It may be known for Mozart, Klimt and a long imperial history, but today Vienna has been praised for its present, rather than its past, by being named the world’s most liveable city.
The Austrian capital has overtaken Melbourne to top the Economist’s Global Liveability Index and this is in large part due to its perhaps unique ability of prioritising the wellbeing of its residents with an infrastructure that, well, works.
For starters, it’s got more culture than you can shake a stick at and it’s not just for tourists. There are plenty of top-class museums, the world famous State Opera House and so many beautiful, historic buildings that you could spend hours walking around the city centre just looking up. Vienna is also remarkably good at putting all its public space to good use, regardless of whether it’s gloriously hot or bitterly cold. There’s nearly always something going on in the city for adults and children alike.
The square in front of the city’s town hall, the Rathaus, frequently plays host to free events such as a film festival and forms the heart of Vienna’s New Year’s Eve party or “Silvester”. Europe’s largest HIV/Aids charity event, the Life Ball, is also held here each year.
In the summer, lakes, rivers and any reasonably sized body of water become the perfect place to cool off, with municipal swimming pools and areas open across the city. At nighttime, the Danube canal turns into the equivalent of a very long beach bar, particularly on Friday and Saturday nights. Winter sees Christmas markets pop up in cobbled squares across the city. Adults can warm up with some gluhwein, while children can enjoy the fairground rides.
Although perhaps the best example of the city’s commitment to wellbeing of its citizens is the enormous public park, the Prater. Once a royal hunting reserve, it was open to the public in 1766 and is still a popular recreational spot for the Viennese, many of whom can be seen jogging, cycling or playing here throughout the year. The Prater is also home to a free-to-enter funfair and the famous ferris wheel, sports stadiums, a miniature railway, among other activities.
But what makes all of this so accessible to its residents is the city’s excellent public transport system, which is cheap, quick and efficient. In fact, in the city centre you’re often quicker hopping on the U-bahn or even walking, rather than driving or catching an Uber. Public transport also runs throughout the night. It’s little wonder it scored highly on infrastructure and many cities across the UK, in particular, could learn from it.
Then there are benefits for families, such as well-paid maternity leave and free kindergarten and university places. The city also offers free transport and activities for children throughout the holidays. Travel to and from school is free all year round. Vienna is also ridiculously safe and has little vandalism. In fact, stability was one of the factors that meant the city overtook Melbourne for liveability. The quality of public healthcare and hospitals is also second to none, as reflected in Vienna’s scoring of top marks for healthcare in the Global Liveability Index.
But if Vienna serves as a model for other cities, there is one area where it could learn from others itself and that is on the small matter of introducing a full smoking ban. A ban was due to come into force in May but a change of government meant that the law hasn’t changed. While any small venue has to either be completely non-smoking or smoking, larger ones should have completely separate areas with closing doors – something that doesn’t always happen in practice. As a visitor from the UK, this can feel somewhat disconcerting and, in all honesty, rather backward.
That aside, Vienna is a glorious place to live. And, if the amount of people I know who have recently returned there is to go by, it will be for years yet.
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