Vienna: Where The Living Is Easy

The Austrian capital tops 214 cities and is ranked #1 for quality of life worldwide

Vienna is the best place to live and work – a stunning finding for some, but no surprise for residents of the Austrian capital, particularly those who have lived elsewhere.

The Mercer 2009 Quality of Living Survey shows that the city of Mozart and the famous Sachertorte has beaten Zurich to take the top spot as the world’s “city with the best quality of living.” Geneva is in third place, while Vancouver and Auckland are now jointly fourth in the rankings.

In general, European cities continue to dominate the top locations in this year’s survey. In the UK, London ranks at 38, while Birmingham and Glasgow are jointly at 56. In the US, the highest ranking entry is Honolulu at position 29. Singapore (26) is the top-scoring Asian city followed by Tokyo at 35. Baghdad, ranking 215, remains at the bottom of the table.

The rankings are based on a point-scoring index, which sees Vienna’s score as 108.6, and Baghdad’s at 14.4. Mercer’s Quality of Living ranking covers 215 cities and is conducted to help governments and major companies place employees on international assignments.

But, for many who live here, it is hardly a wonder that Vienna is now the place that most people would like to call their home. The Austrian government invests millions annually – the construction of a new terminal at the Donauhafen costs €50 million, a total of €72 million with the road repairs and bridge repairs around – on infrastructure of the city. This includes investments for road repairs to ecological projects, to playgrounds, and outdoor entertainment; and what is one of, if not the best public transport network in Europe.

“I think this is one of the best places for kids to grow up,” said Mariana Ianeva who came to Vienna from Bulgaria in 1998. Both of her children were born and are being raised here. “Everything is so well-arranged and simplified; crime is relatively low, it’s green and clean – I love it! I wouldn’t go back to where I come from.”

Vienna’s large and growing immigrant community is one measure of the desirability of living in Vienna. The annual report of StatistikAustria shows that, as in previous years, Vienna continues to dominate as a choice destination for international migration. The federal capital alone accounts for around 40% of all arrivals, and for 44% of the net migration – migrants who report being drawn by the beauty and convenience of the city, and the chance for the a better quality of living.

Spaniard Anna Magerova, chose to trade the warm Malaga beaches for the lively Donauinsel when she came to Vienna six years ago – the island artificially built with the re-dredging of the Danube was completed in 1988 and has become one of the city’s most popular playgrounds.

“I came because I needed a change. Vienna offers so much in terms of culture and experiences – not so big but still so lively and versatile – the belly button of Europe,” Magerova said, laughing.

Still, it seems as though many of the native Viennese don’t really appreciate what their city offers them. At least some, even those who were born and grew up here, don’t really know the city very well.

“You mean there’s horse racing in Vienna?” Vera Mair asked incredulously, as friends made plans to take in a Sunday at the Freudenau Race Track in the Prater. “That sounds really fun. I had no idea!” But she is not the only one.

“Many don’t know its attractions, or the history that adds so many layers to what things mean,” said historian Gregory Weeks, a consultant to the recent exhibit in the Parliament on the history of the Austrian First Republic, and the major 2005 interactive exhibition on the 50th Anniversary of the Austrian State Treaty at the Belvedere. “Austrians especially Viennese are very insular. Although they may travel, they still hold the strong belief that their home region district is the best.”

Even other Austrians find the Viennese attitude surprising.

“Many Viennese have no idea that you can take the underground and go to the Danube,” Stefan Mayrhofer said, a native of Upper Austria who moved to Vienna in September 1993.

“Do I believe Vienna is one of the best places to live? Yes, certainly,” said Mayrhofer, who identifies himself as an inländischer Ausländer – one of Vienna’s many ‘local foreigners.’ “It’s sad, in a way, that the Austrians who come from outside Vienna can appreciate all this, while its native citizens can’t. When I moved here it was awesome – so much to discover, so many free activities. And there still is. One can go anywhere in practically no time. And the cultural exchange is amazing.”

This year’s city-ranking also identifies cities with the best infrastructure, based on electricity supply, water availability, telephone and mail services, public transportation, traffic congestion and the range of international flights from local airports. In this category Vienna scored 18th, after Atlanta and Toronto, while the chart was topped by Singapore, followed by Munich in these categories.

“Infrastructure has a significant effect on the quality of living experienced by expatriates. While often taken for granted when functioning on a high standard, when it is lacking, a city’s infrastructure can generate severe hardship,” commented Slagin Parakati, a senior researcher at Mercer. For all its investment, this may be one area where Vienna can still set higher goals.

Watching her children thrive, Mariana Ianeva is grateful that she and family ended up in Vienna. “The city is surprisingly good for old and young,” she said. “Vienna manages to combine a great standard of living with a wide mixture of culture.

“And if you really want peace and quiet, you can always take refuge in a park.”

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