Boston outscores all East Coast cities for quality of life

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BOSTON – The Hub ranked second among U.S. cities, behind only San Francisco, as a destination for expatriots, in a recent listing from Mercer, a management consulting organization.

Boston did well by scoring high in several categories used by Mercer, including housing, medical and health considerations, recreation and the availability of suitable schools, the company said. Also, it said pollution levels in the city are relatively low. By comparison, Honolulu, Hawaii, ranked next highest after the Hub of the Universe, according to Forbes magazine.

Most of the top-10 cities on the list, the 18th produced by the firm, are in Europe, led by Vienna. San Francisco ranked 28th, tied with Canberra and just behind Adelaide, both in Australia. Other than the city by the bay, the top five cities in North America were all in Canada, led by Vancouver and including Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal.

While Boston didn’t rank especially poorly in any category, Miriam Siscovick, a Mercer spokeswoman, said traffic congestion and crime held the city back from a higher ranking. The company provides the survey to companies that expect to base employees abroad and said that personal safety is a key concern that can affect costs. The lowest-ranked cities are in war-torn areas like Damascus, Syria.

So how exactly does Mercer quantify quality of life? A sample report from a 2014 survey of Montrea shows that the company measures social, economic, cultural, and meteorological factors. It uses 10 measures: the political and social environment, economic and socio-cultural conditions, medical and health considerations, schools and education, public services and transportation, recreation, consumer goods, housing, and natural environment.

For each gauge, the company uses additional criteria. For example, the political and social environment measure includes relationships with other countries, internal stability, crime, law enforcement, and the ease of entry and exit. The best scores from the 10 measures determine the city with the highest quality of life.

Boston also shows up on similar lists, such as Best Places to Live in the USA from U.S. News & World Report. Boston ranks 30th on this one, held back by its relatively high cost of living. U.S. News scores include a “Value” category (the study measures quality of life, job market vitality, value and desirability), which measures how easily the average resident can live within their means in a given city.

Boston typically shines in areas related to jobs and health and wellness. The Alliance for Biking and Walking recently ranked Boston had the highest percentage of people who walk to work each day. According to a study, Boston is fourth in the nation for having the highest percentage of adults in excellent or very good health (maybe all that walking is paying off?), behind Minneapolis, San Jose, California, and San Francisco, respectively. Boston also has a particularly clean water supply – the crisis in Flint, Michigan, has reminded the nation of the importance of this crucial quality.

Boston’s high standing in many rankings may stem at least in part from its public green spaces, from the Rose Kennedy Greenway to the Public Garden and the Fens. Boston has enough parks to keep the city from feeling totally divorced from nature.

The Hub also boasts world-class universities and a vibrant cultural scene. Not least of these are the Museum of Fine Art, the Institute for Contemporary Art, the Boston Ballet, the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the American Repertory Theater (A.R.T.), which has produced several plays and musicals that later went on to Broadway. And there are many venues for popular music from jazz to hip-hop.

But Boston does less well in some other key categories, like cost of living, which reflect high rent and housing prices, and access to public transportation. As city “branding” becomes increasingly important in attracting young entrepreneurs, will Beantown be able to draw in  – and retain – the best and brightest?