World’s Best Cities to Live (or, perhaps, to die of boredom)

June 1st, 2010  |  by  |  Published in Uncategorized  |  11 Comments

Geneva. Ugh.

Geneva. Ugh.

Some unfinished business from last week, when annoyed the Mozartskugeln out of me with their list of 10 best places in the world to live. Now, I should know better than to get exercised over listicles. They are linkbait and pageview-generators, not meant to be serious or informative. And listicles also made up much of the secret sauce behind’s rebirth in 2008 and 2009, for which I should be grateful.

However, this list of best places to live wasn’t just randomly assembled. Rather, there seems to be an algorithm with distinct philosophy behind it, one that many parents fall prey to: namely, that safety trumps all. That “good living” is equal parts monotony and security, and all other considerations are secondary.

To save you the clicking, here is the full list:

1. Vienna, Austria

2. Zurich, Switzerland

3. Geneva, Switzerland

4. (tie) Vancouver, Canada

4. (tie) Auckland, New Zealand

6. Dusseldorf, Germany

7. (tie) Munich, Germany

7. (tie) Frankfurt, Germany

9. Bern, Switzerland

10. Sydney, Australia

I’m partial to Vancouver, and have never been to New Zealand or Australia. But I know the rest of the cities on the list, and all I can say is, blech. How can you  justify a top 10 global cities list that features seven cities from Switzerland, Germany and Austria? And among those three German cities listed, none would even make my top 10 list of cities in Germany. I mean, Dusseldorf? Really?

Perhaps this would be an appropriate list of the world’s cleanest cities (best-swept secrets?). But living, and raising families, should involve something a little more than Ordnung. A good city should have the potential to surprise and educate, roundly, about the world. It should, god forbid, even have a few rough edges. It should be able to inspire. It should be diverse, and not just in a lawyers-of-every-ethnicity sense, but economically, religiously, philosophically. It should look a bit like… New York, if the city hadn’t been poached over the last decade in ill-gotten Wall Street gains.

Anyhow, I might still put New York on my top-ten list (it’s worth noting that Honolulu was Forbes’ top-rated U.S. city, at #31; NYC was #49). I would add a different German city, one that didn’t rate very highly with Forbes: Berlin. Tokyo would be on my list somewhere, as would Bangkok, as far as I’m concerned, despite its penchant for putsches.

Whatever cities would make my list, they wouldn’t be there because they offer the least chance of dismemberment or assault. In justifying the Forbes list, on the other hand, one of the consultants who put it together said, “If you can’t be safe in Switzerland, you can’t be safe anywhere.”

If you need any reminder of just how hollow that philosophy is, even for those of us with children to raise, read Sweet Juniper. It’s a beautiful blog, in part about bringing up children in *gasp* Detroit. And it punctures every myth you can imagine about what a perfect world might look like for kids. The editors of Forbes should read it–and its fantastic descriptions of grocery shopping, mummy-hunting, and seed-bombing–before foisting a list of terrifyingly boring cities on us.

So here’s the question for you, dear reader: name a city that would go on your list. And perhaps more importantly, why would it be there? If you think I’m being naive be saying safety shouldn’t be the top priority, let me know.


  1. stormsweeper says:

    June 1st, 2010at 12:58 pm(#)

    Vancouver is the nexus of West Coast flakiness and Canadian passive aggressiveness.

  2. maya says:

    June 1st, 2010at 1:41 pm(#)

    This is truly a weird list. The top three alone sort of blow my mind. (I like “best-swept secrets,” by the way.) They are very…sedate. And clean. Which, you know, kids just love!

    How about Milan? Admittedly I spent time there before kids, but I’ve heard good things about raising kids in Italy. How about somewhere in that little country called France?

  3. andy says:

    June 1st, 2010at 11:16 pm(#)

    i’d nominate beijing amongst the best cities to live in. aside from the biggest negative, pollution, it really is a great place to live. it has a diversity, yet “chinese-ness” that you won’t find anywhere else. the lessons kids could learn (not that all of them do) about poverty, the environment, freedom, and ingenuity, and work ethic are plenty and often slap-in-the-face stark. and for the 1950’s forbes safe-mongers, it’s probably the only place you can walk down dimly lit streets and have almost no fear that someone will accost you, especially if you look foreign.

    i like a few of the cities you nominated (been to nyc, bangkok, and tokyo), but other cities i would include kuala lumpur, hong kong, buenos aires, and istanbul. most of these are probably obvious.

  4. Nathan says:

    June 1st, 2010at 11:25 pm(#)

    @Maya Yes, “truly a weird list” seems about right. And I totally agree that kids require something beyond sedate.

    I have to say, I don’t know Milan at all. And France might be lovely–my cousin lives near Toulouse and it seems quite pleasant. A little… Swiss in aspect, perhaps, but not nearly as blah.

    @Stormsweeper–funny line, though I was too stuffed with delicious Dim Sum last time I was in Vancouver to work up any animosity for the locals. I’ll try again next time.

  5. Nathan says:

    June 1st, 2010at 11:32 pm(#)

    @Andy Now you’re talking. Any town that offers “slap-in-the-face” anything would be good for my kids, particularly for my oldest. I do hear you, though, about the ability to walk above the fray as a foreigner in Beijing. It’s the thing that makes Japan tolerable–you don’t actually have to live by all those crazy rules yourself as a gaijin. I suppose it’s a bit colonial, but it does make life a little easier.
    As for you other cities, I love Buenos Aires and Istanbul and am a fool for leaving them off. I don’t know from KL, but I’m a bit conflicted about Hong Kong. I once considered a job there, but couldn’t quite wrap my head around the mall-and-highway layout of the main island. And Disco Bay seemed a strange demi-monde to me. Maybe I didn’t have enough time there…

  6. Keith Wilcox says:

    June 2nd, 2010at 12:23 pm(#)

    Well, if there’s one thing Detroit is not it’s not boring. That’s for sure. I agree, NYC should be on the list. I would also add Boston.

  7. stormsweeper says:

    June 3rd, 2010at 8:14 am(#)

    @Nathan my statement is mostly based on having had to work (remotely) with a lot of people in Vancouver for a few years. Admittedly in the music industry, but anecdotal evidence shows it to be a common situation.

    It’s a pretty town, at least.

  8. stormsweeper says:

    June 3rd, 2010at 8:15 am(#)

    Also, I guess no one involved with the Forbes listicle here is Muslim or even friends with one.

  9. Nathan says:

    June 3rd, 2010at 12:24 pm(#)

    @Anthony — I hear you there. Switzerland is great! Unless you’re one of those people who, you know, likes minarets!


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