Do European Cities Outclass American Cities?

By Thomas Keyes
Nov. 25, 2006

Mercer Human Resource Consulting makes an annual compilation of major world cities, which is called the “Worldwide Quality of Living Survey”. The most recent edition of this survey appeared in April, 2006. Citymayors.com carries an abbreviated version of the survey, which lists 53 cities scattered throughout the world. I list them below in full, disregarding some ties between cities:

1.) Zurich, Switzerland; 2.) Geneva, Switzerland; 3.) Vancouver, Canada; 4.) Vienna, Austria; 5.) Auckland, New Zealand; 6.) Dusseldorf, Germany; 7.) Frankfurt, Germany; 8.) Munich, Germany; 9.) Bern, Switzerland; 10.) Sydney, Australia; 11.) Copenhagen, Denmark; 12.) Wellington, New Zealand; 13.) Amsterdam, Netherlands; 14.) Brussels, Belgium; 15.) Toronto, Canada; 16.) Berlin, Germany; 17.) Melbourne, Australia; 18.) Luxembourg, Luxembourg; 19.) Ottawa, Canada; 20.) Stockholm, Sweden; 21.) Perth, Australia; 22.) Montreal, Canada; 23.) Nurnberg, Germany; 24.) Dublin, Ireland; 25.) Hamburg, Germany; 26.) Calgary, Canada; 27.) Honolulu, US; 28.) San Francisco, US; 29.) Adelaide, Australia; 30.) Helsinki, Finland; 31.) Brisbane, Australia; 32.) Oslo, Norway; 33.) Paris, France; 34.) Singapore, Singapore; 35.) Tokyo, Japan; 36.) Boston, US; 37.) Lyon, France; 38.) Yokohama, Japan; 39.) London, UK; 40.) Kobe, Japan; 41.) Chicago, US; 42.) Washington, DC, US; 43.) Portland, US; 44.) Barcelona, Spain; 45.) Madrid, Spain; 46.) New York City, US; 47.) Seattle, US; 48.) Lexington, US; 49.) Winston-Salem, US; 50.) Osaka, Japan; 51.) Milan, Italy; 52.) Lisbon, Portugal; 53.) Tsukuba, Japan.

Here is the webpage from Citymayors.com:


According to Mercer Consulting, the criteria considered in ranking these cities included political and social environment, economic environment, socio-cultural environment, medical and health considerations, schools and education, public services and transportation, recreation, consumer goods, housing, and natural environment.


Let me say up front that these are not my views. I have been in 31 of the 53 cities listed, but all of the cities that I like, except Singapore and Honolulu, aren’t even on the list. I don’t much care about the availability of superhighways, 48-inch television screens, all kinds of audio-video gadgetry, football and hockey games, gourmet dining, cinemas, etc. The things that I look for in a city are warm weather, friendly people, and low prices. I’ll put up with narrow sidewalks, garrets, rickety buses and the like if it means that I can have the things I want. I don’t need Wienerschnitzel or chateaubriand; a taco or a plate of chow mein will be just fine.

Anyway, my first suspicion upon seeing the list was that it was drafted by a conspiracy of European mayors. However, Mercer Consulting was founded in the US in 1937, but seems to have a liaison with some Canadian groups. The latest survey seems to have issued in London. So the Eurocentricity of the survey apparently is not a disingenuous contrivance.

Of the top 25 cities, 16 are in western Europe, and 9 are in Australia, Canada and New Zealand, with none in the US. Of the remaining 28 cities, 10 are in the US, 9 in western Europe, 6 in the Orient and 3 in Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

I notice in the list, for example, that Montreal is pegged a few notches above Honolulu. But in the US, GDP per capita is $42,000, whereas in Canada, it’s $36,000. Anyone who would take a cut in pay to move from Honolulu to a city where it gets down to 44º below zero must have some kind of mental problem. I’ve been in Montreal too, and it’s perfectly beautiful in the summer, but I can’t see a whole lot of amenities that would qualify it for such a high place.

I liked Vienna for the historic sights, but that wears thin after a few days. Otherwise, moving to Vienna is about as attractive as moving to Chicago or Milwaukee. The same goes for all the cities of Germany, Austria and Switzerland. I would never consider moving to Germany. To me, Germany, Austria and Switzerland are the antithesis of what I like, with their sky-high prices, ice-cold weather and people who act as if they think they’re gods.

I like Alexandria, Egypt; Denpasar, Indonesia; and Belém, Brazil best of all. The only cities in the US that I like are Honolulu and Miami. I can’t honestly say that there are any cities in Europe that I like. I wouldn’t mind living in Hong Kong, if it weren’t quite so expensive, but forget about Beijing. I’ve already lived out my China time; there’s no need to go back. As for Latin America, there are cities that aren’t bad, like Mexico City, Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro.

However, you cut it though, if Mercer’s survey has any merit, it would be hard to argue that US cities are the best places to live.


About the author Thomas Keyes: I have written two books: A SOJOURN IN ASIA (non-fiction) and A TALE OF UNG (fiction), neither published so far.

I have studied languages for years and traveled extensively on five continents.

Email: udikeyes@yahoo.com

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