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Vienna retains the top spot as the city with the world’s best quality of living, according to the Mercer 2010 Quality of Living Survey. Zurich and Geneva follow in second and third position, respectively, while Vancouver and Auckland remain joint fourth in the rankings.


Mercer conducts the ranking to help governments and multi-national companies compensate employees fairly when placing them on international assignments. The rankings are based on a point-scoring index, which sees Vienna score 108.6 and Baghdad 14.7. Cities are ranked against New York as the base city, with an index score of 100.


Mercer’s Quality of Living index list was revised and now covers 221 cities compared to 215 last year, which means direct trend comparison will not be possible until 2011. The new selection includes prominent capital and other major cities from across the world currently available in Mercer’s database and better reflects where companies are sending their expatriate employees in the current business environment.


Slagin Parakatil, Senior Researcher at Mercer, commented: “As the world economy becomes more globalised, cities beyond the traditional financial centres are emerging as attractive places in which to expand or establish a business. Cities in many emerging markets, such as in the Middle East or Asia, have seen a significant influx of foreign companies and their expatriate employees in recent years.”


“To ensure their expatriates are compensated appropriately and an adequate hardship allowance is included in their benefits package, companies seek a clear picture of the quality of living in these cities. We have reviewed our index to reflect these developments and it now better represents the cities that most interest our clients,” Mr Parakatil said.


European cities continue to dominate amongst the top 25 cities in the index. In the UK, London ranks at 39, while Birmingham is at 55 and Glasgow at 57. In the US, the highest ranking entry is Honolulu at position 31, followed by San Francisco at position 32. Singapore (28) is the top-scoring Asian city followed by Tokyo at 40. Baghdad, ranking 221, remains at the bottom of the list.


“Quality of living standards remained relatively stable on a global level throughout 2009 and the first half of 2010, but in certain regions and countries the economic recession had a noticeable impact on the business climate,” according to Mr Parakatil.


“Despite the economic downturn and companies’ efforts to contain costs, quality of living and hardship premiums remain important means of compensating expatriates for differences in living conditions. However, companies are more inclined to review the measurement of such allowances to ensure they are cost-effective."


This year’s ranking also identifies the cities with the best eco-ranking based on water availability and drinkability, waste removal, quality of sewage systems, air pollution and traffic congestion. Calgary is at the top of this index (score 145.7), followed by Honolulu in second place (score 145.1) and Ottawa and Helsinki in joint third (score 139.9). Wellington in New Zealand (5), Minneapolis (6), Adelaide (7) and Copenhagen fill the next four slots, while Kobe, Oslo and Stockholm share ninth place. Port-au-Prince in Haiti ranks at the bottom of this table with a score of only 27.8 (see attached table).


Mr Parakatil commented: “A high-ranking eco-city optimises its use of renewable energy sources and generates the lowest possible quantity of pollution (air, water, noise, etc). A city’s eco-status or attitude toward sustainability can have significant impact on the quality of living of its inhabitants. As a consequence these are also pertinent issues for companies that send employees and their families on long-term assignments abroad, especially considering the vast majority of expatriates are relocated to urban areas.”


“A certain standard of sustainability is essential for city living and forms a very important part of its inhabitants’ quality of living. Though a high standard of living may be taken for granted in certain cities, a lack thereof is much more noticeable and can even lead to severe hardship,” said Mr Parakatil.


Canadian cities still dominate the top of the index for this region with Vancouver (4) retaining the top spot, followed by Ottawa (14), Toronto (16) and Montreal (21). Calgary ranks 28 on the overall quality of living ranking.


Honolulu (31) is the city in the US with the highest quality of living, followed by San Francisco (32) and Boston (37). Chicago and Washington share position 45 and New York - the base city - is in position 49. Newly added cities Philadelphia and Dallas are ranked 55 and 61, respectively.


In Central and South America, Point-à-Pitre, the largest city and economic area of Guadeloupe and new to the index this year, ranks the highest for quality of living at 62. San Juan in Puerto Rico follows at 72 and Buenos Aires at 78. Havana (192) and Port-au-Prince (213) are the lowest-ranking cities in the region.


Mr Parakatil commented: “Quality of living remained stable in North American cities. However, in South and Central America a general decline is witnessed mostly due to political instability, economic woes and energy shortages in certain countries. High levels of crime also remain a major problem in many of the region’s cities.”


Canadian and US cities are strongly represented at the top of the eco-city ranking, both for this region and globally. Calgary grabs the top spot globally with a score of 145.7, closely followed by Honolulu (score 145.1) in second. Ottawa is in third position with a score of 139.9 and Minneapolis follows in sixth place (score 137.8). Mr Parakatil commented: “Calgary’s top ranking is down to its excellent level of service on waste removal, sewage systems, and water drinkability and availability, coupled with relatively low air pollution.”


The highest-ranking Central and South American city is again Pointe-à-Pitre (49), followed by San Juan (69) and Montevideo (70).


(Courtesy of Mercer)


Rankings (both lists)

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