The World's 26 Best Cities for Business, Life, and Innovation

What is the greatest city in the world?


New York City, Toronto and San Francisco were named the world's most impressive metros in a new survey of the global capitals of finance, innovation and tourism. The report from PriceWaterhouseCoopers and the Partnership for New York City graded 26 metro powerhouses from Stockholm to Santiago on business opportunities, culture, livability, and innovation.

Here is a gallery of the results. The city's best and worst qualities are listed inside each slide (for example: Tokyo ranks #1 in global corporate headquarters, but last out of the 26 cities in cost of living):

To flesh out the rankings, I spoke with Merrill Pond, vice president at the Partnership for New York City and the chief architect of the mammoth report, on what makes a city successful; how San Francisco and Toronto shocked the researchers, and whether a partnership representing 200 large NYC companies can be objective about ranking their hometown the best city in the world.

What's the overall lesson of this report?

A great city is all about growing, retaining and attracting talent. Whether it's Stockholm with its strong education system or Toronto benefiting from its smart immigration policies, getting and keeping talent matters.

What city surprised you the most?

San Francisco. This is San Francisco's first year in the study and it finished third overall, beating London, Paris, Sydney and Tokyo. San Francisco is known as having more progressive social policies like paid sick leave, but it really held its own as a business center that attracts entrepreneurs.

How did the project start?

After 9/11, there were a number of studies that came out showing that Kansas City was the best city to go for business. We thought, "Okay, Kansas City is cheap, but more companies are putting up with high costs in big cities like London and New York." So we partnered with PWC to see what variables were really attractive in a city.

Cities are complex and "opportunity" is difficult to define. What exactly are you measuring?

We're measuring what makes a city successful. Success as we define it cuts across business opportunity, cultural opportunity, and education opportunity. We use ten indicators [including Transportation and Infrastructure, Intellectual Capital and Innovation, and Lifestyle Assets], each made up of smaller variables [within Lifestyle Assets: share of green space, skyline impact, hotel rooms].

What has changed in the report over time?

It's important to re-look at the indicators every year. For example, we used to include patent numbers per city in the first few studies. Here's the problem: In the US there are patents offices all around the country, like Chicago and Houston. But in China, there are are only two cities with patent offices. That means all the patents go through just two cities.

Also in China, an earlier report counted museums by looking at city websites. Chinese cities won, which really surprised us. It turned out a lot of private homes of former communist leaders had been turned into museums. So it turned were comparing some former communist's house to the Guggenheim.

Even as a Big Apple fan, I must admit it does seem like a conflict of interest that the Partnership for New York City happened to find that New York City is the best in the world.

We did think about that. That's why in the years past we haven't presented the overall rankings, even though NYC has won every year. But all the data is available and open. There was no bias in the approach. A lot of the variables actually tend to favor smaller cities, like sustainability.

What was the most disappointing city in this year's report?

London. It still wins in economic clout thanks to its huge financial sector. But it performed poorly in sustainability, cost -- which is not surprising -- and demographics and livability. They're near to the bottom in share of population that is of working age. That's surprising to me. You'd think it would be a magnet for young people across Europe, but it's older than we expected.

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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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