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11 Melbourne

The city scores every time for sport and culture. Just pack an umbrella.

Australian rules football is Melbourne’s most dominant cultural force and its mixed fan base is a good snapshot of the city: classy, arty, multicultural, non-classconscious, easy-going and sports-mad.

Melbourne has the scent of continental Europe and Australians love the city for it. The old buildings are beautiful; the new architecture is edgy. Cute cafés erupt from romantic laneways; boulevards are lined with trees.

The Victoria state government has been active for 20 years in getting this city right, but there are still aches. Trains are overcrowded, trams slow and roads blocked. Rents and house prices are rising due to a housing shortage.

Some elements are beyond the planners’ control. “The rainy city” suffers from a ruthless grey which can drape the city for weeks. The natural beauty is limited: the beaches are uninspiring and the Yarra River is… brown.

Population: 3.6 million.

International flights: 20 airlines serve over 40 international destinations.

Crime: murders, 31; domestic break-ins, 5,608 (inner Melbourne, 2005-2006).

Medical care: high-end private care costly but excellent. Public system patchy.

Sunshine: annual average, 2,200 hours.

Wired: despite a number of players in the market, mobile phone plans are expensive.

Tolerance: multiculturalism is a source of pride and the city is considered gay-friendly.

Public transport: the transport system is struggling: trains overcrowded, trams slow.

Local media: three daily newspapers, three commercial TV networks and two government broadcasters.

Environmental initiatives: the city has turned off and drained fountains in parks to save water and raise awareness.

12 Montréal

A laid-back bilingual city where the good life comes at a bargain price.

Call it Gallic insouciance or separatist stubbornness, but Montréal, Canada’s second-largest city, throws French flair and style at North America’s utilitarian urbanity. Its boulevards are lined with cafés, bars and quirky boutiques.

New designer lofts keep sprouting up right next to 18th-century stone houses in the Old Town neighbourhood. With more than 100,000 students, Montréal is both laid-back and full of a youthful vigour for the things which its inhabitants find truly interesting – such as Québécois music, French-language films and plenty of fashion designers.

Two of Montréal’s most successful commercial exports are Cirque de Soleil and Bombardier aircraft and trains. Lately, a handful of international video-game developers have opened here.

Life in the city by the St Lawrence is amazingly affordable. The average home is in the €165,000 range.

Population: 1.9 million.

International flights: Montréal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport offers direct flights to all major US cities, plus 242 weekly flights to 48 destinations in Europe, Africa and Latin America.

Crime: murders, 48; domestic break-ins, 14,450 (2005).

State education: four major universities, two anglophone and two francophone.

Temperatures: in January the average temperature is -11C.

Tolerance: melting pot of French and English speakers. The first province to recognise same-sex marriage.

Drinking and shopping: nightlife continues until 04.00. Plenty of late-night stores.

Environmental initiatives: congestion charging is being considered. By January 2008, 60 per cent of the municipality’s waste has to be diverted from landfills.

13 Barcelona

Cradled by the sea and mountains and rocked by crime and grime.

A report by the Catalan government in May said the city was losing its competitive edge in international eyes – lack of business infrastructure, inability to speak English and a dearth of major companies were blamed. The writing was on the wall: a smugness had crept in after years glorying in the creations of the godfather of modernism, Antoni Gaudí, a reputation for avant-garde fashion and theatre plus the heady mix of beach and mountains which cradle the city. But already it has woken up with three major developments in the Sagrera area, where the AVE bullet train from Madrid arrives later this year, and two business parks.

Barcelona is on the move in other directions, with a cosmopolitan mix of Europeans, Latin Americans and Moroccans. Famously liberal, the city is taking to the new arrivals with ease.

The airport is going through a major expansion phase.

Population: 1.67 million.

International flights: Barcelona Airport has 2,800 international flights to 150 destinations each week.

Crime: murders and manslaughter, 176; all robberies, 6,839 (2006).

State education: 30 per cent of 16-year-olds did not pass basic exams last year.

Medical care: average waiting time for operations is eight months but Catalonia, of which Barcelona is the capital, has the most hospital beds in Spain.

Wired: few Wi-Fi points. Broadband use widespread but not cheap. Mobile coverage: 100 per cent.

Tolerance: high number of gay residents. Generally racially tolerant.

Environmental initiatives: in 2000, became the first European city to require the use of solar thermal power in new and rehabilitated buildings.

14 Kyoto

Low-rise, high style: the city mixes the best of modernity and tradition.

Kyoto’s modern exterior belies its position as Japan’s most traditional and most genteel city. The one-time capital of Japan – which was spared the wartime bombing that flattened almost every other city in the country – has long attracted discerning residents.

“Tradition is part of daily life in Kyoto,” says Takaya Imamura, editor, translator and Kyoto native, “and the city is blessed by nature.”

Kyoto citizens claim to have the best food in Japan. Surrounded by mountains on three sides, it has an airy, low-rise openness which other cities envy. Kyoto wears its 1,200-year history with style. Centuries-old temples, stores and historic workshops sit alongside design shops and fashion boutiques; traditional wooden houses have been converted into bars, and in summer the Japanese restaurants that line the Kamo River open up their terraces.

Population: 1.5 million.

International flights: Kansai is little over an hour away and offers long-haul services to Paris, London, Frankfurt and Helsinki.

Crime: murders, 33; domestic break-ins, 2,031 (Kyoto prefecture, 2005).

Medical care: universal health care.

Sunshine: 1,780, annual average.

Temperatures: in January the average temperature is 3.9C, in July 27.6C

Tolerance: little racial diversity, beyond visiting students, teachers and academics.

Greenspace: just 4 per cent – but has the finest temple gardens in Japan.

Environmental initiatives: Kyoto is home to the Kyoto Protocol, so environmental issues loom large. Kyoto published a “Rubbish Reducing Dictionary for 2006,” which lists 786 kinds of rubbish in alphabetical order to teach how to separate and discard.

15 Vancouver

Well-connected and wealthy, just make sure you like talking sport.

Vancouverites are counting the seconds until 2010, when the world’s attention will shift to this port city, which will host the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. With construction cranes blocking the city’s mountainous backdrop, Vancouver is experiencing a boom.

Only 38km from the US border, it has more high-tech workers than Seattle, and creative professionals make up a third of the workforce. Its film industry has earned Vancouver the nickname of Hollywood North. A gateway to the Pacific Rim, the award-winning Vancouver International Airport is the closest major North American airport to Asia. A new rapid-transit line will link the downtown core with the airport by 2009.

As one of the warmest cities in Canada, Vancouver encourages its citizens to have an active lifestyle. It’s possible to go on a world-class ski run, hike and sail all on the same day.

Population: 2 million.

International flights: there are 872 international flights each week: 128 to Asia, 10 to the South Pacific, 81 to Europe, 13 to Latin America and 640 to the US.

Crime: murders, 62; break-ins, 6,950; heroin and cocaine is a problem and the number of property crimes, petty theft and car break-ins has risen dramatically.

Medical care: 53 per cent of Canadians favour contracting out – allowing Medicare to pick up the tab for routine surgeries in private clinics – to deal with the painstakingly slow public system.

Drinking and shopping: provincial law enforces a last orders of 02.00. Smoking is banned in bars and restaurants.

Sustainability: the founding city of Greenpeace International, Vancouver is on the forefront of global sustainability issues. The city has also upgraded its own facilities to improve energy efficiency.

16 Auckland

Great setting, Polynesian culture and an improved transport system.

Auckland caught the world’s eye as the new century dawned and a flotilla of yachts arrived in town to compete for the America’s Cup. Sailing’s Formula One event was planned down to the last detail – but no one manufactured the Kiwi magic at the Viaduct, the down-at-heel fishing port transformed by developers into a sophisticated bar and marine precinct. Auckland’s open and inclusive atmosphere that summer was a revelation to those whose ideas about New Zealand began and ended with sheep-farming and sportsmen in black shirts.

Auckland is only just getting to know itself, if truth be known. Its people don’t look like they looked 20 years ago. One in three is now born overseas. Rugby Union is still the official religion but these days arts festivals also draw the crowds, urban planning debates raise as much heat as the offside rule and good coffee is as easy to find as good beer.

Population: 1.4 million.

International flights: airport serves 37 international destinations and handles an average of 106 international flights a day.

Crime: murders, 38; all theft, 23,914 (2006).

Sunshine: annual average, 2,050 hours.

Wired: wireless technology is fairly widespread, with hotspots throughout Auckland. Mobile phone coverage is generally good.

Public transport: bus and train services were limited and unreliable but are improving. Locals rely heavily on their cars. Traffic jams common. Taxis expensive.

Local media: very limited when it comes to dailies, the city is better served by radio and magazines.

Access to nature: Auckland’s landscape wraps around two large harbours, nearly 50 extinct volcanic cones, bush-clad ranges, fertile plains and 2,000km of coastline.

17 Singapore

It’s still conservative but this city state is enjoying a cultural boom.

Today’s Singapore bears little resemblance to the city of just 10 years ago. The landscape is blossoming, with talented local architects making their mark alongside international stars such as Toyo Ito, Moshe Safdie and Kohn Pedersen Fox; and the arts scene has seen a flowering of museums, performing arts venues and galleries.

Much of this is the work of native Singaporeans who studied and worked abroad – in London, Tokyo, Vancouver, Sydney – and, for professional or personal reasons, have now come home.

The city now has a First World standard of living that is, save for exorbitant prices for cars and land, extremely affordable. It boasts one of the highest literacy rates in the world. Its communication, health, public housing and transportation systems are first-rate and the regulatory and financial systems are transparent and efficient.

Population: 4.48 million.

International flights: Singapore’s Changi Airport is served by 80 airlines with over 4,000 flights a week to 180 cities in 57 countries.

Crime: murders, 17 (2006, all solved); domestic break-ins, 1,123.

Sunshine: annual average, 2,034 hours.

Temperatures: the average temperature rarely fluctuates from the 30C mark with slight dips during the monsoons from late November to January.

Wired: it’s near impossible to find a place in Singapore that’s not wired. Mobile coverage is excellent, even on the underground.

Tolerance: a policy of social and racial integration has resulted in a society that’s remarkably harmonious. Gay sex remains a crime but the government adopts a cautious turn-a-blind-eye approach.

18 Hamburg

The ship’s come in for this port city with ambitous growth plans.

With a conservative but gay mayor, a booming economy, a thriving pop scene and plans for major urban expansion, Hamburg’s claim to be a model 21st-century metropolis seems well-deserved.

The city is undergoing a face-lift to pull in investors and attract talent. “We have to hold our own in a competitive environment that’s becoming increasingly international,” says Axel Gadaschko, the city’s director for urban planning.

HafenCity, Hamburg’s version of London’s Docklands, is Europe’s biggest urban renewal project and will expand the city’s space by an estimated 40 per cent, with a new opera house and 5,500 apartments, creating 40,000 jobs. A new metro line will link HafenCity with central Hamburg.

Hamburg is Germany’s start-up capital, with an evolving service-oriented economy, a design centre and the nucleus of a booming music scene.

Population: 1.74 million.

International flights: there are on average 1,715 international flights a week to 120 international destinations.

Crime: murders, 18; domestic break-ins, 4,733.

Sunshine: annual average, 1,647 hours.

Public transport: public transport is reliable and extensive. You can get the tram schedule sent to your mobile phone and can also pay with your phone. Trains and buses are reliable and well-lit.

**Local media: Hamburg has 17,000 media companies that employ roughly 130,000 people. It is the home to the most important German news magazines such as Der Spiegel, Stern and weekly paper Die Zeit.

Environmental initiatives: with projects such as HafenCity and Wilhelmsburg, Hamburg is supporting energy efficient architecture. It also provides grants to encourage the use of renewable energy.

19 Paris

It rains, dogs foul the street, there’s little green space but the city works.

Here’s a brain-teaser for urban trivia buffs: what’s the greatest distance you can be in Paris from a metro station, a pharmacy or a bakery? Part of the answer is enshrined in urban lore: a pedestrian anywhere inside Paris’s “75” postal code is never more than 500 metres from one of the capital’s 297 metro stations.

But factor in the 1,280 bakeries, and the flashing green crosses of at least as many pharmacies, and the conundrum becomes all but uncrackable. Europe’s densest capital is among its least verdant. It is also the third most expensive place to buy property. Meanwhile, 70 per cent of Parisians in a recent survey suggested Paris is going to the dogs – literally. The city’s prolific pooches deposit 16 tonnes of “canine dejections” on the streets every day. City Hall is urging pet-owners to do the once-unthinkable: pick it up. It’s a battle for nothing less than the city’s soles.

Population: 2.15 million (12 million in the metropolitan area).

International flights: there are 1,045 flights a day from Paris’s international hubs – Roissy-Charles de Gaulle and Orly. In total, 534 cities are served in 131 countries.

Crime: murders, 18; domestic break-ins, 10,370.

Medical care: according to a recent WHO ranking, France offers the best over-all health care on the planet – for free.

Sunshine: annual average, 1,829 hours.

Tolerance: better than much of France, yet still 4.6 per cent of Parisians voted for the far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen in the first round of presidential elections.

Public transport: the slick and efficient Paris metro will whisk you across the capital for €1.40 a journey.

Green space: paucity of park space means Parisians crave greening schemes.

20 Geneva

It may have a Latin beat but what really makes Geneva tick is cash.

In every detail except efficiency, Geneva has a distinctly Latin feel, and its internationalism and savoir-vivre challenges that of equally finance-driven Zürich. The city is often referred to as the “21st arrondissement”, highlighting its cultural ties with Paris (though it’s rather uptight).

The city’s cosmopolitanism has a great deal to do with the Palais des Nations, the largest United Nations office outside New York. The city also holds the international headquarters of the Red Cross and the World Health Organisation. In fact, from apartment costs to bistro bills, the city’s life sometimes seems dominated by OPM (Other People’s Money) – an abundance of high-end offerings at equally high prices which are tolerated because they are paid by people on expense accounts.

The Alps lie just across Lac Leman or the French border, making Geneva a paradise for the well-heeled athlete.

Population: 185,000.

International flights: 109 destinations served by international direct flights.

Crime: murders, 7; domestic break-ins 3,018.

State education: wealthy tend to send children to private schools. State schools in need of overhaul due to falling competence of graduates.

Medical care: public hospital quality very high, but often crowded. Private clinics draw international patients and local elite.

Sunshine: annual average, 2,100 hours.

Wired: strong mobile coverage, many Wi-Fi points in hotels, cafés and restaurants.

Tolerance: truly cosmopolitan, albeit with some issues over Muslim population.

Drinking and shopping: early to bed – ie, terrible nightlife.

Green space: 20 per cent of city’s area.

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