Somewhat off topic, but I'll bring it back home at the end of the post. Promise.
Mercer's Quality of Life index for 2009 was released yesterday. The top city to live in is ...........Vienna, Austria. I have not sampled all (or even most) of the cities on the list, but having lived in Vienna for a short while in 2008, I can confirm that it is one of the world's top metropolitan areas.
I was pleased to note that Geneva (another place I lived briefly) was third, and Amsterdam made the top 50.*
*Personally, I think there are several towns within an easy commute of Amsterdam that offer much higher quality of life, without the deluge of drunken British tourists and casual drug use. Leiden anyone? However, Amsterdam is still a great place to be.
Slightly troubling is the fact that the survey is based on New York as a "control city" with a pre-assigned score of 100. This means that what is really being measured is how a city stacks up against The Big Apple*, rather than some objective urban ideal.
*With the exception of being stuck at LaGuardia Airport for half a day once, I've never been to New York. With a little luck, I'll be able to maintain that record for another forty years.**
**Yeah, like I'm going to live another forty years!
My hometown of Chicago, by the way, came in 44th with a score of 100.3, just surpassing New York. That illustrates how subjective these rankings are, since few who live in Chicago would prefer to live in New York, and I suspect that few that live in New York would care to move to Chicago. That's just the way urban allegiance works.
The worst city in the world (c'mon, you know you were wondering)? Baghdad, with a stunningly pathetic score of 14.4, earning 215th out of 215 cities.
Note however that my current hometown, beautiful, sunny Kabul was not ranked at all. Apparently, there was some difficulty gathering data, probably because they couldn't find any researchers dumb enough to come here. Without having sampled the joys of Baghdad, I am still confident that Kabul would easily displace it as the worst city on the planet. Sure, they both have ethnic militias, car bombs and high crime rates, but Kabul's unique method* of waste-water disposal has to put it over the top.
*The unique method being basically dump it in the gutter and hope that it doesn't rain too hard the next day. Unfortunately, it usually does.