The Best and Worst Places to Live

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Published December 06, 2012

| 24/7 Wall St.

According to a study released this week by global consulting group Mercer, the best U.S. city to live in is Honolulu, Hawaii. However, the study reviews hundreds of cities around the world, and Honolulu ranks worse than 27 other major metropolitan areas. This includes two cities from New Zealand, four from both Canada and Australia, and more than a dozen from European countries like Switzerland and Germany

Mercer’s 2012 Quality of Living Survey looks at the largest cities in the world and takes into account dozens of metrics, including internal stability, law enforcement effectiveness, education, crime levels and the quality of health care in the city. This year, the best city in the world to live in is Vienna, Austria. The worst city to live in is Baghdad, Iraq. Based on Mercer’s report, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the cities with the lowest and highest quality of living.

The cities with the highest quality of living are primarily in wealthy, politically stable, central European countries. Among the 11 with the highest quality of living, three are in Switzerland, three are in Germany, and the highest-ranked city, Vienna, is in Austria. According to Slagin Pakatil, Senior Researcher at Mercer, “Overall, European cities continue to have high quality of living as a result of a combination of increased stability, rising living standards and advanced city infrastructures.”

In addition to being in stable areas, these cities are in countries with wealthy populations. GDP per capita in these countries is among the highest in the world, with none ranking lower than 25th in that category, globally, according to data from the International Monetary Fund. This includes Canada, which has the ninth-highest per capita GDP in the world, Denmark, which has the seventh-highest, and Switzerland, which has the fourth.

One new factor considered by Mercer for this year’s report is the quality of each city’s infrastructure. Included in this analysis is a review of the city’s public transportation, the level of congestion, and the availability of flights to and from the region. The majority of these high-ranking European and Canadian cities perform well in this infrastructure measure. Six of the 11 best cities to live in also rank in the top ten for infrastructure.

On the other side of the list, the majority of the least livable cities are located primarily in Africa, but the list is more geographically diverse than the best-ranked places. War-torn regions like Baghdad and Tbilisi, Georgia, are on the list, as is the earthquake-devastated and extremely impoverished Port-au-prince, Haiti.

Eight of the ten countries on this list are among the worst primarily because they are the most dangerous on earth. The U.S. Department of State has issued travel warnings for many of these countries due to extreme violence, robbery, and the murdering of tourists. Some of these countries are actually on the brink of war or in the midst of one, either with rebel groups or other nations.

The proportion of adults dying before the age of 60 is incredibly high in these countries. In the Central African Republic, where second-worst ranked Bangui is located, nearly every other adult dies before he or she reaches the age of 60.

These places are also extremely impoverished. GDP per capita is among the lowest in the world. The Democratic Republic of Congo, where tenth-worst ranked Kinshasa is located, has the lowest GDP per capita of any country measured by the IMF. In the Central African Republic, more than 30% of residents live on less than $1 per day. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, it is more than 50%.

Based on Mercer’s 2012 Quality of Life index, which reviews 460 of the largest cities on earth based on 36 separate criteria, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the 10 that were rated as having the worst quality of life, and the 11 that were rated as having the best quality of life. For our analysis, we also reviewed the GDP per capita data from the IMF and income and poverty data, infant and adult mortality, which all came from the United Nations. All data are for the most recent available year.

Cities with the best quality of living

11. Sydney, Australia
> Population: 4.42 million
> Infrastructure rank: 8
> National GDP per capita: $66,371 (5th highest)
> Adults dying prematurely: 62 per 1,000 (11th lowest)

Sydney is the largest city in Australia, and is the country’s center for national and international commerce, especially in industries such as banking and technology. The city has an extensive rail network to connect the city center to the suburbs and a public ferry system to get those who live on the harbor into the city. Australia has one of the highest GDPs per capita of any country at $66,371.22 as of 2011, according to the International Monetary Fund, and an unemployment rate just slightly over 5% in 2011, which is among the lower rates in the world.

10. Bern, Switzerland
> Population: 346,000
> Infrastructure rank: 25
> National GDP per capita: $83,073 (4th highest)
> Adults dying prematurely: 58 per 1,000 (3rd lowest)

Bern is the capital of Switzerland — and one of three Swiss cities on this list among the top ten for quality of living. According to Switzerland’s Federal Statistical Office, the city had an unemployment rate of 2.7% last year. Swiss Federal Railways, the national rail system and one of the country’s largest employers, is headquartered in Bern. The city also contains one of the head offices of the Swiss National Bank, Switzerland’s central bank.

Also Read: The 10 Most Expensive Cities to Buy a Home

9. Copenhagen, Denmark
> Population: 1.17 million
> Infrastructure rank: 4
> National GDP per capita: $59,709 (7th highest)
> Adults dying prematurely: 86 per 1,000 (32nd lowest)

More than a quarter of Denmark’s population of 5.5 million lives in the capital city of Copenhagen. The country has the highest score for life satisfaction in the OECD’s 2012 Better Life Index report. In addition, Denmark has an exceptionally high per capita GDP, as well as one of the lowest infant mortality rates in the world. According to Mercer’s 2012 Quality of Life study,Copenhagen has the fourth-best infrastructure of any major global city. This infrastructure rank is based on a set of factors that includes the quality of utilities, public transportation, and traffic congestion. The University of Copenhagen is the largest university in Denmark, and one of the most prominent worldwide, according to U.S. News and World Report.

8. Geneva, Switzerland
> Population: 187,470
> Infrastructure rank: 47
> National GDP per capita: $83,073 (4th highest)
> Adults dying prematurely: 58 per 1,000 (3rd lowest)

Geneva, called “the city of peace”, is home to a many of the world’s largest international organizations. Among the groups headquartered in the city are the World Trade Organization and the International Committee of the Red Cross. The World Health Organization is located on the outskirts of the city. Switzerland is one of the world’s wealthiest countries, with a GDP per capita of over $83,000. Switzerland also has the world’s third-lowest adult mortality rate; 952 of every 1,000 adults aged 15 or older will at least live to the age of 60.

7. Frankfurt, Germany
> Population: 700,259
> Infrastructure rank: 2
> National GDP per capita: $44,111 (18th highest)
> Adults dying prematurely: 76 per 1,000 (23rd lowest)

Frankfurt is Germany’s primary financial hub. It is home to a number of important financial institutions, including Deutsche Bank, the European Central Bank — in charge of monetary policy for the eurozone — and Germany’s largest stock exchange. The city is one of Mercer’s top- ranked for the quality of infrastructure; Frankfurt Airport is one of the world’s largest airports for both passenger and cargo transportation. Frankfurt is one of three German cities with a top ten ranking in Mercer’s Quality of Living Surveyand one of four German cities ranked in Mercer’s top ten for infrastructure quality.

To see the full list of the cities with the best quality of living, please visit 24/7 Wall St.

Cities with the worst quality of living 

10. Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo
> Population: 8.40 million
> Infrastructure rank: 192 (30th lowest)
> National GDP per capita: $217 (the lowest)
> Adults dying prematurely: 387 per 1,000 (20th highest)

Kinshasa is the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, one of the most war-torn regions on earth. Most recently, a rebel group took over several major cities in the DRC, but withdrew after being pressured by the international community. Kinshasa’s most popular radio station — backed by the United Nations — was recently taken off the air by the government for, many believe, giving voice to the rebel groups. The DRC is an extremely impoverished nation — an estimated 53% live on less than $1 per day, the highest rate of any country measured by the United Nations.

9. Nouakchott, Mauritania
> Population: 709,000
> Infrastructure rank: 207 (15th lowest)
> National GDP per capita: $1,185 (36th lowest)
> Adults dying prematurely: 289 per 1,000 (40th highest)

Nouakchott is the capital of Mauritania, where half of the population still depends on agriculture for a living, according to the CIA World Factbook. The country has extensive iron ore deposits, which are its major export. It also has among the most abundant fishing areas in the world, although this resource is predominantly taken advantage of by foreigners. The State Department has issued a travel warning for the country, urging “extreme caution” for those who choose to enter, due to increased activity by Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

Also Read: America’s Most Violent States

8. Tbilisi, Georgia
> Population: 1.12 million
> Infrastructure rank: 201 (21st lowest)
> National GDP per capita: $3,210 (69th lowest)
> Adults dying prematurely: 164 per 1,000 (90th lowest)

Georgia gained international attention in 2008 from its conflict with Russia, after which Russia left military forces in the Georgian territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia,and publicly recognized them as independent countries. The U.S. Department of State currently advises against travel to these areas. In recent years, there have been several terrorist attacks using improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in Georgia, including in Tbilisi. According to the Department of State, “most of these attacks are believed to have originated in the occupied territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.” In September 2010, a bomb exploded outside the U.S. embassy in Tbilisi. In February, a bomb was discovered on a car belonging to an Israeli embassy employee.

7. Brazzaville, Republic of the Congo
> Population: 1.29 million
> Infrastructure rank: 218 (4th lowest)
> National GDP per capita: $3,631 (76th lowest)
> Adults dying prematurely: 365 per 1,000 (26th highest)

The State Department notes that crime in Brazzaville, which includes “armed robberies, vehicle break-ins, mugging, and pick pocketing,” is quite common. Brazzaville is located right across the Congo River from Kinshasa, and violence from both cities sometimes spills over into the neighboring region. Since the Republic of Congo relies heavily on the oil industry, it struggled during the global financial crisis. Its prospects have improved following an increase in oil prices and $1.9 billion in debt forgiveness from the IMF in 2010.

6. Sana’a, Yemen
> Population: 2.23 million
> Infrastructure rank: 219 (3rd lowest)
> National GDP per capita: $1,343 (42nd lowest)
> Adults dying prematurely: 209 per 1,000 (70th highest)

Sana’a is the capital of Yemen, where civil unrest and the presence of terrorist groups have led the U.S. State Department to issue a travel warning to U.S. citizens advising against visiting the country. In September, protesters attacked the U.S. embassy in Sana’a. The country’s Abyan province was controlled by an al-Qaeda affiliated group from February 2011 to June 2012. The group, called Ansar al-Shari’a, was accused by Amnesty International of imposing punishments, including summary killings and amputations, on people it accused of spying, sorcery and theft, among other activities.”

5. Khartoum, Sudan
> Population: 5.02 million
> Infrastructure rank: 210 (12th lowest)
> National GDP per capita: $1,959 (55th lowest)
> Adults dying prematurely: 283 per 1,000 (42nd highest)

Khartoum, the capital and second-largest city in Sudan, has the third-lowest quality of living across Africa. Sudan has been hit incredibly hard by years of civil war, notably in the western region known as Darfur. The State Department currently has a travel warning on the country due to high levels of terrorist activities. Sudan as a whole has been hit hard following the secession of South Sudan in 2011; the region accounts for approximately three-quarters of Sudan’s oil production.

To see the full list of the cities with the worst quality of living, please visit 24/7 Wall St.

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