Moral Low Ground


Honolulu, San Francisco Enjoy Best Quality of Life in U.S.; Vienna #1 in the World, Baghdad Dead Last

December 1, 2011 by Brett Wilkins in World with 2 Comments

It’s that time of year again. The annual Mercer Quality of Living Survey is out, and this year’s bragging will likely be done in a German accent. Fully six out of 2011’s top ten places to live are in German-speaking countries, with Vienna taking top honors.

Vienna's #1 (Photo: Emmanuel Dyan)

European cities dominated this year’s rankings, occupying 13 of the top 20 spots. Three of the top 10 (#2 Zurich, #8 Geneva and #9 Bern) cities are in Switzerland; another three top ten spots (#4 Munich, #5 Düsseldorf and #7 Frankfurt) are in Germany. Also faring well is Canada, with four cities in the top 25 (#5 Vancouver, #14 Ottawa, #15 Toronto and #22 Montreal), Australia (#11 Sydney, #18 Melbourne, #21 Perth, #26 Canberra, #30 Adelaide) and New Zealand (#3 Auckland and #13 Wellington).

No American city finished in the top 10, or top 20– as a matter of fact, Honolulu (#29) and San Francisco (#30) just managed to squeak into the top 30. Other U.S. cities in the top 50: Boston (#36), Chicago (#43), Washington, D.C. (#43), New York (#47), Seattle (#48) and Pittsburgh (#49).

Europe also fared very well in personal safety, with the seven safest cities in the world located there. No U.S. city finished in the top 50 in personal safety.

On the other end of the spectrum, the lowest quality of life is to be found in Baghdad, Iraq, which ranked #221. Others in the quality-of-life cellar include Bagui, Central African Republic (#220), N’Djamena, Chad (#219) and Port-au-Prince, Haiti (#218). For personal safety, the bottom three cities are Baghdad, N’Djamena and Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire.

Being that Moral Low Ground is based in San Francisco, we’re going to take a moment to smugly reflect on our greatness, one of this city’s all-time favorite pastimes. “We San Franciscophiles believe, of course, that there is no better city in the world than ours,” writes the Huffington Post. “No view is more breathtaking than the bay peeking through the fog as it snakes across the Golden Gate Bridge, no food more delicious than that first crack of dungeness crab in December, no setting more ideal than a sunny Sunday picnic on Speedway Meadow. Sure, we wear jackets in the summertime and the Market Street bike lane hasn’t been paved in years, but no matter. Our city embodies perfection.”

Yeah, but there are still 29 cities– and all but one of them foreign ones– with a better quality of life than the City by the Bay.

Just how does Mercer, a British consulting firm, come up with these rankings? Using New York City as a base, Mercer measures cities on a variety of factors including the political and economic environments, the socio-cultural environment, health and sanitation, schools and education, public services and transportation, recreation, consumer goods, housing and the natural environment (which includes weather and natural disasters).

“The top-ranking cities for personal safety and security are in politically stable countries with good international relations and relatively sustainable economic growth. Most of the low-scoring cities are in countries with, civil unrest, high crime levels and little law enforcement,” writes
Slagin Parakatil, Senior Researcher at Mercer.

Here are the “Top 50” charts for overall quality of living and personal safety:




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  1. Adam PratoDecember 11, 2011 at 2:56 pmReply

    Honolulu? Really? I’ve only visited there but it was filled with greasy surfer-slacker types. I saw a college student barfing off a patio at a restaurant. The buses were crowded and even the middle-class residential areas looked cluttered and moldy. Orange juice is like $7 per half gallon.

    I’d rank it down there with New Orleans (even before Katrina) as two American cities more in the Second World than the First.

    • Brett WilkinsDecember 12, 2011 at 12:08 pmReplyAuthor

      I was also surprised at how “cluttered and moldy” many parts of Honolulu were.

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