The World’s Most and Least Livable Cities


By Michael B. Sauter, Samuel Weigley and Alexander E.M. Hess

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.”

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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.

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The Cities with the Best Quality of Living

5. Vancouver, Canada

  • Population: 2.20 million
  • Infrastructure rank: 9
  • National GDP per capita: $50,496 (9th highest)
  • Adults dying prematurely: 70 per 1,000 (18th lowest)

According to Mercer, Vancouver has the highest quality of life in North America, as well as the top-rated infrastructure of any city on the continent. In 2010 the city hosted the Winter Olympics. Before the games, the city added 180 new hybrid buses and 48 new light rail cars to its transportation infrastructure. Vancouver is also committed to becoming “the greenest city in the world” by 2020. The program designed to meet this goal involves reducing waste sent to landfills and incinerators by 50%, and reducing the city’s ecological footprint by 33%. In addition to Vancouver, the Canadian cities of Ottawa, Toronto and Montreal were rated by Mercer as having a better quality of life than every city in the U.S.

4. Munich, Germany

  • Population: 1.35 million
  • Infrastructure rank: 2
  • National GDP per capita: $44,111 (18th highest)
  • Adults dying prematurely: 76 per 1,000 (23rd lowest)

Munich is the capital city of Bavaria, a state in southeastern Germany, where most residents still live in small towns. The city is well-known for its beer, as well as for its annual fall festival — Oktoberfest. The city is also a frequent host to major sports events, including the 1972 Olympics and parts of the 2006 FIFA World Cup. Two of Germany’s largest and most well-known companies — BMW and Siemens — are headquartered in Munich. It is also home to the Technical University of Munich, one of Germany’s best universities, according to U.S. News and World Report.

3. Auckland, New Zealand

  • Population: 1.36 million
  • Infrastructure rank: 43
  • National GDP per capita: $35.973 (25th highest)
  • Adults dying prematurely: 72 per 1,000 (19th lowest)

Auckland is New Zealand’s most populous city and its busiest transportation hub. It is also the country’s largest port, exporting metals and farm goods and importing petroleum and other commodities. The city is currently planning an innovation precinct, an area the project’s planner, Waterfront Auckland describes as being “where a cluster of companies … will accelerate the growth of high-tech ideas into commercial success.” Despite its size, New Zealand was ranked one of the world’s more competitive economies in the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness report. GDP per capita in 2011 was $35,973, which is among the top 25 countries in the world. The U.S. State Department notes that the crime rate is low and has been decreasing recently.

2. Zurich, Switzerland

  • Population: 1.14 million
  • Infrastructure rank: 24
  • National GDP per capita: $83,073 (4th highest)
  • Adults dying prematurely: 58 per 1,000 (3rd lowest)

Zurich is the largest city in Switzerland, with a population of 368,677 as of 2010. It is also generally regarded as the financial and industrial center of the country. Zurich is home to two prominent global financial institutions: Credit Suisse and UBS. In addition, “Science City,” a think-tank facility constructed by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, has cemented the city’s reputation as a haven for innovation and research. The city has also developed an art scene in recent years, with the city’s Raemistrasse district known as “Art Mile.”

1. Vienna, Austria

  • Population: 1.69 million
  • Infrastructure rank: 16
  • National GDP per capita: $49.688 (11th highest)
  • Adults dying prematurely: 76 per 1,000 (23rd lowest)

Vienna, the capital of Austria and its largest city, has the world’s highest quality of living, according to Mercer. The city is a popular tourist destination, with St. Stephen’s Cathedral and the Imperial Palace among the most popular sites. Vienna is also the main hub for Austria’s economy — one of the world’s strongest, with a GDP per capita of $49,688 in 2011, slightly higher than the U.S. figure of $48,328. Last year, Austria had the lowest unemployment rate in the Eurozone, at 4.2% according to the IMF.

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The Cities with the Worst Quality of Living

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.

4. N’Djamena, Chad

  • Population: 808,000
  • Infrastructure rank: 208 (14th lowest)
  • National GDP per capita: $892 (31st lowest)
  • Adults dying prematurely: 397 per 1,000 (19th highest)

With an estimated population of 808,000, N’Djamena is the capital of the central African nation of Chad. Two weeks ago, the U.S. Department of State issued a travel warning to Americans looking to visit the country. The warning explained that while security has slowly improved in the country, its relationship with neighboring Sudan is volatile and could quickly take a turn for the worse. Incidents of gunpoint carjacking, robbery and murder have been reported. More than one in four residents in Chad live on less than $1 per day, and the country has the sixth-highest infant mortality rate of any nation.

3. Port-au-Prince, Haiti

  • Population: 2.14 million
  • Infrastructure rank: 221 (the lowest)
  • National GDP per capita: $738 (23rd lowest)
  • Adults dying prematurely: 251 per 1,000 (53rd highest)

Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti, has the lowest quality of life among all cities located in the western hemisphere. The city, along with the rest of Haiti, was devastated in early 2010 by a 7.0 magnitude earthquake. At least 230,000 people died, while another 300,000 were injured, although exact figures remain unavailable. The earthquake resulted in about $7.8 billion worth of damage. Despite all this, Port-au-Prince has some tourist destinations, which the government has touted to help it rebuild the country.

2. Bangui, Central African Republic

  • Population: 702,000
  • Infrastructure rank: 213 (9th lowest)
  • National GDP per capita: $463 (8th lowest)
  • Adults dying prematurely: 464 per 1,000 (9th highest)

Bangui is located in the Central African Republic, a country for which the State Department has issued a travel warning. Americans who do go to there are discouraged from leaving the city. According to the CIA World Factbook, “the government still does not fully control the countryside, where pockets of lawlessness persist.” Additionally, the Lord’s Resistance Army, an international terrorist group known for the use of child soldiers, is also active in the country. In Bengui, violent crime rates are “elevated,” according to the State Department, while “military and civilian security forces (and people posing as such) staff checkpoints throughout the city, frequently harassing residents and international visitors for bribes.”

1. Baghdad, Iraq

  • Population: 5.75 million
  • Infrastructure rank: 220 (2nd lowest)
  • National GDP per capita: $3,478 (73rd lowest)
  • Adults dying prematurely: 222 per 1,000 (63rd highest)

Baghdad, along with other parts of Iraq, was significantly damaged by air strikes during both the Persian Gulf War of 1990-1991 and the Iraq War, which began in 2003. Much of the Iraqi population still lacks adequate drinking water and the country’s sewage system is in poor condition. Although Iraq is a long way from recovery, the CIA World Factbook notes that “an improving security environment and foreign investment” have helped spur economic activities in sectors such as energy, construction and retail. Government revenue has also benefited from rising oil prices.

Click here 2/7 Wall St.’s full list of Best Places to Live and here to see the full list of Worst Places to Live.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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