The truth behind that ‘quality of life’ ranking of global cities

‘There was some moaning about Dublin’s relatively unimpressive position’

‘For all Vienna’s grand architecture and delightful bicycle lanes, it seems an unlikely spot to top any chart of most exciting cities.’ Photograph: Getty Images

‘For all Vienna’s grand architecture and delightful bicycle lanes, it seems an unlikely spot to top any chart of most exciting cities.’ Photograph: Getty Images

 

Vienna has plenty to recommend it. At the start of the last century – as Gustav Klimt, Sigmund Freud and Egon Schiele prowled the coffee shops – it staked reasonable claims to be the womb of modernism. People who care tell me that they still put on decent classical concerts from time to time. But, for all Vienna’s grand architecture and delightful bicycle lanes, it seems an unlikely spot to top any chart of most exciting cities.

It’s obviously more energising than awful, overrated, increasingly shabby Paris. But Berlin is cooler, New York is more culturally fecund and Amsterdam is . . . Well, I can’t really remember what happened the last time I went to that city. I am, however, informed that, despite hearing an unreasonable amount of reggae, I had a very relaxing time indeed.

Yet Vienna sits at the top of Mercer’s recent “quality of living” survey. Never having been to Zurich, I can’t argue with the firm’s decision to place that Swiss city at number two, but, in a hastily compiled list of places I’d like to visit, it does rank below Vientiane, Macclesfield and the dump where seagulls go to die. Other thrilling spots in Mercer’s top 10 include Frankfurt (good for book fairs, I suppose), Düsseldorf (Kraftwerk blue plaques) and Luxembourg (I have nothing for you, nothing!).

Three Swiss cities make the top 15. I’ll type that again. That’s three cities in Switze##(julooopp*%%%pouy

Sorry, the refracted waves of boredom sent me to sleep and caused my forehead to crash onto the keyboard.

That’s not fair. Berne and Geneva have had little to do with me as has historic Zurich. So I am in no position to recycle that PJ O’Rourke gag. Let me leave the commentary on Switzerland to Harry Lime in The Third Man: “They had brotherly love – they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”

Elsewhere, we find New York down at 45. Rome is at 52. Lisbon is in with a bullet at 41. Who’d want to live in one of those dull places when you could hang out in Ottawa (16) or Stuttgart (21)?

Corporate avenger

In other words, the survey is assessing cities in terms of how they suit people who drive Saabs and spend evenings in golf clubs. Such employers are required to hand over cash if the destination city is just a little bit too funky or a tad too much at home to cultural innovation. You don’t want hip-hop crews keeping you awake when you’re preparing for that conference call to Boggs & Baloney. The corporate avenger requires a quiet, bland environment that can be slipped into and slid out of as comfortably as he or she might annihilate a passing lame duck.

With all that in mind, Vienna sounds like just the sort of place you would expect to see at the top. The ideal city should come across like an upmarket hotel. Berne, Zurich and Geneva form a sort of snazzy chain – the Royal Swiss Tavern – that guarantees Egyptian cotton on the bed and upmarket vodka in the mini-bar. Berlin and Lisbon seem, in comparison, like the sort of mildly outré boutique hotels that serve gin in jamjars and print the menus on the back of Beano annuals.

What of Dublin? When the news first emerged, there was some moaning about our capital’s relatively unimpressive position on the Mercer chart. Coming in at number 34, the old smoke figures just behind Boston (fair enough), Oslo (makes some sense) and Calgary (oh, come on!).

Then, the mood suddenly lightened. Dublin looked to be the highest placed city in Britain and Ireland. It’s always worth grouping the old foes together when we’re winning at something.

Partial defeat

Galway

Hang on a moment. On reflection, this partial victory feels more like a partial defeat. Back in the 1970s, when Dublin pubs had no ladies’ loos and everybody dressed in brown nylon, no Mercer equivalent would rate Dublin so highly in a battle of the blandest. Smart bars. Decent wifi. Like Alfred Doolittle in Pygmalion, we’ve been undone by respectable “middle-class morality”.

This is a great time for everywhere else.

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