Oh Vienna! Austria’s liveable capital

To name somewhere the most ‘liveable’ city in the world has always struck me as rather presumptuous, failing, as it does, to take into account personal taste and the priorities of the individual.

What some people call ‘exciting’, others would call ‘an unacceptable risk of being mugged’. What some people call ‘boring’, others would call ‘a perfectly civilised place to live, thank you’.

What makes somewhere liveable very much depends on the person doing the living.

Still, it’s difficult to know what other adjective to pin on a city that outperforms its rivals in the following areas: stability, education, healthcare, infrastructure, and culture and environment.

A city that performs highly in those categories sounds like a good place to live.

So congratulations, Vienna – the most Liveable City in the World! (According to the annual Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) Global Liveability Index). Interestingly, the Austrian capital, which regularly tops a larger ranking of cities by the consulting firm Mercer, was the first European city to top the EIU survey. Melbourne, Australia, had finished in pole position for the previous seven years.

One doesn’t have to look far to find shared ground between a city’s liveability and its ability to attract conference delegates. Crime and security are top priorities for organisers, ditto infrastructure, and a city’s ‘cultural attributes’ tend to feature strongly in the social programme. Higher education matters, too, especially to those cities hoping to attract events aligned to their centres of expertise. A giant of the meetings industry, Vienna scored 100 per cent in all categories, accept culture and environment, where – despite its coffee house culture, the Hofburg Imperial Palace, the Kunsthistorisches, and the ghost of Sigmund Freud – it managed ‘only’  96.3 per cent.

So great places to live often make great place to meet.

On the flip side, it doesn’t seem to take a high degree of notoriety – or you might say ‘unliveability’ – to deter more risk-averse organisers. Just ask San Francisco. According to local media reports, a $40m medical convention recently pulled out of the Californian city because the streets were considered ‘unsafe’ for its delegates – this in a city that rakes in $9bn in tourism receipts every year!

I was in San Francisco a few years ago. While there I was confronted by a man – either high or suffering some kind of psychotic episode – wielding a knife. I saw a homeless person urinating in the street, another arguing with a mannequin in the window of Tiffany’s, and one poor women pitifully counting out marshmellows from a bag onto the pavement in Union Square. It was hard to see such destitution in the wealthiest of American states and in a city famed for its educated citizenry and progressive politics, too. But despite all of this, it is clearly not, by any reasonable measure, an unsafe city or a place congress organisers should avoid. It is a beautiful, quirky, city with many different personalities and I would return in a heartbeat. As for ‘liveability’, it finishes 49th in the EIU’s index – just behind London in 48th spot – so you can make up own mind about that.