Even with the bursting of the housing bubble, it still costs a whole lot more to live in some places than others. New York City, Washington, D.C., L.A., and San Francisco, for example, remain much more expensive than most other U.S. cities and regions. But why?

There's the old real estate adage: location, location, location - people pay more to be in more central and better places. But that still begs the question of what makes certain places better?

The clustering of people and firms in cities, as Jane Jacobs and Robert Lucas famously have written, surely plays a role. And successful cities seem to speed up productivity and innovation benefiting from faster rates of urban metabolism: New Yorkers, it's often said, talk faster and walk faster than others. Some cities also benefit from higher quality of life - warm, sunny climates, great coastlines, greater scenery - and amenities like great cultural institutions and restaurants - which enable them to attract affluent, ambitious, and talented people. How to parse the relative effects of productivity and quality of life?

Fascinating new research by David Albouy of the University of Michigan does just that, creating new measures of quality of life and looking closely at the relationship between productivity and amenities. He finds that amenities really matter to the location decisions of people, and that there is a relationship between productivity and quality of life. San Francisco, L.A., New York, and Boston are some of the cities that sit atop his list of high quality of life, high productivity places.

US News and World Report has a nice summary of his research. A paper on measuring quality of life is here; another examining the relationship between quality of life and productivity, here.