Best places in the world to live: How does America rate?

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What are the most important considerations when one is choosing a place to live? Obviously, recreation is a consideration, as is safety, but what else goes into the list? Does your ideal area have museums and libraries? Parks and bodies of water? How about diverse ethnic populations and a wide selection of restaurants?

While considerations like a country's level of happiness or its willingness to support slackers certainly have an impact upon its overall desirability, other factors definitely come into play. With this in mind, Mercer Consulting has developed an index that rates the safety and liveability of 215 cities across the world. According to them, the top-ranked city in the world is Zurich, followed by Vienna, Geneva, Vancouver, and Auckland, and the top five safest cities are Luxembourg, Bern, Geneva, Helsinki, and Zurich. The top-ranked city in the United States is Honolulu, which came in at number 28, while New York City came in at 49, behind San Francisco, Boston, Washington, Chicago, and Portland, Ore.

Having been to -- yawn -- Zurich and -- double yawn -- Geneva, as well as several of the other cities that are ranked far ahead of Honolulu, I began to wonder what, exactly, the folks at Mercer were smoking. Not that there's anything wrong with Oslo (24), Stockholm (20), or Copenhagen (11), but putting these cities ahead of every U.S. city seems a little odd. And Zurich! Don't even get me started on the famed "Valium of the Alps!"*

When I read the fine print, I began to understand. Mercer's focus is on how much "hardship pay" the average executive should have to get when he or she gets sent to work in a city. Their primary considerations are internal stability, crime, effectiveness of law enforcement, and relationships with other countries. In that context, it seems pretty clear why the United States is ranking comparatively low in the world and Switzerland is at the top of the heap. It also explains why Nairobi (212), Karachi (213), Kinshasa (214), and Baghdad (215) round out the bottom of the list. Hopefully, with a little more political stability and some improved relationships with other countries, the United States will be able to reclaim its rightful place, directly below Switzerland!


*Actually, nobody calls Zurich "The Valium of the Alps." But they should.

Bruce Watson is a freelance writer, blogger, and all-around cheapskate. Having dragged his butt through some of the seedier parts of Amsterdam (13), he still has to wonder if the Mercer people are on crack.

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