Quality of life

I’m regularly agog at surveys that purport to judge where expatriates have the best quality of life. Swissmiss proudly points to the latest Mercer survey which has a Swiss-tinged top ten:

1. Zurich
= 2. Vienna
= 2. Geneva
4. Vancouver
5. Auckland
6. Dusseldorf
= 7. Munich
= 7. Frankfurt
9. Bern
10. Sydney

Felix Salmon does a great job of dissecting research like this. I’m not going to pay $390 to analyze Mercer’s report in detail. But quality of life? As the great Inigo Montoya would say, “I don’t think that means what you think it means.”

Mercer’s ranking puts a premium on safety, medical care and environment. Those are all well and good, but they aren’t what attracts a vibrant creative class, in Richard Florida‘s terms. Only a handful of the top ten cities on Mercer’s list, to my judgment, have the quality of life that would attract the kind of people I’m interested in (Vancouver, Munich and Sydney).

But I fear the problem isn’t Mercer’s methodology, so much as the tastes of the classical expatriate. These are people who are middle-of-the-road in everything. There was an annual tussle, when I was involved in Davos, with the voices of safe mediocrity. “Let’s invite Phil Collins” was the worst of it. One of the reasons why I think Richard Florida’s work strikes a chord for so many forward-thinking policymakers is that he has identified the characteristics of the new world that is aborning. The old world, reflected by Mercer’s “quality of life” rankings, persists. But I know where I’m placing my bets for the years to come, and it’s not in Zurich, Vienna and Geneva.

2 thoughts on “Quality of life

  1. Lance Knobel

    I suspect some of the ten would consider themselves “modern”. But I agree. They are generally cities that are non-urban when so much of the world is pushing towards increasingly urban environments.

    One of the gentle ironies of environmental awareness is that seemingly “green” places — the countryside, exurbia — are highly non-green. Dense places like Manhattan use energy far more efficiently.


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