Quality of life may one day dethrone NY, London

April 2, 2012

By Martin Hutchinson

The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

The quest for quality of life may one day dethrone cities like New York and London. They’re still the most global cities, according to A.T. Kearney’s biennial ranking, with Paris and Tokyo next. But Vienna, rated only 13th among global cities, tops Mercer’s current quality of living survey. As technology makes location less critical, life quality may matter more.

A.T. Kearney’s survey measures business activity, human capital, information exchange, culture and political engagement. These factors naturally favor big cities, so the dominance of melting-pot metropolises isn’t surprising. The lead of the top few over the rest suggests the Big Apple, London and the rest won’t be dethroned quickly.

But in a decade or two, the survey reckons, cities that are now emerging could reach the top of the list. Chief among these are Beijing and Shanghai, where rising wealth, expanding infrastructure and improving business conditions may well outweigh negatives like pollution and the political environment.

Mercer’s report on the quality of life offers a different view of the future. A good lifestyle doesn’t match with global prominence. None of Mercer’s top five cities features in A.T. Kearney’s top 10. And the most global centers are far from the most livable.

Decision-makers and the wealthy presumably value lifestyle. And global communications have made it easier to do business remotely. The logical extension of that is that cities with a high quality of life should, over time, move up the rankings for global influence. Of course, some factors work the other way: the largest cities are generally better connected, and the very rich can overcome their cost disadvantages, which deter the merely affluent.

Austria’s city of music isn’t likely ever to eclipse the city that never sleeps for global clout. Still, it’s just possible that Beijing and Shanghai, neither famous for lifestyle, may face unexpected competition from the likes of Auckland and Vancouver.

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