Editor’s letter / Global
Talk of the town
Tyler Brûlé on what attributes are necessary for a city to top our Quality of Life Survey.
If you’ve already cheated on this issue and jumped straight to our annual Quality of Life ranking, there to find that your city has either dropped a few notches or doesn’t appear at all, then that’s what you get for not reading the editor in chief’s letter first. Had you paused on this page you would have been asked to complete the following test to see how durable your city is when it comes to liveability.
- Does your city take a positive view towards balconies and a resident’s right to have usable outdoor space?
- Can you wake up at 06.00 for an early-morning flight (commercial, not private) and be in your seat by 07.00 without breaking a sweat?
- Do licensing laws encourage outdoor drinking and dining, and can you find a good bar open until 03.00?
- Is it possible to strip off and swim in fresh water that is also drinkable?
- Are state schoolteachers on proper salaries? Ditto anyone in public service?
If you answered yes to all of these questions then there’s a 99 per cent chance you live in our winning city. If you answered no to more than three then it’s likely the place you call home needs to make some improvements.
To put things in perspective, on the day this issue was shipped to the printers I woke up in the centre of Zürich, pulled on swimming trunks, stepped into some slides, grabbed my running gear and walked half a block to the bathing club (owned and operated by the city). There I left my belongings on the bench, walked to the diving board, did a couple of bounces to limber up and plunged into the 18C waters. I did a few quick strokes, walked up the metal staircase back onto the wooden deck and then swapped to my running gear. I then went for a 5km run past the lake and returned to the bathing club for a coffee, a longer swim and 15 minutes in the sun (combined with a headstart on my Monday emails).
After that I walked home, got dressed, headed to the office, did an hour of work and then jumped on the tram to catch my train to Innsbruck. As the train hurtled alongside the lake I watched people setting out their towels for midday siestas. Boats were crisscrossing the water and shady restaurant terraces were packed with diners. At Monocle a key measure for quality of life is minimum urban friction. When we look at a city we’re constantly asking if the infrastructure is in place to allow residents and visitors to be as productive as possible while also having a pleasant experience navigating the place. Zürich has become something of a global master at making travel a joy. Add global connectivity to the mix via its airport and railway stations (Milan gets ever closer with rail upgrades), high-quality housing and an ever-improving restaurant-and-retail scene and you’ll know why we often refer to it as Berlin for people over 40 (or who know better).
While Zürich still has many areas that could be improved (more-daring architecture, more relaxed retail trading hours, more mature trees planted by developers and more incentives to make balconies greener) it’s got most things right. And it’s for this reason that it’s vaulted a few positions this year to take the top spot – yet again. Indeed, this is the second time that Zürich has clinched the highest position on the winners’ podium.
We’ll be debating the issues that make our cities function and fail at our Quality of Life Conference in Madrid. At the centre of many panels will be questions focused on the types of cities and societies we want to see flourish. Do we want drones and flying vehicles overhead within the next 20 years? Are automated vehicles a good idea? Are bicycles the answer for all personal-mobility needs? And finally, do we believe it’s a good idea to walk out of the house and just switch off completely, letting other forces do the thinking for us? Hopefully not!
If you can’t make it to Madrid then we’re always up for offering personal tours to those who’d like to see/hear/taste/feel what high-quality urban living looks like. Whether you’re a mayor or property developer, transport chief or security adviser, we’d be happy to welcome you at Dufourstrasse 90 over the coming months. You’ve got until mid-October to take a dip – after that the mercury plummets below 10C. Wishing you a wonderful summer and we’re back next with our sunny Monocle Weekly newspaper series from the beginning of August. Thank you for your support.