Tuesday, 13 July 2010

The World's Most Liveable (and expensive) Cities

I've always kept more than a passing eye on the annual Monocle 'Quality of Life in Cities' Survey. It's a publication that unashamedly trumpets the importance of style, design and travel by congratulating cities that have the right approach to life.

I can see why some think that the magazine might be a tad pretentious with its focus on the jet-setting elite....but it provides a great range of stories and looks damn good as well!


Two things struck me about this years (and preceding years) listed cities:

1. The issue of affordability gets short shrift. I don't doubt that the number of art-house cinemas is of interest, but ultimately it comes down to how much bang you get for your buck. Especially with housing. For a city to be liveable surely it must also be affordable? Personally I have limited experience of the cities in this years Top 25 but from those I do know about, the issue of escalating house prices is never off the front page. Vancouver is a great example. It is a city that regularly wins surveys for livability and quality of life yet suffers horribly from astronomical house prices. It raises the question of how long can the good times continue? Even the most creative of cities needs a core of service staff that cannot (and should not) have to pay top rates for city living. The solution........rent control and building more (affordable and desirable) homes.

2. London. Where is it? For the last three years the city has failed to place within the Top 25 list. It should not be ignored that Monocle is based in London and therefore the staff are open to all of the city's frustrations (as well as delights) which can easily count against it. The exotic is always more appealing and returning home after a foreign trip to the mundane aspects of home life is never fun. But since 2000 and the introduction of an elected Mayor, London has been unabashed in declaring itself the preeminent world city. From an urban planning standpoint the city has been nothing but ambitious since Ken Livingstone was elected and money was pumped into the Underground network whilst 'starchitects' were given almost free reign to build towers in central London.

So what's the problem? Here is my list:
  • the high cost of public transport
  • poor value for money on housing - small apartments at silly prices
  • too heavy a reliance on the finance sector for jobs and value
  • the risks of cycling on London's streets (could this change with the new velo scheme?)
  • the poor use of the Thames for transport
My fix? Well, I think having the Greater London Authority as a strategic body has helped guide development and other cities in the UK should take note. But....housebuilding is still at very low rates and what is built, in terms of apartments, is still too small in terms of internal space. Taking cars off the roads in central areas would be my biggest wish as it could have multiple benefits. As for London in the Top 25, maybe next year?!

1 comment:

  1. I saw this too when it came out... Copenhagen being 2nd is a notable example, apparently it's more expensive than London for real estate and Paris for beer, and must get pretty damn cold, so where's the value for money?! (Unless you spend the whole year keeping warm in museums...)