Wednesday, 1 July 2009

City roulette

I'm always amused by those dubious surveys declaring that London (or New York or Stockholm) is the world's best city for something or other - quality of life, happiness, tourist potential etc.

The indicators used to measure these things are always quite arbitrary and seldom the ones ordinary folk like me would use.

It's all very well quoting household recycling, life expectancy and school success. All very worthy, I'm sure, but are they really the things that get you and I excited? I think not. In my case it's much more likely to be the accessibility of Belgian chocolate, a well-stocked bookshop or a flattering pair of jeans. Bugger life expectancy - what's the point of living for 80 years if you've been thoroughly miserable for half of them?

You can see how arbitrary it all is when every new survey contradicts the previous one. Tokyo's the world's greatest city? You must be joking, it's Berlin of course - it has more electric cars and hairdressers than any other city. Or was it espresso bars and cycle lanes? Good news for tourist chiefs in the chosen city, but for the losers - it probably just prompts a cynical snort of disbelief.

As for the things that can't be measured at all, like breathtaking scenery, a friendly atmosphere or an intellectual buzz - what happens to them in the midst of all these statistical calculations and pie charts? It's these intangibles the researchers overlook that make our own city such fun.

And what about the areas outside the cities that the number-crunchers don't even consider? Are they saying the Orkney Islands are a soul-destroying backwater? Or Nova Scotia is a God-forsaken wilderness? There's an underlying assumption that city living is better, even if your city's only number 21 in their roll-call. Many rural dwellers would beg to differ.

But personally, I'm absolutely certain Belfast's the greatest city on earth - and I've got the figures to prove it.

Photo: Donegall Square, Belfast

Katie, the sweet tortoiseshell cat from three doors up, one of our regular visitors, has been missing since the weekend. I do hope she hasn't come to a sticky end.


  1. Who votes on these things? I mean, I love my city but I don't 'live' in it. Just a nice place to lunch on a wonderful sunny day or to wonder around being a 'tourist' for a while. Working in it is a chore. Actually, I'm a great one for wondering beyond the city limits, finding the 'real' core of a place. And I'm sure Belfast's lovely! Maybe I'll find out one day . .

  2. I haven't been into Belfast since November. Is that a Planter in the road? Have they changed the traffic direction again?

    I have been to many cities down the years and I still prefer to tootle about beyond the confines and discover hidden treasures.

  3. Sadly I know that Swansea would come in at number 1 in the City Dumps! It's full of boarded-up shops or pound-shops and is very depressing. I only go in to have my hair cut and buy a bra.

    Having said that I love where I live and wouldn't want to live anywhere else.

    But these surveys are very curious.

    Never been to Belfast but enjoyed Dublin.

  4. Baino - Sometimes they're based on votes, sometimes on statistics like recycling levels, crime levels etc. I like exploring the bits beyond the city as well - what's outside Belfast is as interesting as what's in the centre.

    Grannymar - The traffic flows are the same, that planter must be on a bit of pavement.

    Liz - Sounds like it's time for a Swansea Regeneration Scheme. But as you say, you get attached to a place that's familiar, eyesores and all. Tomorrow's survey will probably say Swansea is the new tourist mecca!

  5. WE've got one of those but it seems to be concentrating on developing all the outlying districts not the centre.

    My verifier is gofeds, which sounds like a chant for an American football team!

  6. Liz - It won't be much of a tourist mecca if they only develop the outlying areas!

  7. Far too many variables, Nick, I remember an American tourist saying to me one time : Toronto is the best city in the world, it has 6 classical radio stations!
    Well, if that's your criterium, fine, but there are many, many others. Amsterdam for tulips. Paris for art and museums. St. John's (which I adore) for being right on the ocean and being so liveable and colourful.
    I did love Belfast, a very accessible city (but I was intimidated by the fellows with guns up on their tall outposts, are they gone now?)

  8. www - Exactly, there are far too many variables to be able to classify a city in such a simplistic way. Re the fellows with guns, if you mean the army watchtowers, they've all been dismantled and there're very few soldiers left in NI.

  9. This is such a funny post!

    As Wisewebwoman said, there are all sorts of things to be loved in all sorts of cities. I would be thrilled to visit Belfast. I've got a sort of crush on it, and I've never even been. Pathetic, no?

  10. Leah - Have you ever been to Ireland? If not, you could visit Dublin and Belfast and some of the scenic spots in between.

  11. Magazines love lists of best ofs because they sell and take very little work - I hate them - lazy journalism. I saw one just this week that had Amsterdam in there top ten and was complimenting NL on how '100% of household waste is recycled'. That is total crap - in NL you can ONLY recycle paper and glass - all tin cans and containers and plastic of any sort are just thrown out. Even Co. Kerry has more recycling going on!

  12. Nick, I've never been to Ireland at all. I do hope to, someday. We haven't traveled much over the past 8 years, since my daughter was born--she's just getting old enough to enjoy it now (or should I say she's getting old enough for us to enjoy it!), and we're starting to think about it again. I would love to see Dublin, Belfast, and points in between.

  13. Conor - Well there you are, if you actually live in the city in question you know what rubbish(!) some of these stats are!

    Leah - Ooh, she'll probably be pestering you to travel soon - "Mommy, when are we going to Australia?" Er well, darling....

  14. Nick, like you I am a loyalist. My town for ever! I have traveled a bit and never did study the stats to decide which city is the best. For me, it will always be Pune, first for obvious reasons and next will be Edinburgh.If I had to live anywhere else in the world, Edinburgh will be my first choice.

  15. Ramana - Well, actually I wouldn't say my town for ever. I love Belfast but I'm sure there are plenty of cities I could enjoy just as much if I had to move from this one.

  16. Belgium chocs, a good book shop and a flattering pair of jeans. I think this is the yardstick they should use for measuring every city's greatness! It would work for me anyway!

  17. Suburbia - It's good, isn't it? I shall start a campaign immediately to make it the internationally agreed yardstick. Plus maybe the availability of sun-dried tomatoes?