Some thoughts on Monocle’s 2014 Quality of Life Survey

Monocle’s annual Quality of Life survey for 2014 is out, so where is the best place to live in the world?  The survey considers multiple elements and measures, from the directly measurable, such as public transport quality and costs, crime and unemployment  rates, the number of book shops or museums and galleries, or the amount of rubbish recycled, sunshine hours and green space, to some perhaps less tangible, including perceptions of tolerance.  Monocle’s result: Copenhagen is on top (a position it also held in 2013).  Tokyo ranked number 2 (uniquely, Japan actually has three cities in the top ten), and Melbourne is ranked number 3 – another blow to Sydney in the perpetual battle between Australia’s two biggest cities for bragging rights (Sydney ranked number 11).

Many of the cities on the list will not surprise, and perhaps even more interesting, therefore, are the cities we think of as being great places to live that do not make the list.  Truly global cities such as London or New York, for example, do not appear.  In the case of London, Monocle explain that while the city may have nightlife and culture, house prices are increasingly high and issues exist around trust of law enforcement agencies.  Significantly, but not unexpectedly, no cities from Africa or Central and South America are included.  I say not unexpectedly given the parameters considered in this survey.  Brazil, for example, may have cities world-famous for nightlife and a suite of new infrastructure developments associated with the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, but notoriously high crime rates and a less than liberal attitude to same-sex marriage prevent its cities from making the Monocle list.

While I think the survey could gain more credibility by providing more information on methods and metrics, and is quite obviously flawed in a number of ways (the extreme bias of wealthier western-world views is probably the most notable. But let’s be fair, who is the target market of the magazine after all?), I like this survey a lot.  I like it not particularly for the list itself, though this is interesting, but more for the concept.  The Monocle Quality of Life Survey, not unlike similar surveys, encourages me to consider what we value in cities and what actually is important for living quality.  What would make my list, and what elements would contribute to making my number 1?  What places would I exclude, and why?  Would I make similar judgements based on metrics such as crime rates, transport access, or the amount of green space?  Some of these elements are indeed very important to me, but I think my own measurements would be more personal.  My quality of life isn’t just about education, healthcare, crime, sunshine etc… It’s about experience.  It’s about the places of meaning to me as an individual and it’s about the interconnections between these places.  Many of these take time to develop and cannot be measured or mapped on paper easily.  If I think about the continual comparisons in Australia between Melbourne and Sydney (both places I have lived), on paper using Monocle’s metrics I agree and would conclude Melbourne is preferable.  But if I think about it more personally, based on my experiences, my connections to place, and my own inner-felt quality of living, Sydney wins.  We don’t just live in cities statically, we are a part of them, and we develop unique and highly personal relationships with them.  At present, I am in a strong, loving, committed, and enjoyable relationship with Sydney, and that’s something a survey cannot measure.

For the complete list of Monocle’s 25 best places to live in the world, check out this video.

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