The International Herald Tribune reported on the “World’s Most Livable Cities,” yesterday. We were shocked. Our hometown, Baltimore, didn’t make the list. But then, neither did Philadelphia…or New York…or San Francisco. In fact, the only American city to make it into the top 20 was Honolulu.
People who do these rating services tend to have a grudge against automobiles…which puts American cities at a disadvantage. The United States has the best cities in the world – no question – from a car’s point of view.
At the top of the list was Munich…followed by an assortment of the usual European cities. Also among the top 20 were two cities in Australia – Sydney and Melbourne (the home of the Daily Reckoning in Australia)…and two in Canada – Montreal and Vancouver.
Paris, France, from which we are currently estranged, was listed – but not at the top.
What makes a city livable? Some of the things are obvious. You don’t want to worry about getting shot when you walk around. You want to be able to go to nice restaurants. You want things to look nice. And you want a certain amount of convenience.
What dooms American cities is that they tend to be dangerous. We haven’t looked at any figures on the subject in a while, but we’re willing to believe that Baltimore (the headquarters of the Daily Reckoning U.S.A.) is much more dangerous than Geneva. American cities also aren’t very pretty. They have pretty parts to them, but if you look out your car window at any given moment, you’re as likely to see something ugly as something attractive. In a city such as Paris, by contrast, almost anywhere you look, you will see something that is pleasing to look at. Even bad neighborhoods have pretty buildings. Even the people tend to be more attractive in European cities than in the typical burg in the United States. People tell us what a great city New York is. But in our experience, it is rare that you see something fetching in the Big Apple.
As for what you eat, in a big American city, you can get some of the finest food in the world. But in the typical American restaurant, the middle-American chain eateries, the emphasis often seems to be on quantity rather than quality.
It is difficult to generalize about infrastructure; there are so many particularities. Swiss cities tend to be very well organized, small, clean, and efficient. You can get through the Zurich airport, on a train and to the downtown area, for example, in just a few minutes. In Paris, when there is no traffic, connections are easy too. But during rush hour, you can spend a couple of hours stuck in traffic. London, on the other hand, is a sprawling place. Its airports are frequently on the verge of pandemonium. Just yesterday, for example, travelers were warned to expect breakdowns in the airport security and passport control systems this summer…including long waits and long lines.
The Daily Reckoning Australia