Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Quality of Life: Naming the best places to call home

No. 1 Tokyo / Provides great quality of life for those who live and visit.

"What makes the good life and where can we find it?" asks Monocle, the global affairs and culture magazine that's published in London. While great cities adapt and change like their residents, it's worth asking: How do we create cities that deliver quality of life for everyone?

Stanley Park / Vancouver, B.C. 
It's no secret that the best cities in the world are ones which are vibrant and offer the best quality of life for their residents. The best city environments are those which are tolerant and open-minded, celebrate diversity, have great universities and welcome creativity. Having quality independent bookshops, green spaces and clean streets as well as efficient transportation systems are big pluses, too.

In summer 2007 when the magazine was still just a few months old, Monocle launched its inaugural Quality of Life list, naming the best global cities to call home. Munich was the first No. 1. Over the years, its added new metrics that take into account both intangibles and infrastructure which have led to some dramatic changes and brought about a new world order. While London, Paris and Rome remain three of the biggest tourist destinations in the world, their popularity doesn't necessarily translate into great places to live.

Place de la Concorde / Paris
"Now we know we are not the only people to draw up a ranking of great metropolises but ours is different," writes Monocle editor Andrew Tuck, in the preface to this year's Quality of Life list. "For a start we ensure that we are not just looking at data about the quality of education or the cleanliness of the streets but also the softer elements that inspire you to make a city your base: cinemas, bars, opening hours. And while much of our survey is pretty data-driven we are happy to say that a good amount comes from the views of our correspondents and editors. And it is also tilted to our readers' needs; we know, for example, that while that Alpine city is cute it's also woefully disconnected and lacks even a modest airport -- so it's not in the running for us."

This year, Monocle also took into account another annoyance: "cities where the cost of living prohibits old bookshops from staying in business or young entrepreneurs finding a start-up space." I guess that's why San Francisco didn't make the Top 25 and Portland, Oregon did.

So, when the ninth annual Quality of Life list was published in Monocle's July/August issue, a new number one emerged for 2015 -- say hello to world No. 1 Tokyo.

On Tokyo, Monocle wrote: "A new and worthy winner. Monocle has made little secret of its love for Tokyo through the years and it does something no other global city can: provides great quality of life for those who live and visit. London and New York, take note.

"Tokyo has appealed to many outsiders and for many different reasons: its cleanliness, tolerance, politeness and difference, as well as its sheer scale, which has always allowed foreigners to bathe in comfortable anonymity. ... It was recently identified as the world's safest city, a stereotype that residents can happily attest to. ... At the heart of this unexpected sense of security is Tokyo's defining paradox: its heart-stopping size and concurrent feeling of peace and quiet."

Powell's City of Books / Portland, Oregon
Monocle asked its contributors, which included architects, chefs, writers and directors, to consider what draws them to their favorite cities and what quality of life means to them.

"Quality of life is ... simple pleasures," wrote Mari Shapiro, founding director of Protocinema, which creates contemporary-art exhibitions. "What makes life good is simultaneously a very simple and complicated question. It is about being in a city that allows you to do or have what makes you happy. Ultimately, this issue often comes down to class and economy and the cities with the best quality of life are those in which the basic pleasures -- to be safe, to have the time to enjoy food, to be engaged with culture, with friends and family -- are available to people of any means. At the top of my list is Istanbul: a strong cay or a grilled fish for a few lira by the Bosphorus is available to anyone."

Bloemenmarkt / Amsterdam 
One thing Monocle hopes, as in previous years, is that the Quality of Life list provokes a stimulating and lively debate.

At the very least, for me, it's always interesting to pour over the list and see how many of the cities I've visited in person -- six (Vancouver, Helsinki, Copenhagen, Paris, Amsterdam and Portland).

Here is Monocle's 2015 Quality of Life ranking of the top 25 cities in the world:

  • 1. Tokyo
  • 2. Vienna
  • 3. Berlin
  • 4. Melbourne
  • 5. Sydney
  • 6. Stockholm
  • 7. Vancouver
  • 8. Helsinki
  • 9. Munich
  • 10. (tie) Z├╝rich and Copenhagen
  • 12. Fukuoka
  • 13. Singapore
  • 14. Kyoto
  • 15. Paris
  • 16. Madrid
  • 17. Auckland
  • 18. Lisbon
  • 19. Hong Kong
  • 20. Amsterdam
  • 21. Hamburg
  • 22. Geneva
  • 23. Oslo
  • 24. Barcelona
  • 25. Portland
To watch a film on the Monocle Quality of Life Survey 2015:

Photographs: Tokyo - Google Images; Amsterdam, Paris, Portland, and Vancouver by Michael Dickens © 2012 and 2015.

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