Vienna, a City With the Highest Standards of Living 

Yes, there is a way to measure it - many, actually, depending on who is doing the assessment. For many years now, whenever standards of living are measured, Vienna has managed to snag one of the top spots.

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Vienna view of St. Charle's church
Vienna sets the bar across the world as one of the best places to live. Photo: Freesurf / Adobe Stock

Gross domestic product (GDP) is a very dated concept. It may reflect the state of the economy, but living in cities is decidedly not just about the money. When analyzing liveability, one must consider other factors, like the quality of public services, transportation, healthcare, housing availability, and prices. 

Liveability in Vienna

“The Economist,” a British publication with its own analytic Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), each year publishes what it calls the “Global Liveability Ranking.” And in this ranking, Vienna hovered somewhere near the top of the list for years, even snagging the #1 spot worldwide just before the Covid-19 outbreak. That’s saying something because the list covers all the major cities globally, meaning Vienna beat out competitors everywhere, from New Zealand to Canada to East Asia. 

The pandemic disrupted the widely acclaimed ranking. In 2020, the ranking was not published at all due to the pandemic. However, when the list returned in 2021, European cities, in general, fell down the list. For the first time in years, Vienna didn’t make the top 10 (the city ranked in 12th position), with the report citing the pandemic’s burden on the healthcare system and the canceled sports and cultural events. Vienna also implemented periods of curfews, which impacted the city’s “grade.”

Vienna still reigning king at Mercer’s

The other most widely known ranking, Mercer’s Quality of Living by analytic firm Mercer’s, featured Vienna in pole position for ten years in a row. Even though reports have ceased to be issued since the start of the pandemic, in Mercer’s point of view, Vienna is technically still the most liveable city in the world. They grade based on factors such as recreation, housing, availability of goods, the natural and political environment, the socio-cultural environment, as well as health and schooling conditions

These rankings are merely a scientific confirmation of what we already know. Owing to the great tradition of the Empire and its citizens, Vienna grew strong and prosperous over the centuries. (It was one of the homes for Art Nouveau). Then came a “revolution” called Red Vienna, when in 1918, the city was ruled by the Social-Democratic Party of Austria.

Their 16-year rule (somewhat disconnected from the political situation across Austria) ended only in Nazi Germany’s occupation, or Anschluss, as it is called. Red Vienna was strong in affecting what is now called liveability: communal housing, public parks and cityscape, and schooling. To this day, well over half of residential buildings belong to the city and are rented to people with a wide range of social backgrounds.  

This allows the city to defend itself from rent speculation while also controlling city development. That, in turn, has helped the city develop sustainably, with city services growing in coordination with new investments. In the past century, a strong foundation was laid, stabilization is expected, and Vienna will prove to be among the most liveable cities in the world for years to come.  

Przemysław Bociąga

is a Polish journalist and essayist based in Warsaw. An anthropologist and art historian by education, he specializes in combining cultural phenomena with compelling narrative. He has authored and co-authored several books covering lifestyle and history. The most recent of them is “Impeccable. The biography of masculine image”. He has contributed to many leading magazines, both in print and online, and teaches cultural anthropology to college students.

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