This might look like a rather straightforward column published by a powerful global media group, but it’s far more than that. Behind this matte salmon paper and the e-mail address below there’s an elaborate research-cum-call centre that dispenses all kinds of advice on issues ranging from travel itineraries to tailoring services in Tokyo to café tips in emerging neighbourhoods around the world.
While I’m not party to how much revenue is generated on this page by Mr Eyres and me, I’m convinced there’s room to at least double the takings by setting up a concierge service. Given the volume of requests landing in my inbox from late Friday night UK time (when Asia wakes up) through till Monday morning, I reckon that a flat £5 fee for my services could boost the fortunes of the owners of this paper. Of all the requests to hit my screen over the years, relocation advice is the topic that most frequently pops up and was one of the reasons I devoted an entire issue of Monocle to the subject of urban liveability last summer.
There’s nothing quite like a global city ranking that mixes the scientific (hard data on crime, education and healthcare) with the more subjective (quality of housing, urban scale and the availability of a good cocktail in the wee hours) to make people consider uprooting. In Monocle’s 2007 top 20 cities survey, a healthy combination of an exceptional airport, good urban transport links, low crime, inviting neighbourhoods and a heart of Europe location made Munich number one city.
For 2008, the addition of a new set of metrics, including the ease of opening a small business and the number of cultural venues, went some distance towards reshuffling the deck.
It may not come as any surprise that no African or Latin American cities made this year’s top 20 – though a few did qualify for a special urban handicap, a category created for cities that don’t have all the traditional assets that make for better living (honest policemen, efficient hospitals, functioning schools) but are still rather fetching places to have a sprawling apartment.
What is still something of a shock is how many cities still get it so very, very wrong. London doesn’t make the grade for the simple reason that it has somehow managed to grant planning permission to a most uninspired shopping centre in Shepherd’s Bush, an area that is rapidly becoming a part of central London.
Toronto doesn’t qualify because it has allowed its suburbs to become unconnected, ugly sprawls of hideous houses (garages bolted on to the front of houses are far better suited to southern California than to southern Ontario) and has done little of merit to deal with its derelict railway lands. New York continues to grind to a halt under the weight of automobile traffic, has no coherent scheme to get more people on to bicycles and still no sign of a high-speed, non-stop rail link to any of its airports.
What urban dwellers tell me they want is pretty standard: a mix of shops and services within walking distance, a good transport interchange within close proximity, green space as part of their residence, a good park with a body of water for a refreshing plunge nearby, independent businesses as a key feature of the community, a sense of security (police on the beat or a Japanese-style police box in their neighbourhood), excellent coffee (Melbourne’s Fitzroy and St Kilda and Sydney’s Potts Point frequently came up as neighbourhoods that had the ideal mix of restaurants, cafés and street life) and finally a little bit of grit and surprise.
Which brings us to Monocle’s list and its top 20 ranking. This year there are an another five in the mix because there was a constantly nagging question of who almost made the grade. To make the runners-up work that much harder, they’ve been given a place at the lower end of the podium. As a point of diplomacy, it must be noted that everyone who made the ranking is also a winner: there are hundreds of other cities that have zero concept of how to make their citizens happier or even show much interest in trying to learn how.
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