The U.S. may still have some of the world’s best universities and most innovative companies, but it does not rank highly in quality of life, according to a survey published Nov. 29 by human resource consultancy Mercer. In fact, not one U.S. city made the top 20 (of 221 total) on this year’s list. Austrian capital Vienna ranked No. 1 in the Mercer 2011 Quality of Living Survey, followed by Zurich, Switzerland; Auckland, New Zealand; and Munich, Germany. Tied for fifth place were Düsseldorf, Germany, and Vancouver, Canada. The highest-ranked U.S. city, Honolulu, placed No. 29, and San Francisco came in at No. 30. New York City ranked No. 47, behind Boston (No. 36), and Chicago and Washington, D.C. (tied for No. 43). Mercer’s survey evaluated cities’ quality of life based on their political and social environments, economic environment, sociocultural environment, health and sanitation, schools and education, public services, transportation, recreation, availability of consumer goods, housing, and natural environment.
Click here to see the world’s top 20 cities for best quality of life.
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No. 20 Best Quality of Life: Stockholm, Sweden
City population:* 850,000 (2011) Country GDP:** $455.8 billion Personal safety ranking:*** 6 (tie)
Home to employers such as IBM (IBM), Ericsson (ERIC), and Electrolux (ELUXY), Stockholm was also named one of the top cities of opportunity this year by PricewaterhouseCoopers. Sweden’s scenic capital is built on 14 islands connected by 57 bridges.
* Population source: City of Stockholm ** Country GDP source on all slides: CIA World Factbook *** Personal safety ranking on all slides:Mercer
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No. 19 Best Quality of Life: Luxembourg City, Luxembourg
City population:* 92,234 (2010) Country GDP: $54.95 billion Personal safety ranking: 1
The capital of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, this tiny tax haven is home to several institutions of the European Union, including the Council of the European Union, the European Court of Justice, the European Investment Bank, and various departments of the European Commission, according to Luxembourg’s tourist office. More than 100 bridges connect the green river valleys of this picturesque, medieval city. Luxembourg was the No. 1 safest city in Mercer’s survey.
City population:* 96,500 (2010) Country GDP: $1.236 trillion Personal safety ranking: 25 (tie)
The capital of the state of Victoria in southern Australia, Melbourne offers many urban leisure options with 145,000 cafe and restaurant seats and 471 hectares of parkland, according to the city. The city is also diverse: 41.7 percent of the population is foreign born, and more than 1.4 million international visitors came in 2010. The second-most common language after English is Mandarin Chinese.
City population:* 3,472,000 (2011) Country GDP: $3.316 trillion Personal safety ranking: 36 (tie)
Germany’s capital, Berlin is not only a center for politics, but also a hub for design, fashion, art, music, and nightlife. It offers 170 museums and galleries, according to berlin.de. The city is also green, with forests, parks, gardens, rivers, and lakes. An Environmental Zone—established in January 2008 to control air pollution—prohibits vehicles that do not meet exhaust emission standards.
* Population source: State Statistical Institute Berlin-Brandenburg
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No. 16 Best Quality of Life: Hamburg, Germany
City population:* 1,789,919 (2011) Country GDP: $3.316 trillion Personal safety ranking: 36 (tie)
With 30 square meters of living space per person, Hamburg residents have, on average, the most living space of all major cities in the world, according to the city itself. Famous for its harbor (Europe’s third-largest, after Rotterdam’s and Antwerp’s), this north German city on the Elbe River is a major trade and transportation hub, as well as a center for medical technology, biotechnology, and aircraft construction.
City population:* 2,503,281 (2006) Country GDP: $1.574 trillion Personal safety ranking: 17 (tie)
Toronto, Ontario’s capital, takes pride in its diversity of race, religion, and lifestyle, according to the city. Canada’s most recent census, for 2006, indicates that Toronto’s residents represent more than 200 distinct ethnic origins. A low crime rate also makes Toronto one of the safest cities in North America.
City population:* 812,135 (2006) Country GDP: $1.574 trillion Personal safety ranking: 17 (tie)
Canada’s capital, Ottawa is home to government organizations and a large number of foreign embassies. Tech companies that include Nortel Networks (NRTLQ), Alcate (ALU), Tundra Semiconductor, Cisco (CSCO), Nordion, and Entrust have operations in the region, according to the city. Ottawa is also known for its parks (more than 1,000), waterways (the Ottawa and Rideau rivers and the Rideau Canal), and historic architecture.
No. 13 Best Quality of Life: Wellington, New Zealand
City population:* 197,700 (2010) Country GDP: $140.4 billion Personal safety ranking: 9 (tie)
New Zealand’s windy capital, Wellington, is known for its excellent restaurants, safety, and easy access to outdoor recreation. Also an arts capital, it is home to the Museum of New Zealand, the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, the Royal New Zealand Ballet, Te Whaea: National Dance & Drama Centre, and the New Zealand School of Music. Nearly all residents in the Wellington region live within 2 miles of the coastline, according to wellingtonnz.com.
No. 12 Best Quality of Life: Amsterdam, Netherlands
City population:* 780,559 (2011) Country GDP: $783.3 billion Personal safety ranking: 17 (tie)
The largest city, and the capital, of the Netherlands, Amsterdam offers a cosmopolitan range of arts and culture. Healthy living is important to the city government, which promotes sports and cycling and has invested in sustainable initiatives such as green roofs and recharging stations for electric vehicles, according to iamsterdam.com.
City population:* 180,666 (2011 est.) Country GDP: $1.236 trillion Personal safety ranking: 25 (tie)
Sydney is a major job center and an arts and culture hub, with many culinary and tourist attractions, on Australia’s southeast coast. Sydney Harbor, the site of the famous Opera House, offers about 149 miles of shoreline. All told, the city has 70 beaches, from secluded bays to large public strands, according to tourism site australia.com. Already Australia’s largest city, Sydney continues to attract new residents from around the country and overseas: The city expects its population to grow 1.6 percent per year, or 37.3 percent overall, through 2031.
No. 9 Best Quality of Life (tie): Copenhagen, Denmark
City population:* 539,542 (2011) Country GDP: $310.8 billion Personal safety ranking: 11 (tie)
Described as an “historic city of canals, cobbled squares, and copper spires” by Lonely Planet, Copenhagen is Denmark’s political and cultural capital, home to the National Gallery, Museum of Modern Art, and Louisiana Museum of Modern Art. The city also has parks, open green areas, and sandy beaches and is known for having a good work-life balance and low crime rate, according to the investment agency Copenhagen Capacity.
No. 9 Best Quality of Life (tie): Bern, Switzerland
City population:* 124,381 (2010) Country GDP: $523.8 billion Personal safety ranking: 2 (tie)
Such companies as eBay (EBAY), PepsiCo (PEP), Mexican building materials company Cemex (CX), and fashion house Hermès have operations in the Swiss capital of Bern. Fountains, sandstone façades, narrow streets, and historic towers lend this city a medieval feel, notes the tourism site myswitzerland.com, and residents can enjoy the city’s many historic and cultural amenities—including the Old Town, a Unesco World Cultural Heritage Site. Bern, Zurich, and Helsinki tied for second place in safety in Mercer’s survey.
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No. 8 Best Quality of Life: Geneva, Switzerland
City population:* 187,470 (2010) Country GDP: $523.8 billion Personal safety ranking: 6 (tie)
Switzerland’s second-largest city (after Zurich), this international hub is home to the European headquarters of the UN and about 130 multinational companies, according to Geneva’s economic development office. Geneva has many boutiques, galleries, cafés, and restaurants. Because it is small, spanning just over 6 square miles, the commute time to work is short.
City population:* 679,664 (2010) Country GDP: $3.316 trillion) Personal safety ranking: 11 (tie)
Home to the European Central Bank, the German Federal Bank, the Frankfurt Stock Exchange, and the Frankfurt Trade Fair, the wealthy city is a major European financial center—though it’s not all about business. Along the river Main, it has many cocktail bars, garden restaurants, fairs, and walking paths by the water. Over the years the city has become very international: One in three of Frankfurt’s residents does not hold a German passport, according to the city.
No. 5 Best Quality of Life (tie): Vancouver, Canada
City population:* 578,041 (2006) Country GDP: $1.574 trillion Personal safety ranking: 17 (tie)
Vancouver, a city alongside the Coast Mountain Range, is surrounded by water on three sides and offers a great deal of natural beauty. The city is very livable—with sports facilities from the 2010 Olympics, public transit, and arts and cultural amenities—and has received several awards for its services and programs, including a UN award for innovation in public service, according to the city.
No. 5 Best Quality of Life (tie): Düsseldorf, Germany
City population:* 589,682 Country GDP: $3.316 trillion Personal safety ranking: 11 (tie)
This city on the Rhine—one of the wealthiest cities in Germany—mixes historical buildings and cobblestone streets with modern buildings by such famous architects as Frank Gehry and David Chipperfield. Events in Düsseldorf, such as the annual autumn festival in Old Town, attract tens of thousands of visitors from the region, according to the city website.
City population:* 1,370,000 (2010 est.) Country GDP: $3.316 trillion Personal safety ranking: 11 (tie)
The capital of Bavaria, Munich is home to Allianz, BMW (BMW), insurance group Munich Re (MUV2) and commercial vehicle maker MAN Group. In addition to having 45 museums and galleries, two opera houses, seven orchestras, and the English Garden (at 1.4 square miles, one of the largest urban parks in the world), Munich is also near many lakes (including the Starnberger See and Tegernsee) and is a short trip from the Alps.
City population:* 401,500 Country GDP: $140.4 billion Personal safety ranking: 9 (tie)
Auckland is not only New Zealand’s largest city and commercial and retail center; it also offers convenient access to outdoor recreation. Known for a large foreign-born population and ethnic diversity, the city lies on a narrow isthmus between two harbors, surrounded by extinct volcanoes and islands, according to the city.
City population:* 372,047 (2010) Country GDP: $523.8 billion Personal safety ranking: 2 (tie)
Switzerland’s largest city, Zurich is home to more than 50 museums and 100-plus art galleries, according to the city’s tourism site. By Lake Zurich, the municipality has many parks and gardens and vibrant nightlife, yet it is one of the safest cities in the world. Such companies as UBS (UBS), Credit Suisse (CS), and Swiss Re (SREN) are headquartered here.
City population:* 1,714,142 (2011) Country GDP: $376.8 billion Personal safety ranking: 5
Vienna claimed the top spot in Mercer’s quality of life ranking this year. Austria’s capital and largest city, Vienna lies between eastern and western Europe and is located on rail lines among Venice, Budapest, and Prague, according to about.com. The city has more than 100 museums and is well known for its vineyards and cafés, notes wien.info. Once home to such composers as Johann Strauss I, Johann Strauss II, and Franz Schubert, the city today remains a hub for music, from classical and jazz to pop and rock.