How Happy are the World's Leading Cities?

A photo of Zurich, Switzerland


The popular survey includes a new category this year: City Wellbeing. See how global cities fared.

Knight Frank has recently released its 2020 Wealth Report, which covers a wide range of perspectives and analyses of global residential and commercial real estate, wealth movement and worldwide investment. I’ve reported on some of their findings in the past, but something new in this edition was the introduction of the City Wellbeing Index, gauging the quality of life in the world’s major cities.

They understand that there is no universally accepted way to measure well-being, so they developed an index to measure the cities that enable their residents to achieve a higher level of well-being. The eight elements of their Index were green space, crime, annual hours of sunshine, traffic congestion, quality of health care, happiness, work-life balance, and governance.

Around the world, there is a growing focus on wellness as a measure of national performance: Something that has, in the past, been assessed in purely economic terms (GDP). Of the 40 global cities that they measured, European cities dominated the top positions. Oslo took the top spot, followed by Zurich, Helsinki, Vienna, and Madrid. For cities outside of Europe, Sydney was No. 7, Montreal was No. 9, Singapore was No. 10, Dubai was No. 15, New York was No. 21, and Miami was No. 23.

In the green space category, Oslo led with 68% of public space in the city comprising parks and gardens with Singapore second with 47%. Dubai led the annual hours of sunshine with 3,509 hours, followed by Los Angeles with 3,254 hours.

Work-Life balance looked at hours worked per day of vacation time. Moscow had the lowest ratio, with 51 hours worked for each vacation day, followed by Paris with 55 hours worked.

Last year, two countries that I’ve recently visited decided to announce plans to measure and improve the well-being of their people, namely New Zealand and Iceland. New Zealand government budgeted $10 billion in funding in its first well- being budget while the Iceland premier stated her focus would be on well-being rather than economic growth. Singapore-based sustainability design firm Pomeroy Studio was quoted as saying, “There is a wealth of literature that shows a correlation between urban greenery and health and well-being as it can reduce temperatures, absorb water and provide other benefits all leading to greater opportunities to live longer more meaningful lives. Well-being for man and nature can be an important driver of real estate value.”

GDP does not measure the wellness of countries, but those with larger GDPs can afford better healthcare. We expect wellness to remain high on the urban agenda in most major cities over the next few years.


This article originally appeared in the April 2020 issue of the REAL Trends Newsletter. It is reprinted with permission of REAL Trends, Inc. Copyright © 2020. To read the rest of this issue & more, please visit our Real Trends page online.

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