The liveable cities index 2011— Global


For our Quality-of-Life issue, Monocle has been busy researching the world’s top cities. And with a re-jig of the way each urban centre is assessed, this year’s top 25 promises some surprises.

Helsinki, Liveability, Quality of live, Urbanism

For this fifth edition of our global quality of life survey we decided to shake up the metrics. It’s not that we wanted to knock a couple of cities out of the top 25 or be difficult just for the sake of it – more a case of attempting to right a couple of elements that have been nagging at us since we embarked on this project in 2007.

While low crime, efficient transport, strong public services and a dash of good looks all count for a lot in our rankings, we also know that there are many other elements (non-scientific) that are important to the mix…

Helsinki metrics

Population: 588,549; greater metropolitan area, 1.35 million.
International flights: flights to over 120 destinations; 12 of which intercontinental.
Crime: murders, 5; domestic break-ins, 382 (down from 684 the previous year).
State education: in Finland, private schools are not common. Education is free all the way to university. Finnish schools have repeatedly been rated the best in the world in the OECD’s Pisa survey.
Medical care: healthcare services are financed primarily out of tax revenue.
Sunshine: annual average, 1,858 hours.
Temperatures: average low in January, -10.4C; average high in June, 21.7C.
Tolerance: same-sex marriages are not legal but registered partnerships are. The city council is female dominated with 49 women and 36 men. Only 7.6 per cent of the residents are non-Finnish. The figure is, however, increasing: up from 6.7 per cent in 2009.
Drinking and shopping: grocery shopping can be done even on Sundays but many other shops are closed then, except in the summer. Bars usually close at 01.00/02.00.
Public transport: price of cheapest subway and bus ticket is €2.50. Electric car charging points: one. The city and the local energy company Helsingin Energia are planning to set up five or six charging points later this year.
Cycling: 32 per cent of all daily trips are done by foot or cycle.
Media: the leading local newspapers Helsingin Sanomat (Finnish-language) and Huvudstadsbladet (Swedish-language) deliver quality journalism from home and abroad; business paper Kauppalehti covers the financial world. The main international news agencies such as AP, AFP and Reuters have bureaux in Helsinki. YLE is the new state-funded broadcaster.
Culture: the brand new Helsinki Music Centre will open later this year. There is a lively theatre scene with performances in Finnish and Swedish. Other major institutions: an opera house, several good orchestras and 50 libraries.
Green space: 134 sq m per person.
Emergency Services: average police response time 6.6 minutes; ambulance 9 minutes.
Environmental issues: the Helsinki Metropolitan Area is one of the cleanest metropolitan areas in Europe in terms of air quality. Residents can follow hourly updates on air quality on the Helsinki Region Environmental Services Authority’s website.
Unemployment rate: 6.6 per cent.
Chain test: H&Ms 4: Starbucks 0.

Winning ways: Helsinki’s soft touches

  1. Minus 20 is barely a problem for Helsinki; the city is simply built for it. You will be colder in a Sydney home during the Aussie winter than a Helsinki apartment in February – guaranteed.

  2. Where else would you find everything from door handles and telegraph pylons to litter bins dreamed up by top-drawer designers such as Hannu Kähönen and Alvar Aalto.

  3. Within 20 minutes of leaving the city, you can find yourself alone, looking over the Baltic in your perfectly silent summer house.

  4. The fact you can continue your night out on the way home, in one of Helsinki’s karaoke taxis, is quite simply one of the world’s most pleasurable inventions.

  5. It’s a perfect place to raise children: daycare is inexpensive and high quality. And if you’re pushing a pram, public transport is free.

American dream

This year’s Quality of Life index sees an unprecedented number of North American cities in the top 25, with Seattle and Portland cutting it alongside regulars Honolulu, Vancouver and Montréal (all, we should point out, sloping near the bottom of our index).

Last year we tested the waters, with our researchers polling both Chicago and Minneapolis. Neither made the top 25: the former had murder rates to scare off America’s Most Wanted, while the latter may be a cultural centre rivalling Europe’s best capitals, but it’s generally so miserable in winter you’ll be glad of a half-decent gallery to cheer yourself up in.

For 2011, we have cast our net wider, taking lovability in to account alongside liveability. Besides the nominated cities above, we also rated San Francisco (despite its re-appreciation for its own craft scene, on page 131, it has yet to tackle its ingrained homelessness problem). What’s changed? What some US cities may lack in infrastructure, architecture, green credentials and cultural offerings, they can very occasionally make up for with effort (this year, Seattle’s homicide rate is the lowest it’s been since 1956 – at 19 it’s just one murder more than Vienna), European-ish urban environment (Portland’s waterside lifestyle) or sheer easy living (lifespans in sunny Honolulu are remarkably longer than the US average).


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