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It Must Be that Alpine Air

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It Must Be that Alpine Air

It's a question that constantly fascinates people around the planet: Where is the best place to live? Global consultancy Mercer—a unit of Marsh & McLennan—answers this question every year with a detailed study of the quality of life in 420 cities around the world.

The 2010 results are in. Once again Vienna tops the list, followed by Zurich and Geneva. Vienna? Zurich? Lovely yes, if not the most exciting places on earth. In all fairness, that's not what Mercer is promising. The firm's research is aimed at companies trying to figure out where to place overseas executives—and how to compensate them for foreign assignment.

The study considers 39 factors that range from political stability and crime rates to housing, health care, and education. Of course, lifestyle issues such as cuisine, nightlife, culture, and recreation are included—as is the natural environment. These are balanced by factors of perhaps greater interest to expatriates, such as safety and public services. All told, the cities that rise to the top offer the world's highest quality of life across a wide spectrum of measures.

Despite its current economic travails, Europe still dominates the list's higher reaches, with 7 of the top 10 cities. Rounding out the top 10 are Vancouver, Auckland, and Sydney. The highest-ranked U.S. city is Honolulu at No. 31, followed by San Francisco at No. 32. For the second consecutive year, Baghdad was chosen as the world's worst place to live. This year, Mercer also conducted a separate "eco-ranking" that assesses cities on factors such as air and water quality, waste disposal, sewage handling, renewable energy usage, and traffic congestion.

For a look at the top 20 cities on this year's list, click on.