Cities of discovery - Issue 145 - Magazine | Monocle

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Last year we decided that it was not the moment to rank the top cities in the world for quality of life. It just seemed unfair when so many places were still reeling from a shortage of hospital beds or trying to prop up faltering economies. So we dropped the city ranking that, until then, we had produced every year since 2007. But this year? We’ve decided that it’s again time to see how the world’s best cities are faring and get a snapshot of which metropolises are primed for a confident comeback, where local leaders have shone and which outposts have pressed ahead with creating better mobility, finessing their public spaces and ensuring that their cities are not just efficient but fun.


And the caveats? Our ranking is not just about the past 18 months but how cities are building for the future. It’s not about current lockdowns or restrictions, or national healthcare successes or failures; it’s about culture, confidence and the push for a quality of life that works for all. And we mean “all”. There is a growing concern that many of the totems of being a cool city mean little to most residents – and can even be seen as elitist and silly. City mayors love posing with a fleet of new e-scooters but there are many people who see this as pandering to one vocal group of city activists. There are many who still have to go to work by car to get to their night-shift jobs in warehouses and hospitals. They don’t take kindly to being treated as a problem needing to be fixed. In our essays (see here), we have an extract from German politician Sahra Wagenknecht’s new book, Die Selbstgerechten (The Self-Righteous), in which she takes a pop at those who think that everyone should buy an electric vehicle (without even wondering how people in many high-rises would be able to recharge the thing). We all know the type; good at castigating anyone who doesn’t buy into their take on being a sustainability hero.

And this element – the need to occasionally shut up, stop hectoring on social media and allow debate – is also picked up by our writer Andrew Mueller. His essay includes a revealing quote from Ben Page, chief executive of market research firm Ipsos Mori, who says that, “We all suffer from attention bias. We pay attention to things that interest us and think everybody else is like us – and that’s just not true. Only about 4 per cent of people tweet on Twitter. If you analyse what people are actually talking about, you’ll find that celebrities and football massively outpunch politicians. Things like microaggressions, cancel culture – most people are just not paying attention to this stuff.” We have to generate less heat, more fixes.

So while we have looked at cycling culture, air quality, reusing rather than rebuilding, in our selection of our top cities this year, we have also kept a watchful eye on public housing, employment and the planning protocols that help everyone to access green space. We hope that you find the survey challenging and inspiring.

Beyond the big urban debate, we have taken time out to find plenty of space for some simpler pleasures: how to get rich from ice-cream, why Berliners have a strawberry fixation, the world’s best motorway service stations and the singers and bands that will have you on a dancefloor – we hope – this summer. There’s also a report on a kiosk revival in Helsinki and a nice modernist apartment block to call home in Málaga.

But wherever you have your summer, we hope that you have time to dream of new projects and fresh horizons. And make sure that you stay in touch with us via our free daily newsletter, The Monocle Minute (subscribe at because we’ll be revealing more details of another summer institution making a comeback – The Monocle Quality of Life Conference. And we would like to spend some time with you in the special city that we profile. In the meantime, feel free to email me with any thoughts and feedback you might have at Have a great summer. 

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