Photo: Tomas Kohoutek/Shutterstock

Mercer's "Best Places to Live in 2009"

by Sarah Menkedick Apr 30, 2009

I give Mercer’s report on the Best Places to Live in 2009 a massive yawn.

Business Week features photos of ordered, neat, European urban-scapes: stoic cathedrals coupled with familiar brand names, skyscrapers, all the tidiness of money and “civilization.” Buildings are clean and quaintly historic, skies are blue, rivers are strategically running past postcard-friendly architecture.

Bravo. And?

The Mercer reports essentially calculate the “quality of life” in cities where companies are thinking of sending their workers. New York is the base city for all the reports–it’s given an index score of 100 and all other cities are judged around that.

The factors considered in Mercer rankings include:

Infrastructure: electricity, water, postal services, transportation, etc…

Cost/Quality of Living: how extravagant of a lifestyle can you get on a decent budget?

Accessibility: How close is the nearest international airport? How frequent/reasonably priced are flights?

Crime rates and economic and political stability: Are you going to have to worry about getting kicked out by a coup? Pick-pocketed on the subway?

There’s nothing wrong with these calculations, and they certainly do pick out safe, highly organized and developed cities.

…but….and in this but lies, in my opinion, everything fantastic about travel…

These are places where you can get all the luxuries of the modern corporate lifestyle for relatively cheap, where it pays the most to have bought into this whole vision of globalization that judges quality of life based more on Starbucks and tidiness than on…human connections? Bustling communities? Diversity?

Call me highly impractical and romantic, but I think quality of life should be a helluva lot more than this. For as great as these cities may be–and some of them are amazing and surely wonderful places to live–I think these criteria mostly reflect an expat culture that demands imported French wines and fully furnished apartments at a steal in whatever outpost the company has most recently invaded.

And I find that, besides being somewhat sad, incredibly boring.

My criteria for the best places to live in 2009 would be:

1) A thriving coffee culture.

2) People who still love and care about and grow their own food.

3) Public places that are alive and teeming with activity. People who meet in these places.

4) A certain degree of unpredictability– non-conformity and non-uniformity. Can you find noodle shops or clandestine Nigerian record stores somewhere? Might you stumble across something unplanned, unprecedented, spontaneous, unruly?

I could go on and on…but I’m more interested in seeing what you all would use to judge “quality of life” in a place. If you had to rate the best/worst places to live in 2009, what would your criteria be?

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