And the best city to live in is…

Vienna. Recently a survey by the consultancy firm Mercer declared Vienna the best city to live in. Thirteen of the top 20 cities in which to live and work are in Europe, including Munich, Vienna, Brussels, Frankfurt, Bern, Copenhagen and…Berlin! Not surprisingly Australia, New Zealand and Canada score high.

The bear town keeps her 16th position, ahead of Melbourne, Paris, London, Madrid, Barcelona, but also Hamburg and Stockholm.

Weighted by the cost of living and the vibrancy of cultural life, for us Berlin remains number one, when it comes to quality of life.

Herebelow a FT article gives you an idea of real estate prices in prinzessin Vienna.

Waltz into Vienna

by Eric Frey, Financial Times

Published: May 16 2009

If you want to find out why Vienna was ranked first among world cities in a recent quality-of-life study, there is no better place to start than in the Museumsquartier on an early summer evening. The former imperial stables just outside the old city were converted a decade ago into a centre with three modern art museums, theatres and facilities for artistic groups. Surrounded by a mixture of baroque and modern architecture, hundreds of mostly young people hang out there every night, sipping espresso in one of the many coffee houses or just lounging.

“It’s the ‘bobos’ urban living room”, says the architectural scholar Dietmar Steiner, who operates a small museum of architecture in one of the area’s smaller courtyards.

Indeed, plenty of young “bobos”, or bourgeois bohemians, have settled around the Museumsquartier, where they are within walking distance of the Ringstrasse, the circular boulevard that surrounds the historic Innere Stadt district; the Mariahilfer Strasse, Vienna’s main shopping street; and the Naschmarkt, a crowded but easy-going fruit and vegetable market. Three subway lines and plenty of buses and trams make the lack of parking space bearable.

Also popular – but among young families and middle-aged people – are Vienna’s sixth and seventh districts, Mariahilf and Neubau. Most of the houses were built at the end of the 19th century and feature apartments with large rooms and high ceilings, including some newly renovated lofts with rooftop terraces. What were once somewhat dilapidated neighbourhoods are now some of the city’s top addresses.

Across the board, Vienna’s residential property is still quite affordable compared with other large European cities, says Georg Muzicant of estate agency Colliers International. “People with average incomes can live in walking distance to the centre. In Paris, you would have to move to the suburbs and accept a 40-minute commute every day or pay 10 times as much.”

Most expensive is the Innere Stadt, where most of the important sights are concentrated, and the residential 18th (Währing) and 19th (Döbling) districts. Rooftop lofts in the narrow streets around St Stephen’s Cathedral go for €15,000 per sq metre these days, shockingly high for most Viennese but reasonable in international terms. And in other areas, such as around the Naschmarkt, a high-quality apartment might start as low as €2,500 per sq metre, rising to €5,000 per sq metre. (That said, most residents rent their homes, usually with unlimited contracts.)

In the outer districts, the most coveted neighbourhood is Grinzing, which is famous for its wine houses, or Heurigen, and offers beautiful houses with gardens in the hills amid the vineyards. Apartments cost not much more than central locations although prices for large houses have skyrocketed. “They used to be somewhere between €1m and €2m and now they go up to €3m to €4m,” Muzicant acknowledges.

The survey released by the Mercer consultancy last month cited not just Vienna’s affordability but also its improved political and social environment, its safety record, leisure offerings, cleanliness and excellent infrastructure as reasons for its top quality-of-life ranking, which put it ahead of Zurich, Switzerland, for the first time.

Public schools are good enough that only a few parents send their children to private institutions. And both families and singles rave about the public areas, including the Donaukanal waterfront, which is slowly turning into a gathering place with sand beaches and casual bars; the Prater, a park and forest featuring an old amusement park and plenty of athletic facilities; and Donauinsel, an artificial 21km long island in the the Danube that was built for flood protection but now offers space for jogging, cycling, inline skating and rowing.

Transport is also incredibly efficient. The airport, only a short drive from the city centre, offers a dense network of flight routes to central and eastern Europe. A speed-boat ride to the Slovak capital of Bratislava takes just over an hour. And even those who live in outer neighbourhoods still find it easy to get around by car or public transportation. “It takes only 20 minutes to get from one end of Vienna to the other,” Muzicant says. “The city combines the offerings of a major metropolitan area with the convenience of a much smaller city.”

As the capital of the Hapsburg empire, Vienna was one of the world’s great urban centres until 1918. Today, it has a population of only 1.6m, with 2m living in the metropolitan area. But the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989 moved the city from the fringe into the middle of the continent, boosted business activities, particularly banking, and enhanced the culinary and nightlife options. Vienna’s cultural life, with its museums, opera houses, concert halls, theatres and the laid-back coffee-house atmosphere known as Gemütlichkeit, rivals that of London, Paris and Berlin. And there are none of the safety concerns seen in some other cities.

“[Visitors] can walk at night with all their jewellery and need not fear that somebody will tear it off their body,” says Georg Spiegelfeld, a prominent real estate agent. “Even our president moves around the city without a bodyguard.”

For residents, however, Vienna’s stable and relatively inexpensive property market is just as important. Experts say a clever public housing policy acts as a brake on prices. Most apartments are rent-controlled and the city adds to the supply by subsidising the construction of flats in attractive buildings and decent locations for middle-income families, effectively creating a cap on higher-priced dwellings. Speculators usually stay away from the city’s real estate and the market did not see the boom-and-bust-cycle of places such as Prague and Budapest.

“Owning property in Vienna is really boring but very safe,” Spiegelfeld says.

Verena Wieser, a biochemist, lives with her husband and two small children on a quiet street next to a vineyard area in Grinzing, a 20-minute tram ride into downtown. The area “is special because it kept its village character but is still conveniently close to the city centre”, she says, although “the new residents don’t come here because it is so lovely but for the name and the reputation”.

Others are choosing to live downtown in established areas such as the Museumsquartier, Mariahilf and Neubau as well as up-and-coming neighbourhoods, such as the former Jewish ghetto in the Leopoldstadt, the second district, where gentrification has created a unique ethnic and social mix. “Here we have the kosher bakery next to the kebab stand, a Georgian pub and a horse-meat butcher next to the vegetarian eatery owned by a Green politician,” says Annelie Pichler, a public relations executive who lives next to the Karmelitermarkt, a vegetable market at the heart of Leopoldstadt, a five-minute walk from the city centre along the Donaukanal. “The day I moved here, it felt like home.”

Only recently the neighbourhood was shunned by the well-to-do as low class and seedy but that has changed in the past five years as widespread renovation of older buildings, new restaurants and a new subway line have begun to attract young professionals. Housing and apartment prices are quickly reaching the levels of other districts close to the centre, Muzicant says.

He expects such trends to continue even if the financial crisis slows development in this and other neighbourhoods. Prices still have plenty of room to rise. And, given the pleasures of living in Vienna, they probably will.

1 Response to “And the best city to live in is…”

  1. 1 stripedcat June 18, 2009 at 10:23 pm

    for the ranking we like the most, the Monocle ranking, look on our sister blog

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