The Taipei City Government has made flattening road surfaces a key urban project, but when Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) inspected an intersection on Dec. 30, he found the surface was still bumpy. An angry Hau ordered the contractor to redo the job. If a simple road-paving task cannot be completed satisfactorily without the intervention of the mayor, there is cause for concern for the city’s administration and future development.
In addition to intense international rivalry over national competitiveness, competition between big international cities is also intensifying. As transnational investments in the service industry become increasingly important, “living environment” has become a significant factor in attracting multinationals and professionals. Quality-of-life surveys for international cities have become an important staple of business consultancies.
Such quality-of-life surveys include those from US-based Mercer, the world’s biggest manpower consulting company, and the UK-based Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU). Mercer’s report includes 221 cities and the EIU’s 140. It is no easy task to be ranked among the top 50 or even the top 100 in either survey. Advanced countries often have three top-ranking cities — Japan and Switzerland — or five — Australia and Canada. Germany even has six, and the US eight, making it difficult for cities in developing countries to make it high on the list.
Apart from the three Japanese cities, Singapore is the only Asian city in Mercer’s Top 50, having risen from No. 34 to No. 25 in just five years, between 2006 and last year. Taipei, however, has dropped from No. 81 to No. 85, and is now far behind the main Japanese cities, as well as Hong Kong (70), Kuala Lumpur (76) and Seoul (80). Clearly, there is much room for improvement.
Can only large cities with massive resources come out on top? Not necessarily. Vienna, ranked No. 1 last year, has a population of 1.7 million. It was followed by Zurich, with 1.3 million, and Auckland, with 1.38 million. This shows that a large population is not really a requirement for a good quality of life.
Mercer’s survey includes 10 categories: political and social environment; economic environment; sociocultural environment; medical and health considerations; schools and education; natural environment; public services and transport; recreation; consumer goods; and housing.
The Hong Kong-based Yazhou Zhoukan started to rank the quality of life in Asian cities in 1996. In 1999, Taipei and Osaka shared the second spot after Fukuoka, beating all other Asian cities, including Tokyo, ranked fourth; Singapore ranked fifth; Hong Kong and Shanghai ranked ninth; and Kaohsiung ranked 11th. The rankings were a big surprise to everyone.
Perhaps Asian organizations have a different view of certain subtle “Asian values,” or maybe they are capable of evaluating elements that are difficult to measure. For example, how would you evaluate the warmth of the Taiwanese? In Taipei, you can be out in the mountains or at the beach in 30 minutes, there are night markets everywhere in the city, and convenience stores are open 24 hours a day. Can such convenience be evaluated appropriately?
Still, the bumpy roads are a clear indication that Taipei will have a hard time advancing in the rankings. Not long ago, Hau led a delegation to Singapore. One can only wonder what governing skills they learned to help Taipei improve. As for Kaohsiung and Taichung, they should learn from the experience of advanced countries and stop constantly complaining and feeling sorry for themselves.