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Living and Working Abroad

Living & working abroad

Thousands of expats, who currently call one of the world’s major cities home, can perhaps be forgiven for feeling a little smug. As well as living in the heart of a vibrant population, they’re probably paying less tax and, depending on their location, can spend weekends on a beach and evenings sipping cocktails, enjoying exciting nightlife. The weather will also, most likely, be better.

But what makes contented urbanites living in the great cities of the world consider their home to be the perfect place to live? A Londoner will wax lyrical about ‘Cool Britannia’ and the thriving arts scene, not forgetting the city’s history and culture; a New Yorker will claim to live in the most fashionable city on earth, and a Parisian will respond with the confidence of someone who knows they reside in one of the most beautiful places created by modern man.

Yet, despite the undisputed ‘greatness’ of these exciting metropolises, not one of them makes it into the recently released Top Ten of the World’s Most Liveable Cities, a survey by the Economist’s Economic Intelligence Unit1. London only makes it to number 53. New York, the Big Apple and the city that never sleeps, comes only 44th and Paris drops from 16th to 32nd due to the number of terrorist attacks in the past year.

World’s most liveable

So which of the globe’s great cities, according to the Economics Intelligence Unit, does deserve the accolade of the world’s most liveable? Melbourne remains the most liveable city for the 6th year in a row, even though the city was considered 200 years ago to be on the edge of the world, an isolated settlement that only really flourished as a direct result of the Victorian Gold Rush of the 1850s.

More than two centuries on and ‘Marvellous Melbourne’ is still flourishing and scored a near perfect 97.5 on the survey’s ratings for stability, healthcare, culture, environment, education and infrastructure. Melbourne is booming and seems to provide the complete package to over four million contented Melbournians who enjoy a fabulous lifestyle in a perfect sun-kissed Down Under metropolis. In fact, the city’s near perfect mix of swim suit and business suit is seeing the number of new residents wanting to call the place home rising by a staggering 1,760 every week2.

Along with its beaches, mountains, booming arts scene, excellent educational establishments and two centuries worth of history, Melbourne has a thriving and diversified economy with particular strengths in finance, manufacturing, research, IT and education. Ten of Australia’s top five corporations have their headquarters in the city, Melbourne has Australia’s largest and busiest seaport and it is the centre of the country’s manufacturing industry.

Melbourne is also a city where people know how to live and how to live well. Often referred to as the ‘cultural capital’ of Australia, everything has its own celebration or festival from food, film, art and music to big name events such as the Australian Grand Prix. While housing can be expensive and entertainment costly, the climate coupled with extensive parkland and excellent public services make Melbourne appealing to many foreign residents.

Location vs. organisation

But this recent survey isn’t just all about who has the cleanest beaches or the most vibrant café culture; the results have serious implications for companies the world over. The survey is often used as a benchmark on which to base expat relocation packages and hardship allowances. In an age of advanced communications and remote working, a city’s rating becomes increasingly important as more and more talented high fliers, with the freedom to work almost anywhere, prioritise location over organisation.

For the first time in history, the world is seeing over 50% of the population living in cities3  and, as the planet is becoming more urban, the key to ensuring our cities are safe, pleasant and inspiring places to live has become increasingly important.

Unfortunately, while Melbourne, Vancouver and the other thriving cities at the top of the list are managing to tick almost all the boxes, there are an alarming number of cities in other continents which have rushed, for what appeared to be good economic reasons at the time, headlong into urbanisation, and who are now paying the price. Many of China’s largest cities suffer from appalling air quality and high population densities. Expat residents of many African states have to be compensated for the lack of healthcare and security and even so-called great European capitals such as London are being marked down for their social unrest and high terror threats. Harare, the lowest-scoring city in the survey scores just 25% for stability and 25% for healthcare, statistics that do little to improve the city’s bleak prospects.

So what exactly does constitute a great place to live in today’s modern world? What are we searching for when it comes to choosing the perfect city in which to base our families and feel happy, secure and content? Charles Landry, an independent consultant and writer, has spent the past 30 years debating just that. His consultancy, Comedia, has worked with regional authorities and planners from Adelaide to Augusta and is the brains behind the reinvention of Glasgow into a City of Culture and the transformation of Calgary from an oil town to a lifestyle destination.

Landry believes that cities are at a crucial stage in their history. The sources of wealth, talent and potential, cities also reflect the worst aspects of modern life in their crime, neglect and excesses. Landry’s theory is simple. He believes that the key to a great city is in creating a place where people want to be, and where they hope to flourish. Aesthetics, culture, opportunities, as well as practicalities such as transport, healthcare and education, are all essential components of the modern urban dream.

His views are echoed by another great force in city regeneration, Danish architect and urban designer Professor Jan Gehl. In a recent Economist conference in London, ‘Creating Tomorrow’s Liveable Cities’, Gehl criticised the development of cities over the past 50 years where all too often economic considerations have taken precedence over the needs of the people. Gehl advocates a simple ‘people first’ approach where good public transport, ample opportunities for walking and cycling, and the creation of attractive inner city lifestyle spaces will all help create an urban environment that is more enticing, healthier, vibrant and, consequently, successful. Put simply by Gehl himself:

“First life, then spaces, then buildings – the other way around never works.”

Melbourne, and indeed most of the cities at the top of the Economist’s liveability list, seem to have put many of these theories into practice with spectacular results.

Melbourne is very much a cycle-friendly city with over 1900 km of bike paths within the city limits4, and it will always be a source of comfort to live in a city like Vienna, where violent crime is scarce5, or Copenhagen where they’ve created 100,000 square metres of car-free streets and squares6. Even remote outposts such as Helsinki seem to have got their house in order with a recent waterfront redevelopment and the total regeneration of the city’s harbours.

An individual’s relationship with, interaction with, and response to their chosen city is a little bit like a marriage. It’s unique, intense and ultimately personal. Some may like the grittiness of downtown LA, while others thrive in the clinical, ordered streets of Singapore.

Population migration is increasingly demonstrating that urban spaces are going to define the future of our planet and while we should celebrate their individuality we also need to ensure that each and every one of them offers both quality of life and quality of place.

Sources:

  1. Worlds’ Most Liveable Cities, Economic Intelligence Unit, August 2016
  2. Domain, 30 March 2016
  3. un.org – ‘World’s population increasingly urban with more than half living in urban areas’, July 2015
  4. Wikipedia.org, “Bike paths in Melbourne” (as of 2014)
  5. osac.gov – Austria 2015 Crime and Safety Report, May 2015
  6.  Wikipedia.org, “Strøget”

Important information

This article has been provided to Lloyds Bank by external/third party contributors and contains their views as of December 2016 and should not be relied upon as fact and could be proved wrong. The information and opinions may not be accurate after this date. The views expressed may not reflect the views of Lloyds Bank plc.

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