As part of the preparatory work on the Festival of the Future City, we’re looking at how to assess the quality of life of our urban spaces. There are existing surveys available from various sources.

Recently published was the Mercer Quality of Living Index 2015. Mercer are consultants who provide a range of company services, specialising in those relating to HR issues. The annual Quality of Living survey is aimed at major employers who need guidance on how to compensate employees fairly when they are on international assignments. Incentives they might offer their staff include a quality-of-living allowance or a mobility premium.

Mercer compiles and assesses information from over 440 cities worldwide and ranks 230 of these. 39 factors are taken into consideration and grouped into 10 categories: 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.

The data for the 2015 survey was mainly analysed between September and November 2014.

The top 10 best cities for quality of life, according to Mercer are:

1. Vienna, Austria
2. Zurich, Switzerland
3. Auckland, New Zealand
4. Munich, Germany
5. Vancouver, Canada
6. Dusseldorf, Germany
7. Frankfurt, Germany
8. Geneva, Switzerland
9. Copenhagen, Denmark
10. Sydney, Australia

Singapore (26) is the highest-ranking Asian city; Dubai (74) the highest-ranking in the Middle East and Africa; and Montevideo in Uruguay (78) the highest in South America.

London is ranked at 40. It was scored high for public transport but was brought down by its low score for air pollution. The other British cities featured in the list are: Birmingham (52), Glasgow (55), Aberdeen (57), and Belfast (63).

The 10 worst cities for quality of life are:

220. Damascus, Syria
221. Nouakchott, Mauritania
222. Conakry, Guinea
223. Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo
224. Brazzaville, Republic of Congo
225. Sana’a, Yemen
226. N’Djamena, Chad
227. Khartoum, Sudan
228. Port-au-Prince, Haiti
229. Bangui, Central African Republic
230. Baghdad, Iraq

Monocle magazine started its Most Liveable Cities Index in 2006. Now called the Quality of Life Survey, its main criteria are safety/crime, international connectivity, climate/sunshine, quality of architecture, public transportation, tolerance, environmental issues and access to nature, urban design, business conditions, pro-active policy developments and medical care.

The assessors rank cities on the degree to which they achieve a balance between ‘the intangibles that light up a community’ and ‘the infrastructure keeping it going’.

Monocle’s annual top 25 cities for 2014 were:

1. Copenhagen, Denmark
2. Tokyo, Japan
3. Melbourne, Australia
4. Stockholm, Sweden
5. Helsinki, Finland
6. Vienna, Austria
7. Zurich, Switzerland
8. Munich, Germany
9. Kyoto, Japan
10. Fukuoka, Japan
11. Sydney, Australia
12. Auckland, New Zealand
13. Hong Kong
14. Berlin, Germany
15. Vancouver, Canada
16. Singapore
17. Madrid, Spain
18. Paris, France
19. Amsterdam, Netherlands
20. Hamburg, Germany
21. Barcelona, Spain
22. Lisbon, Portugal
23. Portland, USA
24. Oslo, Norway
25. Brisbane, Australia

The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Global Liveability Ranking and Overview 2014 ranks 140 cities worldwide. The information is designed to provide EIU’s clients with information that will help them to decide which locations will offer the best risk/ reward trade-off for their business.

Each city is assigned a rating of relative comfort for over 30 factors across five broad categories: stability (25% of the total score); healthcare (20%); culture and environment (25%); education (10%); and infrastructure (20%). The factors are assessed as to whether they are acceptable, tolerable, uncomfortable, undesirable or intolerable.

Qualitative indicators are rated according to the judgment of in-house analysts and in-city contributors. The rating of quantitative indicators is based on the relative performance of a number of external data points. The scores are then compiled and weighted to provide a score of 1–100, with 100 being the ideal.

The top 10 cities for 2014 were:

1. Melbourne, Australia 97.5
2. Vienna, Austria 97.4
3. Vancouver, Canada 97.3
4. Toronto, Canada 97.2
5. Adelaide, Australia 96.6
6. Calgary, Canada 96.6
7. Sydney, Australia 96.1
8. Helsinki, Finland 96.0
9. Perth, Australia 95.9
10. Auckland, New Zealand 95.7

The bottom 10 were:

131. Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire 45.9
132.Tripoli, Libya 44.2
133. Douala, Cameroon 44.0
134. Harare, Zimbabwe 42.6
135. Algiers 40.9
136. Karachi, Pakistan 40.9
137. Lagos, Nigeria 38.9
138. Port Moresby, PNG 38.9
139. Dhaka, Bangladesh 38.7
140. Damascus, Syria 30.5

Based on its rating, the EIU provides a suggested allowance to be paid to employees whose companies move them to other cities. The allowance is a percentage increase on the employee’s existing salary to compensate for hardships. This is by way of guidance only and the actual level of allowance paid is usually a matter of company policy.

Rating 80-100 – There are few, if any, challenges to living standards – Suggested allowance 0%
70-80 – Day-to-day living is fine, in general, but some aspects of life may entail problems – 5%
60-70 – Negative factors have an impact on day-to-day living – 10%
50-60 – Liveability is substantially constrained – 15%
50 or less – Most aspects of living are severely restricted – 20%

Other surveys (relating to the US only) include America’s 50 Greenest Cities, as ranked by Popular Science. This seems to have been last compiled in 2008 but the scoring system may still be of interest. The survey uses raw data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the National Geographic Society’s Green Guide, which is then compiled into four broad categories. The sum of these four scores determines a city’s place in the rankings. The categories are:

a) Electricity (up to 10 points): Cities score points for drawing their energy from renewable sources such as wind, solar, biomass and hydroelectric power, as well as for offering incentives for residents to invest in their own power sources, like roof-mounted solar panels.

b) Transportation (up to 10 points): High scores go to cities whose commuters take public transportation or carpool. Air quality also plays a role.

c) Green living (up to 5 points): Cities earn points for the number of buildings certified by the U.S. Green Building Council, as well as for devoting area to green space, such as public parks and nature preserves.

d) Recycling and green perspective (up to 5 points): This measures how comprehensive a city’s recycling program is (if the city collects old electronics, for example) and how important its citizens consider environmental issues.

The top 10 cities in 2008 were: Portland (23.1), San Francisco (23), Boston (22.7), Oakland (22.5), Eugene (22.4), Cambridge (22.2), Berkeley (22.2), Seattle (22.1), Chicago (21.3), Austin (21.0)

Forbes’ America’s Most Livable Cities measures five data points in the country’s 200 largest Metropolitan Statistical Areas: unemployment, crime, income growth, the cost of living, and artistic and cultural opportunities. Data sources include the Bureau of Labor Statistics, FBI reports (on crime), Moody’s (cost of living), and the Arts & Leisure index created by Sperling’s Best Places.

The most recent survey seems to be from 2010 when the top 10 were: 1. Pittsburgh, Pa; 2. Ogden-Clearfield, Utah; 3. Provo-Orem, Utah; 4. Ann Arbor, Mich; 5. Harrisburg-Carlisle, Pa; 6. Omaha-Council Bluffs, Neb-Iowa; 7. Manchester-Nashua, NH; 8 Trenton-Ewing, NJ; 9 (tie) Lincoln, Nebraska and Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, Conn

We will be looking at other surveys – their methods and results – in the coming months.

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