Which cities have the highest living standards in the world? This question is relevant not only to the interests of prospective travellers or emigrants, but also to understand the state of the contemporary world. The most recent global studies shed some light on this matter, allowing some interesting observations.
One evaluation conducted by the Mercer Management Consulting firm in 2014, took into account 39 indices covering climate, culture, economy, education, politics, social conditions, health, environment, among other factors. A total of 460 cities were studied, but only 223 were classified, taking into account also which ones have the best living conditions for foreigners. In the same year, The Economist's Intelligence Unit ranked 140 countries considering 30 factors encompassing five distinct fields: environment, education, infrastructure, healthcare and stability.
The same landscape
Overall, the results of both studies corroborate a recurrent observation in the last decades. Economically developed cities with good infrastructures, low population density and low crime rate seem to make for the best living standards. European and North American urban centers continue to lead the way, while the Middle East and Africa sit at the bottom. On the Mercer's list, and for the sixth consecutive year, Vienna, capital of Austria, occupies the first place of the list; Baghdad, Iraq, is on the other end. The Economist's list ranks Melbourne, Australia, in first place, just ahead of Vienna.
Catapulted by the fast growth and stability of some countries, Asian cities are steadily approaching European standards of living. Important economic centers of Asia like Singapore, Osaka and Tokyo (Japan are up there with the best western cities. Singapore, for example, has been featured in other rankings, like the 10 cities with the best infrastructures in the world, also made by Mercer, where it won first place for its architectural masterpieces and skyscrapers, and the 10 most expensive cities in the world, prepared by The Economist, where it ranked sixth.
Many Central and South American cities continue to conglomerate in the middle of the pack, flagged by chronic high crime rates, corruption and social inequality. But there are stand-outs not far behind western standards like Buenos Aires, Pointe-à-Pitre and Montevideo.
What is clear in the research, and this isn't new, is that while quality of life tends to be positively correlated with the economic development in the western world - still, exceptions occur as in the case of Detroit which faces a situation of living poverty owing to failed public policies that led the city to bankruptcy - this isn't necessarily true in other parts of the world. Such correlation is undermined in regions that are epicenters of conflicts or sociopolitical instability. Even in emergent economies like India or Brasil, poverty, corruption, violence and crime continue to weaken the quality of life in many cities. Brasil's highest ranked city on Mercer's lists - Brasilia - only managed the 107th place overall. Slightly worse than three years prior where it ranked 101th. At the basis of these problems are largely cultural and social factors.
Less quality of life overall
Taking into account these risk factors in its Global Liveability Ranking and Report August 2014, The Economist has concluded that the world's average life quality has dropped 0.7% in the last five years. This means that livability standards have worsened in at least 50 countries during this time period. The recent conflicts in the Middle East and Ukraine, and Greece's bankruptcy have strongly contributed to this trend. Syrian, Greek and Ukrainian cities have undergone some of the greatest declines in life quality indexes. Athens, Kiev and Damascus were ranked 69th, 124th and 140th (bottom of the list), respectively, in The Economist's survey.