thumbnail text

Summer has always been a time of mass human migration but 2009 looks set to be decidedly different. While millions will still set off to take the sun on beaches dense or deserted, pack up the nippers for family grand tours to visit artifacts ancient and freshly minted and venture to higher elevations to fill their lungs with fresh alpine air, many will also embark on mental migrations to places where the living is better.

With many in the corporate world wondering if working life is ever going to be the same again (read: as financially rewarding or conditions as cushy), we might be entering the season of “The Great Rethink”. If the first half of the year had many asking not just who they wanted to work for but how they wanted to work, late August afternoons, when the sun’s still high and the gentle effects of the second bottle of cava are just kicking in, will spark all kinds of deep questions that come from that intoxicating combination of UV rays, alcohol and being surrounded by people who are good listeners and look attractive in swimwear. Is it time we moved back into the city and gave up on the commute? Should we pack up in Edinburgh and move to Madrid? What if we dump our jobs in Sydney and set up shop in Singapore?

Since January, editors’ inboxes at Monocle have seen a steady stream of correspondence from readers who are in the process of deciding not their next career move but on a total change of scenery. It’s for this reason we’ve re-jigged our metrics for our quality of life survey for 2009 and why our city ranking doesn’t read quite the same as last year.

As with our previous two surveys we started with a shortlist of over 40 cities and measured them on everything from public transport, education, cultural outlets, crime, hours of sunshine and global flight connections. This year we also looked at factors such as chain store pollution (the number of international brand food outlets and retailers versus the total mix), ease of opening a business and major infrastructure improvements currently underway.

In fairness to all, it’s a very tight race between the top five cities as each one makes a very strong and rather alluring case for being the most liveable urban centre in the world. For a brief moment we thought about being diplomatic and posting a tie but we don’t particularly fancy ourselves as civil servants, so this year we’re giving the top spot to Zürich.

The city’s combination of high quality housing, impeccable public transport network, a refreshing lake at its core, a well-connected and user friendly airport, cosy little cinemas, well-tended bars and diverse population all made for a solid start, but the ongoing development of the airport combined with the massive transformation of the city’s Hauptbahnhof are what helped push Zürich past Copenhagen for 2009.



2008 ranking: 04

Zürich leaps into the winning spot with its extraordinary urban plans

You might think that, with its fantastic natural setting and a transport system that is the envy of the world (SBB, the state-controlled railway, has a 96 per cent punctuality rate), Zürich would be smugly content.

Instead the city is expanding its tram system, main railway station and its already state-of-the-art and well-connected airport (there are 24 daily flights to London alone). It is also leading the way in protecting the climate – residents have voted to impose on themselves strict new emission targets.

Zürich is home to 100 galleries and 50 museums and a vibrant nightlife. Admirably it’s kept a diverse and independent retail sector. And it’s a great place to run a company. That’s why it made it to the top of our poll for 2009.

Population: 361,129 (2008); greater metropolitan area, 1.66 million.
International flights: 170 destinations, of which 59 are intercontinental.
Crime: 7 murders; 2,958 break-ins.
Sunshine: annual average, 1,482 hours.
Tolerance: Zürich elected the country’s first lesbian mayor earlier this year (see page 39). There’s room for improvement though in terms of attitudes to outsiders.
Public transport: the city’s already world- class public transport network is to get two new light-rail services by 2010.
Architecture: innovative, environmentally friendly builds are favoured.
Environmental issues: household waste has dropped 40 per cent since residents have had to pay for each rubbish bag they use; 51 per cent of waste is recycled.
How easy is it to start a business? Setting up a business is quick and easy and authorities offer advice, training and low-cost office space. It takes about a month and costs chf7,000 (€4,630).
Chain test: Zara, 3; Starbucks, 4.
Key upcoming developments: Zürich Main Station will be moving 40 per cent more passengers by 2015 and the airport is getting a chf460m (€300m) revamp.
Monocle fix: more mid-range restaurants and relaxed Sunday trading hours.



2008 ranking: 01

Our 2008 winner is pipped at the post but is a city we still admire

Metropolitan life coupled with intimacy, Scandinavian welfare, low crime rates and a relaxed atmosphere – an ideal combination, right? That’s what many Copenhageners think as they weave their way around the city’s vast network of cycle paths. The city is clean and green and flows smoothly (and will make the perfect backdrop for the COP15 climate conference this year).

Its cultural life has been given a major boost with the new royal library (it also works as a cultural centre), a new opera house, a main theatre and a brand- new concert hall. And it’s fantastically well-connected via its easy-to-use airport. Like the rest of Denmark, the city can still seem a little uneasy about its ­immigrant communities.

Population: 613,603; greater metropolitan area, 1.66 million.
International flights: 121 destinations, of which 18 are intercontinental.
Crime: murders, 6; domestic break-ins, 5,107.
State education: is free and state schools are generally good.
Sunshine: 1,821 hours in 2008.
Temperatures: average low, January, 4.1C; average high, July, 17.6C.
Tolerance: Denmark has a tradition of being gay friendly – was the first country in the world to approve gay marriages.
Public transport: free city bike scheme. More than 35 per cent of Copenhageners cycle to work or school. A new City Ring metro is in the pipeline for 2018.
Access to nature: 15 minutes by train or car and half an hour by bicycle and you are out of the city. Sandy beaches nearby.
Architecture: the old docks north and south of the city and at Ørestad, near the airport, are being redeveloped. So far the city is sticking to its rule: no skyscrapers. How easy is it to start a business? Very easy, as long as you can afford the taxes.
Chain test: Zara, 2; Starbucks, 2 (only at the airport).
Monocle fix: keep the airport retail special – and local. Bland chains are appearing. And the airport is deteriorating, not improving.



2008 ranking: 03

Tokyo runs like clockwork and its service culture beats any competition

On paper, Tokyo shouldn’t work at all – nearly 13 million people living cheek by jowl, most commuting in the same direction in and out of the city every day. And yet it does, consistently outperforming other cities in the world on everything from the quality of its restaurants to the efficiency of its public transport.

At first glance, Tokyo is a jumble of roads and buildings but it has a cosier side, with low-rise side streets and homely restaurants. It’s easy to see why Tokyo has become the world’s most liveable megalopolis. The city also has an eye on the Olympics in 2016 and a programme of increasing green space is underway.

The current strength of the yen is the one drawback for residents paid in foreign currency.

Population: 8.77 million; greater metropolitan area, 12.94 million.
International flights: 93 destinations, of which 38 are intercontinental.
Crime: murders, 133; domestic break-ins, 13,145 (in the greater metropolis, 2007).
Sunshine: annual average, 1,847 hours.
Temperatures: average low in January, 2.1C; average high in August, 30.8C.
Public transport: punctual and reliable. Haneda Airport is being expanded with a new terminal and runway in October 2010.
Drinking and shopping: Supermarkets and convenience stores are open for 24 hours or til late. A glass of wine/sake is easily available into the early hours.
Green space: The centre is very green with parks and rooftop gardens. Tokyo aims to create another 1 sq km of green space and plant one million street trees by 2016.
Environmental issues: since October 2007, Tokyo has been using B5 fuel (5 per cent biodiesel) for municipal buses.
How easy is it to start a business? The city runs courses and offers loans for those wishing to start new businesses. And it invests ¥160m (€1.2m) per year on “incubation” facilities for new companies.
Chain test: Zara, 8; Starbucks, 219.
Monocle fix: More should be done to preserve older buildings.



2008 ranking: 02

Our 2007 winner slips as others up their game. We’d still live there

Over the past few years, Munich has surprised with its blend of conservative icons such as the Frauenkirche and Hofbräuhaus and innovative design embodied by its new synagogue or BMW Welt.

City planners expect the Bavarian capital to grow by some 67,000 residents by 2020. To deal with that, they’ve been building new neighbourhoods such as the Riem near the trade centre and Freiham, 3.5 sq km of farmland that’s being turned into housing, parks and a commercial centre.

The culture quarter, the Kunstareal, just gets better. The May opening of Museum Brandhorst, a collection of post-1945 artists, is the latest example of how effortlessly Munich seems to blend beauty, history and innovation.

Population: 1.37 million.
International flights: 244 destinations, of which 71 are intercontinental.
Crime: murders, 9; domestic break-ins, 1,152 (slightly up this year).
Sunshine: annual average, 1,681 hours.
Medical care: Munich has more than 80 world-class clinics.
Public transport: 1,200km of bike paths and more to come. With railway Deutsche Bahn’s call-a-bike scheme you can rent a bike for 8 cents a minute, €9 a day or €36 a week.
Media: Munich’s airwaves got a lot more interesting in November last year with the launch of EgoFM, a new youth-oriented radio station and online social network.
Architecture: the new synagogue and the Allianz Arena are testimony to Munich’s love of innovative design. To house the growing population, Munich is converting former military bases and derelict railway property into new neighbourhoods.
Environmental issues: there are 780 solar facilities. The city is also a hub for environmental technology.
How easy is it to start a business? 13,000 new companies open in Munich each year.
Chain test: Zara, 5; Starbucks, 10.
Monocle fix: get moving and build that high-speed airport link.



2008 ranking: 05

Defying its small size, Helsinki continues to advance eastwards

With the biggest urban development boom in a century, a forthcoming, faster railway connection to St Petersburg – cutting travel time to 3.5 hours from the current five – and an airport operating as a major base for flights to Asia, Helsinki has more and more reasons to let go of its old identity as the little brother of Stockholm.

The city is also, finally, taking full advantage of its stunning position by the Baltic Sea. Former port facilities have been shut down or are moving to the ­purpose-built harbour in the eastern suburb of Vuosaari, replaced with attractive residential areas along the waterfront. Another initiative is aiming to free more of the nearby islands – currently occupied by the Finnish Defence Forces – for public use.

Population: 576,632; greater metropolitan area, 1.3 million.
International flights: 120 destinations, of which 15 are intercontinental.
Crime: murders, 5; domestic break-ins, 395.
State education: Finnish schools have been rated the best in the world.
Medical care: health services are mainly financed from tax revenues but patients also pay small fees.
Sunshine: annual average, 1,858 hours.
Temperatures: average low, February, -7.9C; average high, August, 17.6C.
Tolerance: only 6.4 per cent of Helsinki’s population is not Finnish. Currently, gay couples can register a partnership but not get married.
Architecture: the city is changing faster than at any time over the past 100 years. Controversial new buildings such as the Waterfront Hotel by Herzog & de Meuron are being approved.
How easy is it to start a business? Several new institutions have been created to encourage small businesses.
Chain test: Zara, 3; Starbucks, 0.
Key upcoming developments: the Ring Rail Line around the metropolitan area is due to be finished by 2014.
Monocle fix: the city could do with a lot more cycle lanes.



2008 ranking: 07

Living in the European Green Capital of 2010 has its major plus points

Inhabiting one of the most beautiful cities in the world, surrounded by water and wild forests, Stockholmers are lucky. The good news is, at least they appreciate it. Stockholm has an impressive programme for protecting the environment. The city aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 25 per cent by 2015, a goal promoted with electric car and city bike schemes, low-emission public transport and ad campaigns urging everyone to make their home “climate smart”.

Combine the green ambition with the city’s strengths – dynamic cultural scene, interesting business opportunities and a multicultural population keen to try anything new from fresh fashion to the latest technology – and you have a place to live that’s hard to beat.

Population: 810,120; greater metropolitan area, 1.9 million.
International flights: 147 destinations, of which 23 are intercontinental.
Crime: murders, 21; domestic break-ins, 2,077.
Sunshine: annual average, 1,821 hours.
Tolerance: gay marriage legalised last May.
Public transport: the metro now runs all night at weekends. A new rail line and two new stations are planned for 2017.
Architecture: the atmosphere is quite conservative and geared towards preserving the city’s skyline and character.
Access to nature: some 85 per cent of the population live less than 300m from green space. This summer, the city is investing in four more public beaches.
Drinking and shopping: Quite a few bars are open until 02.00 or 03.00 at the weekends, but during the week most close at 01.00. Many food shops are open until 22.00 or 23.00 even on Sundays.
Environmental issues: Stockholm is European Green Capital 2010. In 2008, there were 28 per cent more bicycle users than the year before; 100 electric car charging stations will be installed in 2009.
Chain test: Zara, 4; Starbucks, 0.
Monocle fix: fewer impersonal shopping centres; more small retailers.



2008 ranking: 06

A city with big ambitions, Vienna has high hopes for its hub status

A grande dame of Europe’s capitals, Vienna has been careful not to rest on its laurels. Its baroque cultural attractions have been augmented by the sleek glass and steel of a city that takes its reputation as western Europe’s gateway to the east very seriously.

In the coming years, Vienna will have a world-class railway station that will shuttle executives and creatives to capitals across Europe.

The area of Mariahilf is giving rise to an ambitious gallery and fashion scene, featuring graduates of the city’s renowned art schools who are willing to stay on rather than travel abroad to get their start.

The swathes of green and the reliable transport are more reasons why Vienna remains high at number 7.

Population: 1.6 million; greater metropolitan area, 2.5 million.
International flights: 166 destinations, of which 27 are intercontinental.
Crime: murders, 34; domestic break-ins, 9,995.
Sunshine: 2,038 hours in 2008.
Tolerance: the city is more open to migrants than other parts of Austria. The country has yet to approve civil unions but Vienna remains the country’s gay capital.
Drinking and shopping: supermarkets are closed on Sundays and finding a late-night glass of wine remains a challenge.
Culture: cinemas, 61; screens, 170.
Public transport: Vienna has the world’s largest fleet of liquified gas buses.
Architecture: Bike City, a new development designed with bicycle lovers in mind, opened on Vienna’s outskirts last summer.
Environmental issues: city investment in alternative energy has resulted in a solar farm, a hydroelectric power plant and wind farm, so far.
Chain test: Zara, 4; Starbucks, 10.
Key upcoming developments: work is ongoing on a massive waterfront redevelopment project, which will extend the city centre closer to the Danube.
Monocle fix: the paperwork for setting up a business is still too laborious.



2008 ranking: 10

If Paris improves its suburbs, it’s on its way to offering the full package

Certain delights of living in Paris – the food, films and sweeping boulevards – need no introduction. But other, more recent introductions courtesy of mayor Bertrand Delanoë, such as Vélib’ bike hire and green space wi-fi coverage, mean Paris is elegantly combining the 21st- century city with its illustrious past.

This year, President Nicolas Sarkozy made it his mission to create a “Greater Paris”. With the help of some of the world’s leading architects and urbanists, he has vowed to improve public transport, introduce eco-friendly technologies and reconnect the city’s picture-postcard centre with its grimy outer suburbs within the next 20 years. Paris will be soaring ahead of the rest of Europe if it can pull this off.

Population: 2.2 million; greater metropolitan area, 11.2 million.
International flights: 621 destinations, of which 335 are intercontinental.
Crime: murders, 35 (2008); break-ins, 8,227 (2007).
Sunshine: annual average, 1,700 hours.
Drinking and shopping: Sunday shopping is still a problem.
Public transport: an electric car hire scheme, Autolib, planned for the end of this year, has run into funding problems.
Architecture: planning permission can be tough to get. Le Projet Triangle, an ambitious design by Herzog & de Meuron, will be the first inner-city tower built in Paris since 1977.
Environmental issues: by 2014, 200,000 sq m of solar panels are to be installed, and small, city-friendly wind turbines are to be built. Hybrid buses are being tested.
How easy is it to start a business? The twin barriers of bureaucracy and high staff benefit costs put investors off.
Chain test: Zara, 6; Starbucks, 34.
Key upcoming developments: over the next 10 years a 130km-long automatic railway will be built, linking the two main airports with business suburbs. At last, the Forum des Halles is to get a makeover.
Monocle fix: please, cut the red tape.



2008 ranking: 09

Melbourne holds its position but must do more about its urban sprawl

Melbourne’s core attractions are global cuisine, frequent festivals and distinct neighbourhoods. Last year the city was made one of only two UNESCO cities of literature. It nurtures the entrepreneurial: made-in-Melbourne brands Crumpler bags, Nobody jeans and Aesop cosmetics exude an unshakeable self-confidence.

There are 1,500 people moving here every month. The city’s next chapter is crucial: accommodating and transporting a population that will outstrip Sydney’s in the next 20 years. So far, Melbourne has sprawled into suburbs that go on for 100km and a buckling train network that has Connex staff handing ice creams to par-boiled passengers. If Melbourne can move as it grows, this city will be pushing its way to the top of our list.

Population: 3.9 million.
International flights: 25 destinations, of which 20 are intercontinental.
Crime: murders, 27; domestic break-ins, 5,395. (6,285 last year).
Sunshine: annual average, 2,190 hours.
Tolerance: 140 nationalities live together, mostly harmoniously.
Drinking and shopping: Melbourne’s mid-range restaurants are world-class. It was the first city outside Italy to gain a Slow Food designation.
Public transport: May’s Common Bike trial could lead to 600 bikes becoming available to hire from 50 central locations.
Architecture: planning consent is by the council – there is no unified approach across the city.
Chain test: Zara, 0; Starbucks, 4.
Environmental issues: over 90 per cent of Victoria residents have recycling bins and 2008 saw the arrival of Melbourne’s first tram powered by wind-generated energy. Melbourne gets Australia’s first carbon neutral building in July.
Key upcoming developments: construction of desalination plant to start this year.
Monocle fix: with the population set to grow 30 per cent over the next 20 years, Melbourne needs to find a solution to its urban sprawl and embrace density.



2008 ranking: 14

Berlin is the home of start-ups. Shame it’s not more connected

Twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the reunited city has come of age. Most of its decrepit areas in the east have been renovated, its infrastructure modernised and, at long last, it has a decent central station. The German capital also offers good restaurants, bars, independent retail and great hotels.

But that’s only part of the story. Berlin is famous for being a creative city, offering everything from underground clubs to small galleries. And despite all the changes, the city still literally has more than enough room for all the innovative people attracted by its low rents. The cultural and creative sector accounts for more than 21 per cent of Berlin’s GDP. Making sure it stays this open will be one of the key future challenges.

Population: 3.4 million.
International flights: 132 destinations, of which 17 are intercontinental.
Crime: murders, 28; domestic break-ins, 8,228 (up 18.7 per cent from last year).
Medical care: with 71 hospitals, 6,961 private doctors, 3,162 private dentists, Berlin has a very fit healthcare system.
Sunshine: annual average, 1,635 hours.
Tolerance: almost half a million foreigners live in Berlin. It’s been dubbed the largest Turkish city outside Turkey.
Media: many leading national news media are relocating their headquarters to Berlin.
Culture: Berlin’s art scene is thriving, but why is there still no really good contemporary art exhibition space?
Architecture: a replica building of the old royal palace has just gone up. We would have preferred to see something more adventurous.
How easy is it to start a business? Hamburg had more businesses launching last year but more closed down there too.
Chain test: Zara, 6; Starbucks, 26.
Key upcoming developments: a controversial metro line linking government quarters with the central station is finally set to open in August.
Monocle fix: Berliners seem proud of the city’s scruffiness. Tidy up anyway.



2008 ranking: 12

Honolulu is more than a pretty face, and is our top (and only) US city

Locals call it the “paradise tax”; housing prices and other costs of living are some of the highest in the US while wages are, at their best, middling. However, this is a price that most Honoluluans are prepared to pay given the combination of big-city excitement and natural beauty that the island offers.

At Waikiki they are putting the finishing touches to a decade-long, $1bn (€73m) redevelopment, which included replenishing sand on its famous beach.

Later this year, city officials hope to break ground on a $5.2bn (€3.8bn) fixed rail system, which will link eastern and western ends of the island. The project has been long-awaited, but last year it was given the go-ahead by popular vote. We also like the visionary mayor.

Population: 380,000; greater metropolitan area, 905,034.
International flights: 12 destinations, of which 7 are intercontinental.
Crime: murders, 19; 4,406 domestic break-ins (2007).
Medical care: in 2005-2007, Hawaii and Massachusetts had the lowest number of residents without health insurance (8.5 per cent) in the US.
Sunshine: annual average, 3,110 hours.
Temperatures: around 25C all year.
Tolerance: an attempt this year to pass a law recognising same-sex partnerships was voted down.
Drinking and shopping: most bars open until 02.00, clubs are open until 04.00.
Public transport: The bus system has twice been named by the American Public Transportation Association as the US’s best transit system.
Culture: 7 cinemas, 61 screens.
Environmental issues: in 2008, Hawaii became the first state to require solar water heaters in new homes.
How easy is it to start a business? Streamlined business registration. A variety of subsidies, tax credits and exemptions.
Chain test: Zara, 0; Starbucks, 16.
Monocle fix: more high-speed broadband. Look to Tokyo and Taipei, not New York.



2008 ranking: 13

Its strength is its adaptability, which is why Madrid’s risen up the ranks

A seemingly comprehensive and streamlined accord between government, local administration and council organisations is helping the city weather the state’s financial squall. Monocle made Madrid best business city for its quality of life last year before the economic blow knocked it on its culo and we maintain its liveability and resilience make it a city of opportunities. And in contrast to Catalans, Madrileños welcome visitors with good, old-fashioned hospitality – Barcelona would do well to do the same.

Urban development is pressing on with schemes ranging in imagination – there is now one tree for every six inhabitants and €220m is being set aside to ­remodel 40,000 residential properties in the centre.

Population: 3.27 million; greater metropolitan area, 5.85 million.
International flights: 162 destinations, of which 48 are intercontinental.
Crime: murders, 39 (70 in metropolitan area); domestic break-ins, 5,651.
Sunshine: annual average, 2,850 hours.
Drinking and shopping: since 2008, shops in the city centre can open on Sundays.
Public transport: the Madrid Metro is the second largest network in western Europe after London. There is a 64km cycle route that circles the city.
Culture: cinemas, 127; screens, 671.
Green space: Madrid has a higher percentage of green space than any other European city.
Environmental issues: biodiesel buses and solar-powered street lamps are standard. Solar panels obligatory in all new builds.
How easy is it to start a business? It takes from 15 days to one month.
Chain test: Zara, 43; Starbucks, 40.
Key upcoming developments: a clean, green space the size of 50 football pitches is being cleared along the long-neglected banks of the city’s Manzanares river. By 2012, Spain plans to have built the world’s largest high-speed rail network.
Monocle fix: Madrid needs better Asia and Middle East flight connections.



2008 ranking: 11

Progress is a little unforthcoming but the Sydney lifestyle is enviable

Sydney is blessed by nature but its cultural calendar can be a bit patchy. The restaurant scene, however, shows Europe the meaning of service, value and culinary exuberance. A diverse population welcomes incomers and there’s an energy and positivity to Sydney that is only partly explained by the sun and surf.

But it’s cursed, says one local CEO, with an “incompetent” council that contrives to miss each wave of opportunity that sweeps in. Take Sydney’s Western Metro, which is languishing on the drawing board. Bringing commuters in from the suburbs, by train or bus, is the big challenge. The Sustainable Sydney 2030 plan should make cycling safer and ­encourage more of the city’s finance and media workers to use bicycles.

Population: 4.39 million.
International flights: 47 destinations, of which 34 are intercontinental.
Crime: murders, 41; 26,530 domestic break-ins.
Sunshine: 2,591 hours in 2008.
Tolerance: Sydney has a Relationship Register but civil unions were rejected again by the Rudd government in 2009. Clover Moore, mayor of Sydney, is gay.
Public transport: by 2012 Melbourne and Sydney will each have more than 200,000 electric-car charging points and 150 battery switching sites.
Culture: cinemas, 101; screens, 330.
How easy is it to start a business? The city provides grants of up to €20,000, awards and information to non-profit making SMEs. AusIndustry and Australian Industry Productivity Centres offer advice.
Chain test: Zara, 0; Starbucks, 8.
Key upcoming developments: it’s hit funding issues, but the €1.4bn redevelopment of the docklands Barangaroo site is the biggest property project in town. Commercial floorspace is 500,000 sq m. The new Sydney Metro is scheduled to be running by 2015 but the Western Metro, useful for suburban commuters, is on hold.
Monocle fix: the crowded, sweaty, late train network needs a major overhaul.



2008 ranking: 08

Canada’s sharp-looking outpost gets ready to take its Olympic bow

Arriving in Vancouver can be pleasantly disconcerting. Snow-capped peaks and omnipresent water place you on the North Pacific coast; the notably friendly, low-key atmosphere could only be Canadian.

On the other hand, the futuristic all-glass skyline and profusion of Asian languages and cuisines make the city feel like a previously unknown hybrid of East and West. This will make a smart setting for next winter’s Olympics, and despite economic turmoil, venues and crucial transport improvements are well on their way.

Beyond sport, Vancouver holds ample attractions for business (such as the continent’s busiest export port) and pleasure (the 18km of beach is mostly public). But there are too many bad condo developments and mundane retail outlets.

Population: 2.29 million.
International flights: 66 destinations, of which 32 are intercontinental.
Crime: murders, 18; domestic break-ins, 3,706.
Sunshine: annual average, 1,928 hours.
Tolerance: migrant communities from China, India and elsewhere. One in three residents speaks a language other than English or French.
Public transport: the SkyTrain system will link the centre and the airport this year. There are 64km of cycle lanes, and a 28km “greenway” from the centre to the suburbs opens later this year. Access to nature: sail on False Creek, near the city centre, or climb mountains.
Environmental issues: the city government adopted a new green-focused building charter this year, which it claims is North America’s greenest.
How easy is it to start a business? There are more start-ups here per capita than in any other Canadian city.
Chain test: Zara, 1; Starbucks, 120.
Key upcoming developments: the 2010 Winter Olympics – the venues are all set, the financial crisis may trim some frills.
Monocle fix: ignore the border: forge tighter business, cultural and transport links with Seattle and Portland.



2008 ranking: 15

So far, changes have been cosmetic and the routine is getting tired

Barna’s biggest development this year has been the completion of T1, the airport’s new terminal building which will welcome 30 million more visitors; and therein lies the problem. Like a once successful street performer, Barcelona keeps on drawing bigger crowds without updating its act. Some serious investment in infrastructure to support the influx of tourism will certainly help, including a high-speed train to the airport, subsidised housing for locals outside the centre and schemes to encourage small businesses.

But who can blame the visitors? There are not many cities like Barcelona with the same geographical advantages, diversity and dedication to urban development. Those in the know move to Sant Gervasi and Gracia anyway.

Population: 1.6 million; greater metropolitan area, 5 million.
International flights: 112 destinations, of which 23 are intercontinental.
Crime: murders, 82; domestic break-ins, 7,091 (Catalonia region).
Sunshine: 2,500 hours in 2008.
Drinking and shopping: leads Europe for 24/7 entertainment. But shops shut Sundays, often Mondays and for siesta.
Public transport: a state-of-the art terminal opens at Barcelona airport this summer, with a high-speed link into town. New tram line has made a huge difference.
Architecture: not only can you get planning permission but you can also get funding for innovative buildings.
Environmental issues: Barcelona has Europe’s largest photovoltaic panel (the size of a soccer pitch) and solar panels are obligatory now in every new building.
How easy is it to start a business? A giant new district for start-ups already has 1,000.
Chain test: Zara, 12; Starbucks, 16.
Key upcoming developments: the container port and the cruise port are being expanded. The old bullring is being converted into a leisure complex.
Monocle fix: while we’re all for relaxed smoking laws, some bars could do with opening a window once in a while.



2008 ranking: 17

Fukuoka edges ahead because of its great connections and easy living

Fukuoka is so far from Tokyo – nearly 900km – that it has long since learnt to resist the pull towards the Japanese capital. Instead this open, easy-going city in northern Kyushu does things its own way, combining the efficiency that is a given in every Japanese metropolis with an outward-looking dynamism.

Thanks to its proximity to China and South Korea, Fukuoka has a long tradition of ­engagement with its neighbours. With plenty of green space and beaches nearby, and the rest of Kyushu made ever more ­accessible with the island’s own bullet train, Fukuoka also has excellent links to the rest of Japan. It tries hard to keep its citizens and visitors happy – recent measures have ­included making the central Tenjin area a free wi-fi zone.

Population: 1.44 million; greater metropolitan area, 2,37 million.
International flights: 16 destinations, all in Asia except one to Guam, US.
Crime: murders, 17; domestic break-ins, 1,418.
Sunshine: annual average, 1,848 hours.
Tolerance: Fukuoka got its first mosque in April 2009.
Public transport: the metro is fast and reliable. Buses cover almost all of the city. The city has no infrastructure plans for electric cars at present. It takes 11 minutes to get to Fukuoka Airport by metro from Tenjin station in the city centre.
Access to nature: it is a 15-minute bus ride to the beach, Momochi district to the west or to Island City to the east.
Environmental issues: since April, 26 public places use solar power; 12 facilities, including the fire department, have installed a solar-heated water system.
Chain test: Zara, 2; Starbucks, 19.
Key upcoming developments: the northern section of the Kyushu Shinkansen (bullet train), between Fukuoka and Kagoshima, is to be ready by 2011. When it is, it will cut the journey time to one hour from four.
Monocle fix: a few more top-level hotels would convert people to the city’s charms.



2008 ranking: new entry

Oslo bursts in this year thanks to the wise use of its oil wealth

Norway has come a long way from being one of the poorer countries in Europe 40 years ago. Oil money has created a generous welfare state, and Oslo has taken its fair share of the wealth. Of all the Scandinavian capitals, Oslo has lagged behind on new design, architecture and culture. Not any more. The new, €500m opera house by local architects Snøhetta, opened last spring. Around the eastern waterfront, several ambitious projects are underway, including a new museum and a sub-sea motorway. This is Oslo’s moment – the cultural scene is booming.

Oslo’s other trump card is its proximity to nature. It’s a city where you can be skiing in the day and having dinner in a smart restaurant in the evening – if you can afford it.

Population: 557,848; greater metropolitan area, 856,915.
International flights: 111 destinations, of which two are intercontinental. New links with Asia are being added this year.
Crime: murders, 11; domestic break-ins, 2,802.
Medical care: Norway comes second among OECD countries (after the US) in terms of health spending per capita.
Sunshine: annual average, 1,668 hours.
Tolerance: the right-wing Progress Party could win the next election (it wants to decrease the number of asylum seekers).
Public transport: the metro, trams and buses not only work well, they look great.
Architecture: the city has an impressive new opera house, designed by local architects, Snøhetta. British architect, David Adjaye, designed the interior of the new Nobel Peace Centre. And Renzo Piano is designing a new museum of modern art.
How easy is it to start a business? Relatively. Information and free courses are available in Norwegian and English.
Chain test: Zara, 3; Starbucks, 0.
Key upcoming developments: the Fjord City project will transform the waterfront and a tunnel linking it to the city centre will open in 2010.
Monocle fix: a lot more international flights and this city would take off.



2008 ranking: 22

Singapore is adding a softer side to its reputation as a business city

A compact city-state that is reliant on global trade, Singapore has been hit by the worldwide economic slowdown. But falling prices, from property to cars and electricity, are making the city more affordable. As a microcosm of Asia, Singapore has always had something to offer everyone, whether it’s dinner in the plush restaurant of an elegant colonial-era hotel or a cheap and tasty plate of noodles at the local hawker centre.

With its own Formula One road race and, soon, casinos, Singapore is aiming to replicate the glamour of Monaco. It has abundant green spaces, a great airport, world-beating medical facilities, varied nightlife and excellent connections to the world, making it a pleasant home for people of all backgrounds.

Population: 4.84 million.
International flights: 193 destinations, of which 123 are in Asia and 70 are long-haul.
Crime: murders, 26; domestic break-ins, 829, the lowest figure for 20 years.
Medical care: excellent but not cheap.
Sunshine: annual average, 2,044 hours.
Tolerance: it is not illegal to be gay but sex between men is.
Public transport: two new lines are being built for the city’s already excellent metro network.
Culture: a spectacular new national art gallery is scheduled for 2013.
Architecture: the city’s planners have been eager to promote the development of brave, landmark projects, such as the UFO-shaped Supreme Court.
Access to nature: Singapore is one of only two cities in the world to have a slice of primary rainforest within its boundaries.
Environmental issues: over half of the city’s waste is recycled.
How easy is it to start a business? Low taxes and minimal red tape and it only takes minutes to register a new company online.
Chain test: Zara, 5; Starbucks, 62.
Key upcoming developments: two casino resorts incorporating a theme park.
Monocle fix: encourage media freedom.



2008 ranking: 16

Quality of life is uneven in Montréal but its liberalism is admirable

In the largest French-speaking city after Paris, Montréalers embrace the good life. But this is also a place of contradictions – where you can eat great bagels after the bars close at 03.00, but where it’s hard to find a regular doctor; where you can have a gay wedding in one of the continent’s most open-minded cities, but where educated immigrants have more trouble finding jobs than in any other Canadian city.

Levels of education and cultural savvy are high, while the cost of living is low. But not everyone prospers: one in five children lives in poverty. Infrastructure improvements are being made, however, and environmental awareness is growing but as in many North American cities, the car is still king here.

Population: 1.9 million; greater metropolitan area, 3.6 million (2006).
International flights: 70 international destinations, of which 50 are intercontinental.
Crime: murders, 42 (2007); domestic break-ins, 11,105.
Medical care: two new super-hospitals, to be completed by 2018, will ease crowding.
Sunshine: annual average, 2,029 hours.
Temperatures: average low in January, -14.7C; average high in July, 26.2C.
Public transport: cars still rule, but this spring, the city launched the Bixi bike-sharing programme, with 300 solar-powered parking stations and 3,000 web-enabled bikes.
Culture: the city is spending €246m on enhancing Montréal’s performing arts spaces including one at Place des Arts.
Environmental issues: 90 per cent of residents are recyclers, but 70 per cent of all waste still went to landfills last year.
How easy is it to start a business: Montréal ranked first in North America for competitive operating costs.
Chain test: Zara: 3; Starbucks, 16.
Key upcoming developments: a proposed rail shuttle will link the city core to Trudeau International Airport.
Monocle fix: with all the clever architects in town, can someone build a real stunner?



2008 ranking: new entry

Re-formed Auckland re-enters our Top 25 after a year’s absence

As the major centre in one of the youngest first world countries, Auckland is like a teenager thrust suddenly into self-awareness: slightly gawky, nearly cool and determined to smile for the cameras when the Rugby World Cup rolls into town in two years’ time.

Hungry for attention, Auckland has embarked on several self-improvement projects in order to present its best – and for local denizens who already enjoy a high quality of life, the benefits are coming thick and fast. The inner-city shopping area has been refurbished, public transport links are being overhauled and updated, new roads are opening in a bid to ease congestion, and quality bars and restaurants are springing up away from the city centre.

Population: 438,100, greater metropolitan area 1.4 million.
International flights: 32 destinations, of which 17 are intercontinental.
Crime: murders 9; domestic break-ins, 6,306.
Sunshine: annual average, 2,060 hours.
Tolerance: 37 per cent of people in the Auckland region were born overseas. There are civil unions for gay couples.
Public transport: cars are cheap here and the city still depends on them. But things are changing. Over the past five years, train passenger levels have grown from two million to seven million. Just 7,000 Aucklanders cycle to work each day.
Architecture: regulations have been tightened in recent years to stop sprawl.
Access to nature: being on an isthmus, Auckland is one of the few cities in the world with two harbours – there are more yachts here per capita than anywhere else. Good surf spots half an hour away.
Environmental issues: a new recycling plant, which will be the most technologically advanced in the Southern Hemisphere, is opening soon.
Chain test: Zara, 0; Starbucks, 17.
Key upcoming developments: central business district to be “beautified” by 2014.
Monocle fix: as the population grows, this place will need a high-speed airport link.

Cities to watch


Let us put the spotlight on a group of cities that with simple fixes could become winners next year. All have exciting new developments planned that we’ll be watching closely.



2008 ranking: 18

Amsterdam is green-thinking but may be a bit too relaxed

To quote Mick Jagger: “Amsterdam is the world’s smallest metropolis.” Everything is within cycling distance, and the city is characterised by its cosmopolitan vibe. A green wind has been blowing through the streets. One hundred per cent of household waste is recycled to produce electricity for the city’s transport system. And new housing is being created on reclaimed land in the IJsselmeer, which has put Amsterdam back on the architectural map. ­

The downsides are a lack of parking for residents, which could be solved by underground facilities, and there aren’t enough secure bicycle bays. Completion of Line 52, the north-south metro line, would get things moving.



2008 ranking: 20

Kyoto has a sense of its own identity and a commitment to craftsmanship

Kyoto is still a centre for crafts ranging from carpentry to hand-woven textiles. The city also offers sophisticated shopping (Japanese brands such as Comme des Garçons and Visvim have stores here) and fashionable bars, not surprising given its large student population.

Residents continue their own way of life, unfazed by the droves of visitors (50 million of them came in 2008).

There are forested hills all around and the Kamo River runs through the city – terraced riverside bars come into their own in the searing summers. Kyoto is proud of its distinct seasons and its complicated kaiseki cuisine. The ancient capital is also home to a number of hi-tech companies, including Nintendo.



2008 ranking: 21

Hamburg’s economic and educational reforms get top marks

Hamburg is an economic powerhouse. It was the first of the German Länder to launch its own economic stimulus package to support the local economy. But the city does have its problems. The large immigrant community is not well served by the often elitist state school system. But it is in the process of overhauling this to make it accessible to all. Hamburg has secured €66m funding to build the new HafenCity University in the port development of the same name. Critics say that Hamburg also needs to build much-needed affordable housing.

Hamburg should be more ambitious in making its transport environmentally friendly and could it do something about that grey weather too?



2008 ranking: 23

Geneva lacks the oomph of a big city but that’s also its beauty

Geneva marries a provincial flavour with a cosmopolitan buzz. You can get a drink, albeit a rather expensive one, in the small hours but don’t expect a wild night out.

Culturally and sports-wise, the city excels. In the summer nothing beats a dip in Lake Geneva, in the shadow of the Jet d’Eau fountain, and in winter residents ski in Chamonix, an hour’s drive away.

The area is experiencing an unprecedented business boom. This has caused housing problems but the authorities are taking action in other areas. Geneva airport is having a much-needed overhaul.

The city is a hub for global commerce, politics and diplomacy, and with its superb schools and healthcare it’s the perfect place to raise a family.



2008 ranking: 24

Lisbon comes last but we’re looking forward to seeing how plans develop

Lisbon has raised its cultural credentials by inaugurating art galleries, two film festivals and think-tanks such as the LX Factory. Of course, becoming edgier has its downside – burglaries are up 25 per cent.

Officials have also begun tastefully restoring kiosks in the city’s parks and squares, which provide a sharp contrast to the city’s air-conditioned malls. Greens have something to cheer about as bike sharing is on the agenda and cycle paths are set for the waterfront.

Even more promising is the redevelopment of Parque Mayer theatre district. A local architect is planning pedestrianised streets and lifts to link to the Príncipe Real neighbourhood (see Monocle June 2009) and its independent shopkeepers.

Nice restaurants, but...

Italy’s cities

For a third year running, Italian cities failed to make our list. Though attractive spots for 48 hours of sightseeing or shopping, more needs to be done for their residents. Take public transport. Poorly funded and chronically late, the number of commuters on buses and trams actually fell in 2008. With most people behind the wheel, city centres are gridlocked and pavements used as makeshift car parks. Rome alone notches up 70 cars for every 100 inhabitants – Paris has just 26.

Milan, the country’s business hub, has no shortfall of urban planners but smartly designed mixed-use developments with grocers, independent shops, and gyms for office workers are absent. Bike-sharing has been introduced but cyclists face a fragmented network and fight for space with pedestrians. Officials should look to Copenhagen, with nearly five times the cycle lanes and synchronised traffic lights that allow cyclists right-of-way during rush hour. Shopping hours also need to be liberalised in the country’s financial centre – people queue outside the few food stores open on Sundays.

In their favour, Italy’s metropolises rank high for their food and café culture, enviable climate and wealth of cultural offerings. With more nimble public services and better infrastructure, a few could soon make the grade.

Getting interactive

How will cities be run in the future?

Increasingly, how cities are run is evolving to include grass roots organisations – particularly when elected officials fail in their civic mission. “People want to engage with their surroundings,” says Roope Mooka of Finnish think-tank Demos. “They want to mould the city.” One example of this is architect Peter Tattersall in Helsinki, who has started workshops where residents can put together plans for new developments in their neighbourhoods. Those plans are subsequently submitted to the architects and city planners involved.

The internet is also playing an important part in supporting this shift towards self-governance. “Using web-technology is a cost-effective way to build and improve on common city services,” says John Geraci who runs, a web-based community for residents in 55 cities worldwide.

His solution to cut costs on New York City’s $15m (and rising) installation of bus-tracking devices is simply to ask bus riders to submit their location to a centralised source run by the city. “What’s needed now is a city that operates on open data flowing through decentralised, open source tools, that actively engages residents not only as users but as participants and owners of the system,” he says.

We can make it

City halls need a new focus on helping small businesses

It was something we did in 2007 but this year we’re making a more vocal recommendation for city governments to do more to encourage existing small businesses to flourish and expand, and wide-eyed entrepreneurs to launch fresh new ventures.

While some cities are better than others at creating an environment that’s hospitable to mom, pop and their offspring, none are outstanding. In some cities clued-up developers have been standing-in for government to put the right pieces in place to let small enterprises grow but we’re keen to see an easy to use, effective and sustainable shop-front concept spring up in one of our top 25 cities (or any other for that matter) and engage people with ideas, banks and backers, developers and the broader community.

Small business is not only the mortar that binds infrastructure and community but in many cases it’s what keeps an entire city ticking over. The coming year is going to see a wave of people checking out of shiny glass towers and taking to the streets to hang out their own signs and launch businesses that they’ve been keeping on the back burner for far too long. A smart city hall would make it its mission to ensure that it could attract and help launch as many of these ventures as possible.

×The Urbanist


Drag me