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Best Cities: Good is the New Great

By  December 16, 2011

What makes a city great?

Factors like affordability, standard of living, and GDP are typical benchmarks for determining which cities rise above the rest. As far as I can tell, the coolness factor has not been a standard unit of measure when judging a city’s quality of life. But the International Herald Tribune Special Report: Smart Cities (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/18/business/global/hip-cities-that-think-about-how-they-work.html?_r=1&ref=global), published in the New York Times, suggests that there are other criteria to be considered when selecting the world's best cities.

The IHT’s list includes cities that, according to the article, “aim to be both smart and well managed, yet have an undeniably hip vibe.” Factors, like a city’s urban design, political policies, and green initiatives all came into play. The IHT’s list of top ten cities includes (in no particular order):

Auckland, New Zealand
Berlin, Germany
Barcelona, Spain
Cape Town, South Africa
Copenhagen, Denmark
Curitiba, Brazil
Montreal, Canada
Santiago, Chile
Shanghai, China
Vilnius, Lithuania

Some cities on the list will not come as a complete surprise. Auckland, New Zealand for example, with its low crime rate and renowned universities, has a well recognized reputation as a great place to live. But what earns Auckland a spot on IHT’s list is because of its advancements in sustainable housing, its sprawl-reducing density and its free city-wide WiFi.

The appearance of Cape Town or Vilnius, on the other hand, might raise an eye brow or two. Not generally acclaimed, Vilnuis is being recognized for its progressive government and socially responsible actions, including a complete overhaul of its waste disposal system (which totally stunk). A landfill, open to public tours, is now in its place. Cape Town, in addition, is finally being recognized for something other than labels of poverty and crime, which it has been plagued with for decades. Did you know that this city is home to four major universities? Or that it was named the 2014 World Design Capital for its plan to create a neighbourhood of design and creative firms? How about the fact that it is considered to be one of the best cities (if not the best) in Africa in terms of qualify of life.

Whether surprising or not, the other cities on the list are also making positive names for themselves through their interesting and intelligent developments. Barcelona, also offering free Internet, is more importantly being recognized for its green initiatives; including providing charging stations for electric vehicles and installing solar panels on city buildings and resident homes. In Copenhagan, a historical airport has been converted into a public park and highways have been constructed specifically for cyclists. And in Montreal, community gardens are built and shared by residents.

Alright, so public gardens may not make your top five “must-haves” but you have to admit that it’s a pretty cool idea, not to mention überly “green”. After reading the rationales for why the other cities were chosen, it’s apparent that each of them demonstrates a profound investment in the environment, infrastructure, transportation, and art & culture.

So, are North Americans taking these types of factors into consideration when choosing to travel or move to a certain location? Unfortunately I could not find any reputable data that says whether or not bike superhighways and free regional WiFi make the list of important criteria. Nevertheless, it’s nice to see a top 10 cities list where doing good makes them great.

What’s your favourite city and what makes it great?

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Published in Editor's Desk
Jemma Young

communications, events

Originally from a small town in south-eastern Ontario, Jemma has long dreamed to voyage beyond her native environment. Trips to the Dominican Republic and Honduras, where she volunteered at a primary school, allowed her to take her first steps in fulfilling this desire. Voted “Most Likely to be a Journalist” in her high school yearbook, Jemma - unsurprisingly - graduated from Canada’s Capital University with a degree in Communication Studies.

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