organic food in Europe. Almost 75 percent of food served by city-run businesses like daycares in Copenhagen is organic. Copenhagen is also known as the city of cyclists with a total 218 miles of cycle tracks, resulting in about 35 percent of its population commuting by bicycle every day.
Despite being lauded for its high quality of life, Denmark's economy has struggled, impacted by the euro zone debt crisis. The Danish economy shrank 0.4 percent in the second quarter of the year. Consumption, one of the country's main growth drivers, has remained weak even with record-low interest rates, due in part to a property bubble bust in 2007 that has left many households in debt and cautious over spending.
Geneva, Switzerland's second most populous city and home to several international organizations, holds on to the eighth spot it earned in 2011.
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 by green areas, giving it the name "city of parks." The city 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 with over 40 percent of its population being foreigners, the cost of living in Geneva is the highest in Western 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 best education systems globally. Geneva's strong economy is also boosted by the fact that it is the world's No. 1 center for oil trading, seeing 35 percent of global volume.
Frankfurt, the largest financial center in continental Europe, retains the seventh spot from last year's rankings of the best places to live.
Germany's fifth largest city, it is 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. The city ranks second only to Singapore in the world for its infrastructure, according to Mercer.
The city is also building a reputation for its environment-friendly initiatives. In 2008, a "low emission zone" was set up in the city and only vehicles with a green badge reflecting low emissions are allowed to enter the area. The aim is to reduce pollution and maintain air quality levels in Frankfurt. More than 50 percent of the city consists of open green spaces and waterways.
German city Dusseldorf fell one spot from last year's rankings to take the sixth spot in 2012. However, the city has made Mercer's top 10 rankings for the best quality of life for the past six years.
The city by the river Rhine is the seventh most populated in Germany and is renowned for its fashion and trade fairs. With more than 100 galleries, Dusseldorf is Germany's art capital.
Dusseldorf's high standard of living is a big draw for the ultra-wealthy. The city ranks second only to Munich for the highest population in Germany of people with a net worth $30 million or more at 1,380, according to research firm Wealth-X. Earlier this year, local media also reported that the city has more millionaires than any other German city.
Vancouver is the only Canadian and North American city to make the top 10 list this year, similar to 2011.
Vancouver has made it to a number of rankings on the world's most livable cities over the past decade and has been among the top five in the Mercer quality of living survey for the past six 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.
In terms of infrastructure, Vancouver also tops the rankings for North America at ninth with Montreal and Atlanta landing in 13th place. Overall, Canadian cities still dominate the top of the rankings for North America despite only Vancouver making it into the global top 10. Ottawa comes in at 14, Toronto at 15 and Montreal at 23, while it's closet U.S. competitor is Honolulu at 28 globally.
Munich is Germany's third largest city and one of the country's key economic centers. It is also one of three German cities to dominate the top 10 rankings for the best quality of life.
Holding on its fourth spot from last year, Munich is home to some of Germany's most notable businesses, including engineering firm Siemens and insurer Allianz. The city generates nearly 30 percent of the gross domestic product of the State of Bavaria. Munich's per capita purchasing power was more than $33,700 in 2011, the highest among all German cities and 30 percent above the national average. Drawing immigrants to its industries from all over the world, more than a fifth of the city's residents are foreigners.
Munich ties fellow German city Frankfurt for having the second best infrastructure in the world, according to Mercer. In total, four German cities including Dusseldorf and Hamburg dominate the top 10 infrastructure rankings highlighting the country's first-class airports and high standard of public services.
New Zealand's largest and most populous city, Auckland, offers the best quality of life in the Asia-Pacific region, now for the second year in a row. It has been consistently placed within the top five best places to live in for the past six years.
Auckland 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 person. Auckland is New Zealand's economic powerhouse - its 1.4 million people account for more than 30 percent of the country's population and contribute 35 percent to the country's GDP. Auckland is also home to the most educated people in the country, with nearly 37 percent of its working population holding a bachelor's degree or higher.
In March, the city launched a 30-year initiative called "The Auckland Plan" to make it the world's most livable city. The plan aims to tackle challenges in transport, housing, job creation and environment protection. However, the city has been impacted by the global economic slowdown. In the third quarter New Zealand's unemployment rate hit a 13-year high of 7.3 percent.
Zurich, Switzerland's largest city, keeps the number two spot from last year after holding the title of the city with the best quality of life in the world previously. It is also one of three Swiss cities to make the top 10 rankings – tying with Germany for the most number of cities on the list.
Known as a global financial center, one out of every nine jobs in Switzerland is based in Zurich. Its low tax rates attract overseas companies and the assets of the 82 banks based there are equivalent to more than 85 percent of the total value of 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.
The cost of living in Zurich is the sixth highest in the world, according to Mercer. Both Zurich and Geneva make Switzerland the most expensive country to live in in Western Europe. The city also attracts people to buy luxury properties here, because of its low taxes, safety record and good education system, according to real estate firm Knight Frank.
Austria's most populous city – Vienna – has won the title of the world's best city for quality of life since 2009. It is also one of eight European cities to make the top 10 list, showing the region's dominance in the survey.
Vienna is the cultural, economic, and political center of the country. It has the highest per capita GDP among all Austrian cities at over $55,000. Vienna's ability to transform old infrastructure into modern dwellings won the city the 2010 United Nations 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 No. 1 destination for conferences, drawing five million tourists a year — equivalent to three tourists for every resident.
The country's economy has, however, not been immune to the crisis plaguing Europe, and shrunk 0.1 percent in the third quarter of the year, as the European Union entered its second recession since 2009.