Vienna ranked best city in world; Baghdad worst

Mercer's 2010 Quality of Living Survey ranks 221 cities, with Vienna at the top, Baghdad at the bottom, and Honolulu as the best in America. But the list of best places to live arguably values comfort over dynamism.

By , Correspondent

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    Vienna topped the list of best city in world, Baghdad at the bottom. Seen here, thousands of athletes pass a bridge over the Danube river shortly after the start of the Vienna city marathon, Vienna, Austria, on April 18.
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US cities failed to crack the top 25 list of world's most livable cities, according to a recent survey that ranks Vienna as the best and Baghdad as the worst places to live in the world.

The world’s top three cities are all in Central Europe, with the former seat of the Habsburg Empire sitting firmly at the top for two years in a row, according to the 2010 Quality of Living Survey by London-based Mercer, an international consulting company. The lakeside Swiss cities of Zurich and Geneva rank second and third.

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In the US, the highest ranking entry is Honolulu at No. 31, followed by San Francisco at 32. Singapore (28) is the top-scoring Asian city followed by Tokyo at 40. The best city in the Middle East is Dubai (75); the best in Africa is Port Louis in Mauritius (82).

Baghdad, ranking 221, remains at the bottom of the list, well behind a string of low-ranking African cities.

But Mercer's rankings, and others such as that put out by the Economist Intelligence Unit, fail to truly capture what makes a great city, writes Joel Kotkin in Forbes magazine:

"It seems to me what makes for great cities in history are not measurements of safety, sanitation or homogeneity but economic growth, cultural diversity and social dynamism.... Just think about the great cities of history – ancient Rome, Islamic Baghdad, 19th century London, 20th century New York – or contemporary Los Angeles, Houston, Shanghai and Mumbai.

"These represent a far different urbanism than what one finds in well-organized and groomed Zurich, Vienna, and Copenhagen. You would not call these cities and their ilk with metropolitan populations generally less than 2 million, 'bustling.' Perhaps a more fitting words would be 'staid' and 'controlled.' ...Alas, comfort takes precedence over dynamism in these new cities."

Mercer's survey, released May 26, is intended to allow companies to fairly compensate employees depending on where they work. It may be self-evident that someone working in war-torn Baghdad, for instance, should be compensated differently than someone living in Vienna, which boasts some of the world's best music and museums. But as cities in the Middle East and Asia begin to attract more expatriates, companies may need more help determining compensation.

“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," Slagin Parakatil, a senior researcher at Mercer, said in a press release.

Mercer says its rankings take into account 39 factors, grouped in 10 categories: political stability; economic environment; social freedoms; health and sanitation; schools and education; public services and transportation; recreational activities such as restaurants and theaters; availability of goods; housing; and the natural environment, such as climate and record of earthquakes.

The best city to live in the Western Hemisphere, Vancouver, ranked fourth for second year in a row. Fellow Canadian cities Ottawa, Toronto, and Montreal were the only other cities in the Americas to crack the top 25. (See the full list.)

US cities, however, rank high on Mercer's new eco-city index. This may be surprising considering the US is one of the world’s biggest polluters and users of oil and electricity. Mercer gave its eco-rankings according to water availability, water potability, waste removal, sewage, air pollution, and traffic congestion.

Honolulu ranked No. 2 and Minneapolis ranked No. 6 on the eco-city index. The only other country to put two cities in the top 10 for eco-living was Canada, with Calgary at No. 1 and Ottawa at No 3.

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