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To flesh out the rankings, I spoke with Merrill Pond, vice president at the Partnership for New York City and the chief architect of the mammoth report, on what makes a city successful; how San Francisco and Toronto shocked the researchers, and whether a partnership representing 200 largeNYC companies can be objective about ranking their hometown the best city in the world.
What's the overall lesson of this report?
A great city is all about growing, retaining and attracting talent. Whether it's Stockholm with its strong education system or Toronto benefiting from its smart immigration policies, getting and keeping talent matters.
What city surprised you the most?
San Francisco. This is San Francisco's first year in the study and it finished third overall, beating London, Paris, Sydney and Tokyo. San Francisco is known as having more progressive social policies like paid sick leave, but it really held its own as a business center that attracts entrepreneurs.
How did the project start?
After 9/11, there were a number of studies that came out showing that Kansas City was the best city to go for business. We thought, "Okay, Kansas City is cheap, but more companies are putting up with high costs in big cities like London and New York." So we partnered with PWC to see what variables were really attractive in a city.
Cities are complex and "opportunity" is difficult to define. What exactly are you measuring?
We're measuring what makes a city successful. Success as we define it cuts across business opportunity, cultural opportunity, and education opportunity. We use ten indicators [including Transportation and Infrastructure, Intellectual Capital and Innovation, and Lifestyle Assets], each made up of smaller variables [within Lifestyle Assets: share of green space, skyline impact, hotel rooms].
What has changed in the report over time?
1 :: NEW YORK
Best : #1 in cultural vibrancy, research universities, work flexibility, commercial and cargo aircraft, and sports and leisure, #2 in entrepreneurial environment and international tourists
Worst : Third last in commute time
Details: New York has it all: hard work with work flexibility, high culture with a crop of major sports teams, today's leading academics and tomorrow's best business ideas.
2 :: TORONTO
Best : #1 in quality of living, clean air, business trip index, skyscraper construction, and sports and leisure, #2 in entrepreneurial environment
Worst : Third last in cost of public transportation
Details: Toronto is a "beta" city, the authors say, because it's not considered a part of the conversation with London, Paris, and New York for greatest city in the world. But it has all the building blocks of a superlative international city, beginning with smart ideas about sustainability and innovation.
3 :: SAN FRANCISCO
Best : #1 in percent of population with higher education, work flexibility, and sports and leisure activities, #2 in entrepreneurial environment and life satisfaction
Worst : Last in attracting foreign capital
Details: Research team leader Merrill Pond explains: "This is San Francisco's first year in the study and it finished third overall. San Francisco is known as having more progressive social policies like paid sick leave, but it really held its own as a business center."
4 :: STOCKHOLM
Best : #1 in clean air, digital economy activity, entrepreneurial environment, green space, intellectual property protection, Internet access, R&D spending, political stability, and traffic congestion, #2 in broadband quality, business trip index, libraries with public access, life satisfaction, literacy,
Worst : Last in skyline impact.
Details: With less than a million people, Stockholm is one of the smallest cities on this list. But as you can see in the "Best" category, it's competitive in just about every category. Any weak spots? Well, taxes are high, work flexibility is low, and the cost of starting and running a business is daunting enough that this impressive city is still lagging behind in foreign investment.
5 :: SYDNEY
Best : #1 in sports and leisure activities, city carbon footprint, ease of starting a business, housing (availability, cost, diversity, quality), libraries with public access, literacy, and purchasing power, #2 in end-of-life care and life satisfaction
Worst : Last in cost of public transportation
Details: What makes Sydney special? It's the only city in the survey to finish in the top five in ease of doing business, livability, health and safety. More than sun and surf, it's consistently called the best place to start a business by international surveys.
6 :: LONDON
Best : #1 in sports and leisure activities, international tourists, end-of-life care and financial/business employment, #2 in attracting job-creating foreign investment, cultural vibrancy, research from top universities, and strength of currency
Worst : Second to last in commute time, cost of commute, cost of owning space for business, and working age population
Details: In 2007, the authors point out, New York and London were in a "death match" for the world's greatest city. When the market crashed, however, London's high costs became an anchor tugging its recovery. Now the UK is edging into a second recession, and London isn't showing the vibrancy it did in the middle of last decade.
7 :: CHICAGO
Best : #1 in sports and leisure activities, work flexibility, and hospitals, #2 in life satisfaction, entrepreneurial activity, and digital economy activity
Worst : In the bottom five in foreign capital investment, tourism, and foreign embassies
Details: The Second City ranks third among American metros in this list. You can't fault its lifestyle categories, which are on par with every other city in the report. No, the problem with Chicago is that it's an international city, and a great city, but not yet a great international city. It doesn't attract much international attention compared to its brethren, from either foreign families or investors.
8 :: PARIS
Best : #1 in foreign embassies, sports and leisure activities and mass transit coverage, #2 in population with higher education, #3 in intellectual property protection
Worst : Last in rigidity of work schedule and second to last in total tax rate
Details: Paris continues to lead the world in quality of infrastructure, transportation, lifestyle assets and economic reputation, but it falls behind in sustainability and ease of doing business. The report identifies a risk that, if you discount infrastructure, Paris is resting on its laurels rather than building the foundation for a dynamic 21st century economy.
9 :: SINGAPORE
Best : #1 in traffic congestion, math/science attainment skills, housing, ease of hiring, crime rates, stable business environment
Worst : Last in renewable energy consumption
Details: After Hong Kong, Singapore is the easiest place to do business and one of the best places to be an entrepreneur. Singapore's health care and education systems are the envy of policy wonks for combining market principles with effective regulation and organization.
10 :: HONG KONG
Best : #1 in skyline impact, inflation, flexibility of visa travel, ease of hiring, crime rates
Worst : Last in cost of business space, third to last in cost of living, fourth to last in density of hospitals
Details: The Heritage Foundation recently named Hong Kong the freest economy in the world, thanks to low inflation, low taxes and lax regulation. PWC and the Partnership for New York City agreed, naming it the easiest place to do business among the 26 global metros they studied.
11 :: HOUSTON
Best : #2 in cost of owning business space, entrepreneurial environment and life satisfaction, #3 in commute time and cost of living
Worst : Last in foreign job-creating investment and international tourists
Details: Houstonians love Houston. So do US business owners. The rest of the world ... not so much. With lax zoning laws and plentiful space, Houston's low cost of living and doing business is a dream for American businesses and middle class workers, but the rest of the world pretends as though the city doesn't exist. The city has fewer international tourists than any other comparable global city.
12 :: LOS ANGELES
Best : #1 sports and leisure activities and flexibility of work hours, #2 digital economy activity and entrepreneurial energy
Worst : Third to last in natural disaster risk, licensed taxis and foreign investment
Details: Los Angeles ranks in the bottom ten in transportation and infrastructure (as anybody without access to a car in LA can affirm), but the report calls LA "surprisingly affordable to do business," finishing second in the broad category of business costs after Houston.
13 :: BERLIN
Best : #1 in commute time, #2 in traffic congestion, #3 in carbon footprint
Worst : Third to last in working age population (suggesting an older society) and rigidity of hours
Details: Berlin's emergence in the last ten years as a leading business center of Europe was the result of smart planning, according to Rene Gurka, managing director of Berlin Partner. An emphasis on clean tech and bioscience has helped the city grow its economy without growing its carbon footprint.
14 :: TOKYO
Best : #1 in software/multimedia development design, number of Global 500 company headquarters, and health system performance, #2 in R&D spending
Worst : Last in safety from natural disasters and cost of living
Details: Tokyo's entrepreneurial scene is ranked 14th, a lackluster performance considering it's a world leader in corporate headquarters, tech design and R&D spending. What gives? Blame Tokyo's cost of living, the highest in the survey, which might be discouraging young people from taking risks.
15 :: MADRID
Best : #2 in financial and business services employment, #3 in airport access
Worst : Second to last in ease of hiring and starting a business
Details: Madrid is one of only three cities ranked in the top five in both infrastructure and economic clout. But it suffers from high joblessness that's exacerbated by Spain's employment laws.
16 :: SEOUL
Best : #1 in recycled waste and broadband quality, #3 in software and multimedia development and math/science achievement
Worst : Last in strength of currency
Details: Seoul is the glittering tech gem of the East and it leads all cities except New York in technological advancement. But the city lags in cultural and lifestyle categories measured by PWC.
17 :: BEIJING
Best : #1 in hotel rooms and airport access, #2 in affordable public transport, #4 in foreign attracting capital for green investment
Worst : Last in libraries with public access, second to last in carbon footprint and traffic congestion
Details: Beijing's attempt to woo international investors is clear, with its world-leading hotel room availability, airport access and foreign investment. No major city added jobs at the same rate as Beijing during the recession, which is why Brookings named it the world's highest performing city during the downturn, and the fourth most dynamic city in the decade before the Great Recession.
18 :: ABU DHABI
Best : #1 in crime rate and ease of hiring, #2 in air pollution, commute time, licensed taxis, and hospitals per capita
Worst : Last in city carbon footprint, level of shareholder protection, R&D spending, and recycled waste
Details: Abu Dhabi is an enigma, an uber-capitalist haven that's grown fast in some areas and lags in others. It's business friendly but financially unsteady. It's got more hospitals per capita than San Francisco or Stockholm, but it's got practically no research and development spending.
19 :: SHANGHAI
Best : #1 in attracting foreign capital investment and job-creating projects, #4 in skyline impact
Worst : Third from the bottom in literacy, enrollment, classroom size, and ease of obtaining a visa
Details: It's the financial capital of the world's most exciting economy, but Shanghai scores at the very bottom of the broader category Ease of Doing Business, which includes ease of starting a business, hiring and firing.
20 :: MEXICO CITY
Best : #1 in cost of living, cost of public transport, and licensed taxis, #2 in skyscraper construction activity
Worst : Last in air pollution, second to last in purchasing power and R&D spending
Details: The city proper is as large as New York City and has even more licensed taxis, but Mexico City is famously one of the dirtiest developed metros in the world. That's why Mayor Marcelo Ebrand launched a 15-year Green Plan punctuated with a new rapid bus transit system, which the Harvard Kennedy School recently honored with an environmental award.
21 :: MOSCOW
Best : #1 in lowest risk of natural disaster occurring in city and smallest classroom size, #2 in green space as a share of total area, #4 in share of population with higher education
Worst : Last in safety from business risk (from political instability, regulatory uncertainty, financial risks, etc), comfort of city temperature, working age population, political environment, and intellectual property protection
Details: The problem with Moscow isn't capital but climate. Russia has wealth and natural resources, but a confusing and risky business environment (plus frigid temperatures) makes it an undesirable place for internationals to start their own companies.
22 :: SANTIAGO
Best : #3 in flexibility of visa travel, #4 in cost of living, commute time, total tax rate
Worst : Last in green space, hospitals per capita, and cargo flights in and out of its airport
Details: The top rated city in South America, Santiago is the eighth most cost friendly city in the world. The capital of Chile benefited from missing the credit crunch and banking instead on agriculture and commodities (especially copper) at a time when the world's two most populous countries are ravenously gobbling up durable consumer goods like stoves and microwaves.
23 :: ISTANBUL
Best: #3 in air pollution, #4 in skyscraper construction activity
Worst: Second to last in numerous categories, including research performance of top universities, quality of living, and inflation
Details: Last year, the Brookings Institution named Istanbul the most dynamic city in the world based on population and economic growth. Istanbul has enjoyed the highest employment growth of any major city in the world in the last two years. The city grew grown at a breakneck pace through the end of 2009, but its reliance on exports makes it vulnerable to global downturns.
24 :: SAO PAULO
Best: #2 in city carbon footprint (emissions as share of city population) and comfort of city temperature
Worst: Last in crime, ease of hiring, ease of starting a business, entrepreneurial environment (measured by both aspirations and start-up activity), total tax rate
Details: The world's sixth largest city, Sao Paulo is infamous for its crime rate and it's still struggling to build transportation and housing for its 20 million people. But it's still the largest city economy in Brazil -- larger, in fact, than the entire GDP of Egypt.
25 :: JOHANNESBURG
Best : #1 in affordability of business space, #2 in cost of living
Worst : Last in broadband quality, foreign embassies, health system performance, hotel rooms, Internet access in schools, math/science skill attainment, life satisfaction
Details: The only ranked city in Africa, Johannesburg struggles with high crime and poor public health, but it does extremely well in sustainability and the cost of owning business space.
26 :: MUMBAI
Best : #1 in percent of total energy from renewable sources
Worst : Last among the top cities in quality of living, purchasing power, literacy, inflation, financial and business services employment, end-of-life care, ease of firing, commute time, classroom size, and more
Details: Remember, Mumbai only places "last" compared to the world's best cities, and there's no denying that it's the financial center of one of the world's largest, most exciting countries. But inflation and low wages are making Mumbai a hard place to live and do business.
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