Three of the five cities on this page have been in our bottom five for the past two years, and Montréal has slipped. Maybe somebody at city hall needs to start trying a bit harder. Meanwhile, we welcome Seattle to the fold and will be watching it closely.
Japan’s ancient capital has everything that Tokyo is lacking
If the bullet train took 45 minutes rather than two hours, most of Tokyo’s population would commute from Kyoto. The ancient Japanese capital has everything the modern one does not – historic architecture, open spaces alongside the Kamo river, and a thriving cultural life based on artisanal crafts uninterrupted by earthquakes and war.
Finding a way for past and present to co-exist has always been a challenge Kyoto but successive city administrations have mostly pulled it off. It is Asia’s richest repository of medieval art and home to dozens of high-tech companies.
Belt-tightening risks throwing away the cultural kudos of Hamburg
Well-preserved historical buildings, interesting new architecture, and water in abundance – Hamburg is considered Germany’s second largest and most beautiful city, and has been crowned European Green Capital 2011. The waterfront is home to HafenCity, Europe’s most ambitious building project, and attracts tens of thousands of tourists.
However, Hamburg has to make up for damage in the cultural sector. By cutting funds the old city government has put the city’s reputation as a place for innovative stage productions and well-financed museums at risk.
Lisbon is getting a much-needed jolt to clean up its act
Stuck in the middle of a recession, Lisbon’s residents may be excused these days for not always having a sunny disposition. Yet, despite a dampened retail scene, locals can still count on great weather. Open-air commerce is on the up, with the continued rollout of traditional kiosks and eateries serving refreshments on esplanades with city views.
However, the bigger buzz is by the river in the Belém district. The Champalimaud Foundation recently unveiled its biomedical centre, while ground is breaking on a contemporary art centre nearby. The city also has plans to introduce hundreds of charging stations for electric vehicles. For sure, locals will be all smiles – currently, 400,000 cars pour in from the suburbs each day spewing smog.
Getting around is still this city’s biggest hindrance to getting ahead
If Montréal consistently ranks high on many quality-of-life listings it is little thanks to the people charged with running it. While the city is justifiably lauded for its cycling infrastructure, and has proved a successful incubator of high-tech and cultural industries, Montréal’s mass transit, roads and bridges are in sore need of an upgrade: the average daily commute in Montréal is 76 minutes.
Fortunately, convivial and cosmopolitan Montréalers still make up the difference. The city hardly lacks for intellectual and creative capital, or the urban stratagems necessary to make it the envy of North America. The city has long been on the cusp of a renaissance; all it needs is a cleaner, less bloated municipal government to help get it there.
One of North America’s bridgeheads for Asia has plenty to offer
It’s water, water everywhere in Seattle — the city is arranged around a striking network of ocean inlets, urban lakes, and busy shipping canals. Fittingly, the US port closest to Asia remains a maritime city. The headquarters for the Alaska fishing fleet lends the waterfront a no-nonsense air, while a major effort to reduce shipping-related carbon emissions points to the future.
Meanwhile, neighbourhoods such as the recently made-over South Lake Union – the first area connected to the centre in a projected citywide streetcar network – are prickling with good restaurants and innovative retail. Politics surrounding other infrastructure projects can be a bit stodgy, but a two-year-old, €1.6bn light-rail system is slated for expansion.