Wednesday, November 7, 2007

The Top 10 featured cities (places) in the world

Now more than ever we have unprecedented opportunity to travel and work in foreign countries, particularly if you are skilled in cooking, finance, computing, hospitality, teaching (English), nursing and the trades, as these tend to be the areas in which a global shortages or opportunities exist. Most of the cities I have been to are in Asia. I have not been to the EU or Africa, and just Colombia and Venezuela in South America, so I am no expert, but I thought it useful to capture the knowledge I have and to develop a list of features that I think define an attractive place to live. Having started this process, its not so easy because there are a variety of issues to consider. But let me start simply with the factors I have identified, and I will discuss the complexities later.
The features that I think are important are:

  1. Purchasing power: How much of your income do you spend engaging in normal life activities? If you are spending a lot of your income to live in a box, that’s not good, because you don’t have much left to do other things. Korea or Malaysia is very cheap for transport and food.
  2. Diverse entertainment: Which cities offer a diverse range and quality of entertainment experiences? The bigger cities tend to offer a better range. I like the Philippine most for live entertainment, whilst the Philippines and Japan are good for expat bars.
  3. Diverse cultural experience: What cities offer a diversity and unique cultural experience? Is the country bereft of culinary taste, or has it been morphed by franchises. No where I have been is more interesting than Japan with its petite bars and theme restaurants. It is a big city that attracts people from all around the world.
  4. Values or Interesting people: My experience has been that international and externally-orientated cities offer the best, most engaging and interesting people. For this reason I like Tokyo, Taipei, Bangkok and Manila.
  5. Attractive environment: The climate is a compelling part of what makes an indoors or outdoors culture. We tend to like the freedom to go outdoors so temperate climates have an advantage over cooler climates, as much as we like to retreat to those cosy den-like taverns or karaoke lounges at night. Or is it a fire place? We don’t want too restrictive cold, and too much pollution. I like Sydney, Melbourne, Auckland, Christchurch, Davao (Philippines) and Queenstown. I think Canada, Korea is too cold.
  6. Natural scenic wonders: We like to be around scenic treasures like bars, beaches, restaurants, our workplace, shopping centres. These things are universally valued, and when they become readily accessible by transport, political openness, then they are rapidly re-rated. You can go past Sydney and Brisbane or anywhere in between.
  7. Good access: Its not enough to be a nice place to live, we also want access to a whole range of other things, whether its proximity to skiing, beach resorts, airport, other countries that offer something different.
  8. Politics: You would hope that a city enjoys a high level of liberalism, tolerance to religion, race and political opposition, and that certain values are not imposed, so you have a comfortable time.
  9. Safety: I think you want to feel safe in a certain country. Is there a tolerance of people different or are people repressed by government or social norms.
  10. Progress: Economic growth can be important. You want to live in a country, city or place that is growing, though development poses its own risks or hazards.
  11. Sustainability: Its not enough that a place is attractive, a place has to retain its charm. That requires some level of management and perhaps exclusion. My feeling is that this element is difficult to achieve, and I suggest that it occurs for some other reason. Eg. No jobs, lack of safety or political oppression.

A lot of my analysis has not been strictly systematic because I simply have not been to all cities, so this was more based on my intuition. But I was more interested in defining a set of criteria to consider. There are a number of paradoxes to consider when you perform a survey of such places:

  1. Externalities: The things that make us like a city tend to make them more alluring and ultimately more expensive, and thus unless we progress with them, we are likely to find ourselves priced out of those markets. Consider that real estate becomes phenomenally expensive, the price of beer and cars goes up. We need not be talking just about cities – it might be a place close to a city – that has ‘the best of both worlds’. It might be a place which has historically been a culturally rich nation, that has become a tourist centre, and ultimately an attractive place to live.
  2. Experience: Attitudes on any factor will vary for very subjective reasons. Eg. a Japanese person’s perception of safety will be different from a Caucasian because of life experience. We also tend to value what we know more than what others know and have experienced.
  3. Context: Attitudes on any factor will vary on the basis of context. If you are a foreigner, a city might be very dangerous, but if you’re a local it might be perfectly safe, so we need to discern whom we are voting for. If you are black in Harlem you will be safer than if you were white. Consider that a lot of Japanese feel a lot of social pressure, but foreigners feel tolerated, so that carries its own set of restrictions, eg. difficulty obtaining visa, accommodation, a job, etc.
  4. Relationships: How easy is it for you to establish relationships, and how many do you need. Would you be satisfied meeting a special girl in a bar, or developing intellectual or business relationships.
  5. Proximity: I have focused on the cities, however some would find the margins of cities more compelling than the cities themselves. What if you can live in the mountains, close to shopping malls, just 1hour from Tokyo. Or on the Northern Beaches of Sydney just 45min from Sydney. This offers people the prospect of more.
  6. Money: There is also the point that money will buy you different types of life experience. Eg. I fancy living in a home in Mosman, Sydney because its just across the harbour from the city, but its quiet, surrounded by trees, has great foreshore walking trails and has good facilities nearby.

By the standards above I have come to think that the most attractive cities in the world are:

  1. Prague, Czech Republic: Culture, climate, purchasing power
  2. Fukuoka, Japan: Culture, climate, relaxed, facilities, proximity
  3. Tokyo, Japan: Culture, diversity
  4. Melbourne, Australia: Proximity, climate
  5. Sydney, Australia: Climate, proximity, variety
  6. Small cities, EU: I don’t know where? – there must be a lot of great places in the USA – I need to do more reading
  7. Belfast, Northern Ireland: Culture, people
  8. Seattle, USA: Safety?? People, environment – there must be a lot of great places in the USA – I need to do more reading
  9. Christchurch: Culture, climate proximity
  10. Hanoi, Vietnam: Culture, purchasing power

By no means is this topic finished!