Despite both being hit hard by the financial crash, what makes Reykjavik’s residents the most satisfied in Europe, and those in Athens the least?
A new report on the perceptions of city life in the UK and Europe has mapped a portrait of satisfaction levels across the continent’s cities. Released on Wednesday by the Office for National Statistics and supported by the European commission, the 2012 Perception Survey interviewed roughly 49,000 people in 79 cities across Europe. People were asked their opinions on different aspects of their city – from the affordability of housing to the quality of the air.
The report does little to shake the stereotype of the Nordic utopia. Oslo was tipped as the easiest place to get a job, Aalborg in Denmark best for household financial security, and Oulu in Finland for affordable, quality housing. Dutch cities frequently scored highest for satisfaction levels, with Groningen the happiest in Europe with schools, healthcare and public space.
Reykjavik, meanwhile, is the golden child of city satisfaction. With low urban unemployment, and Iceland coming in 13th in the UN Human Development Report (released today), its residents continue to think their capital city is doing a great job.
At the other end, the data lays bare a stark image of dissatisfaction in two cities: Athens, Greece and Palermo, Italy. Citizens of Palermo have the least confidence in their city leadership and their transport. This is hardly a surprise: with youth unemployment rates of 36% across Italy and protests among the unemployed in Palermo itself, it’s clear that respondents no longer see the city’s streets as paved with gold. What is striking is the severity of their disillusionment: only 1% of residents think it is easy to get a job.
It is Athens, however, that emerges by some way as the least satisfied city in Europe. Greece’s capital ranks lowest not only in citizen’s general contentment with their city but also specifically for perceptions of safety, public space, health services, schools, and, perhaps predictably, household finances. The huge rise in youth unemployment and the slow economic recovery have obviously taken their toll on the citizens of Athens, a city whose problems were simmering even before the 2008 crash.
For UK cities, of which the report looked at six – London, Glasgow, Manchester, Cardiff, Belfast and Newcastle – the data reveals a distinct set of urban priorities. Residents rate health services, education, training and unemployment as more important than do their fellow Europeans. While unemployment was key in Belfast, Newcastle and Glasgow, quality healthcare was quoted by the majority of UK respondents as the No 1 priority. What Brits in cities seem less bothered by is noise (which perhaps also explains why they don’t seem to think they have a noise pollution problem: many may simply not care) and general pollution. Newcastle scored air quality as the lowest priority out of all European cities.
In fact, perhaps surprisingly, UK cities actually seem fairly satisfied. While few people in Europe thought it was easy to get a job, UK city residents perceive their household finances to be on a relatively stable footing – higher than the European median (and with Cardiff topping the UK list). Brits were relatively more content than other Europeans with their city’s health services, transport, air quality and levels of noise. While tedious and sweaty commutes may seem part of the fabric of city life, 70% of those in the UK are actually happy with the available transport – and London comes out on top. The tube isn’t so hated after all.
The UK picture is not entirely rosy. Getting to work might be reasonably efficient in London, but – no surprise here, really – for affordability of quality housing the capital scored way below the European median. And when asked whether foreigners (a term left to respondents to interpret) were a “good thing” for their city, UK respondents scored lower than the European median. The only exception? Belfast. Another stereotype punctured.