Ja, Das Ist Gut!

According to a new ranking, top Canadian cities have a better quality of life than those in the U.S.

An aerial view of Vienna, Austria, at night.
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Americans wanting a better life might want to defect to Canada...or, better yet, trek all the way to Europe or Australia. According to a new ranking of cities with the best qualities of life, the top places to live can be found north of the border or across the pond.

Vienna has the highest quality of life in the world according to rankings released today from Mercer, a New York-based human resources consulting firm. It is followed by Zurich, Switzerland; Auckland, New Zealand; Munich, Germany; and Vancouver, Canada. Among the 221 major world cities ranked, the U.S. does not make an appearance until No. 28, with Honolulu. Ranking last for U.S. cities is Detroit at number 71.

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The rankings are focused on determining "overall quality of living from an expat standpoint," says Ed Hannibal, a partner at Mercer. The company created the system in part to help corporations know how much to compensate employees working on international assignments—send a worker on an extended trip to Khartoum, Sudan (No. 217), in other words, and you might want to give her a few more bucks in hardship pay than if she were shipping off to Ottawa, Canada (No. 14).

To that end, the company considered 39 broad-ranging factors, including political stability, climate, crime levels, personal freedoms, and availability of food in determining quality of life.

"When you take Vienna being the No. 1 city, it really is the cultural and political economic center of Austria," says Hannibal by way of example. That gives the city plenty of amenities and recreational options. But aside from that, he points out that the city is also a comfortable place to be, within a country with stable, strong political structures. "Among other things is that it's a safe, stable environment for expats to live," he says.

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There tends to be some regional bunching of cities on the list. Cities in Australia and New Zealand are all ranked toward the top, at 37 or above, and cities in Canada are all at 32 or higher. Northern and western parts of continental Europe, particularly Switzerland and Germany, also fare well. Meanwhile, the 17 U.S. cities are all gathered between 28 and 71, among many cities from the UK, Japan, Spain, and Italy.

At the bottom of the list, there are similar regional groupings. Cities in the Middle East and North Africa fare poorly, in part due to ongoing unrest in many of these countries, according to Mercer. Baghdad comes in dead last, at No. 221, and another Middle Eastern city, Sana'a, Yemen, also makes the bottom 10. In addition, six of the bottom 10 cities are in Africa.

Just as current events have affected some of those lower-ranked cities' rankings, they have also dragged on several cities in the upper reaches of the list. Lisbon fell from 41 to 44, and Madrid dropped from 43 to 49 from 2011, explains Hannibal, in part due to strikes and austerity protests. Likewise, Hurricane Sandy affected the rankings for U.S. cities like Washington and New York.

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Below are the 11 cities with the highest qualities of life, according to the report:

  • 1. Vienna, Austria
  • 2. Zurich, Switzerland
  • 3. Auckland, New Zealand
  • 4. Munich, Germany
  • 5. Vancouver, Canada
  • 6. Dusseldorf, Germany
  • 7. Frankfurt, Germany
  • 8. Geneva, Switzerland
  • 9. Copenhagen, Denmark
  • 10 (tie). Bern, Switzerland
  • 10 (tie). Sydney, Australia

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Danielle Kurtzleben is a business and economics reporter for U.S. News & World Report. You can follow her on Twitter or reach her at dkurtzleben@usnews.com.