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Quality of life in Europe’s cities – Greg Clark, Senior Fellow, ULI Europe

How European cities compare for safety, liveability, infrastructure, job satisfaction, and citizen trust - the answer might surprise you!

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Stockholm: the least stressful commute

The new business cycle will place emphasis on quality of life as a driver for economic development and real estate investment. MIPIM 2011 will see many cities vying to demonstrate that long-term quality of life will underpin their drive for competitiveness. In the new cycle, real estate investment will follow economic and population development, and both of these will be underpinned by quality of life. This means that other advantages such as scale, agglomeration, location and connectivity will only pay off for cities in the long term if they also add improved quality of life. Big cities like London and Paris must work hard at quality of life if their other advantages are to be realised. It also means that cities where quality of life is high can develop a very competitive offering through specialisation, even if they have limitations of scale, location, and connectivity.

In the past few years, cities in Scandinavia and Central Europe have consistently been among the best performing cities in the mainstream quality of life indexes – EIU, Mercer, ECA - rivalled only by Australian and Canadian urban areas. There is no exception in 2010, with Vienna, Munich, Copenhagen and Zurich all gaining outstanding results. In cities across Northern and Central Europe there is seen to be a widespread availability of goods and services, low personal risk, strong cultural depth and an effective infrastructure. European cities record outstanding results in individual fields. IBM ranked Stockholm as the world city with the least stressful commute in 2010 and Mercer rated Munich and Copenhagen in the top three for overall social infrastructure in 2009. Meanwhile, Zurich has the highest wages, finishing joint 1st with New York in the vaunted 2009 iPod Nano index, and Berlin, Vienna, Amsterdam and Madrid were all emphasised in the 2009 Global Power City Index for performing very well among Artist and Resident demographics, with scores far superior to Seoul and Hong Kong.

An indication of the esteem in which non-European professionals rate European quality of life can be found in the ECA International location survey for Asian expats. In 2010, Copenhagen, despite its distance from Asia, ranked 5th globally for most attractive city to live in, while Dublin, Antwerp, Brussels and Bern all rank in the top 20. London only ranks in 37th position, alongside Barcelona and Stockholm, while Paris is further down at 46th. Overall, the negative features (infrastructure, crime, terrorism risk) of big cities such as London and Paris are weighted more significantly by the major quality of life benchmarks, with London, for example, ranked only 54th in the 2010 EIU index. In less formal lifestyle assessments, both cities perform much better, thanks to their exceptional cultural and entertainment options.

A useful insight into how European citizens themselves assess their quality of life can be found in Eurobarometer’s resident survey of over 75 cities in Europe in late 2009. The results suggest that the macro studies by Mercer and EIU are not far wrong, with citizens in top Northern European cities the most satisfied across a range of measures. Stockholm, Copenhagen, Amsterdam and Munich are highly satisfied in terms of health provision, cleanliness and job prospects. Stockholm recorded the greatest increase in the proportion of respondents who agree that good jobs were easy to find – from 20th in 2006 (43%) to 1st in 2009 (61%) – a remarkable increase given the economic conditions. The Swedish capital’s improvement is also the highest in terms of perceived foreigner integration and city cleanliness. In areas of public space, buildings, cultural facilities and recreation, mid-size cities were typically most likely to top the satisfaction table, with Malmo, Bordeaux, Oviedo, Cardiff and Groningen notable for strong performance. Larger cities such as Madrid, Rome, Paris and London all scored moderately right across infrastructural measures. Italian cities overall perform quite poorly in this survey. Rome (13%) and Turin (11%) have among the lowest employment satisfaction in Europe, while they also report relatively high concern at affording bills (37-39%), comparable to Hungarian and Bulgarian cities. All six Italian cities were ranked in the bottom 15 for air pollution satisfaction.

While tolerance and cosmopolitanism tend to be important factors in Europe’s high urban liveability reputation, a key finding of the Eurobarometer survey is that many leading cities have residents who are largely unconvinced of the benefits of the presence of foreigners in their city. Barcelona, Vienna, Madrid and Brussels all report 35-45% of its population as disagreeing with the notion that immigrants have a positive effect, while these cities also mostly disagreed (52-64%) with the idea that foreigners were well integrated.

Among Eastern European cities there are some small signs of relative improvement in quality of life, but none are threatening to break into the upper echelons in Europe any time soon. In the Mercer Quality of Living Survey, Ljubljana (78th), Bratislava (88th) and Zagreb (103rd) all move up at least three places on the year before, but remain well outside the top 50. Meanwhile, in the ECA Location Rating survey, Prague (61st) and Warsaw (84th) are considered to be among those locations to have improved most since 2009, mainly as a result of improvements in personal safety. The gap between Western and Eastern Europe is also not as large as expected in terms of high-speed broadband, with cities in Latvia and Romania recording high speeds according to the Akamai Broadband Cities survey. 

While these are positive signs, there is still much progress to be made. In the Eurobarometer study, it was residents in Eastern Europe that were in general most likely to be concerned about job prospects and poverty, with Budapest and Riga especially notable. In addition, Istanbul stood out for having the lowest level of trust between citizens in Europe, with 85% of respondents disagreeing that most fellow citizens could be trusted. On the same lines, Istanbul had the highest proportion of respondents (50%) in Europe who answered that they rarely or never felt safe in the city. Despite that, in the region as a whole, urban perception improvements are clearly noticeable in the area of infrastructure – especially green space and public transport. Moscow also has grave liveability concerns; it was ranked a lowly 17th of 20 world cities for commuter experience by IBM.

Image: opeth painter

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  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Quality of life in Europe’s cities – Greg Clark, Senior Fellow, ULI Europe | mipimworld -- Topsy.com

  2. On February 28, 2011 at 3:46 pm Yves Chantereau said:

    Nice view from my window…
    Stockholm is great…