We live in an era where people no longer flock to cities that will make them rich. They go to those that will make them feel “well”.
So strong is the wellness catchment that on Wednesday, Knight Frank, a global real estate consultancy, released its first “City Wellbeing Index” in order to identify “the cities that are increasingly focused on the quality of life they are able to offer.”
The index tracks things like personal security, lifestyle, healthcare, crime, work-life balance and access to green spaces, crunching the numbers of each to find the best city for wellbeing.
European Cities Are The Well-est
All bar three of the top 10 cities in Knight Frank’s wellness ranking are in Europe and two of the top three are Scandinavian: Oslo is first, followed by Zurich and Helsinki in joint second place.
Vienna (4) and Madrid (5) round off the top five. Sydney (7), Montreal (9) and Singapore (10) are the only non-European cities in the top 10.
Much of Europe’s dominance here comes down to size, explains Liam Bailey, head of Knight Frank’s Research Department. A smaller city means better air quality, safety and more access to green spaces. Oslo leads the way thanks to the amount of green space in the city, while Helsinki has the best air quality.
Bigger cities, like Singapore and Sydney, rank highly on bigger issues, like governance and healthcare (Singapore has the world’s best healthcare according to the Legatum Prosperity Index).
U.S. Cities Are Not Very Well
New York is the well-est city in the U.S., but ranks 21st globally. Overall, U.S. cities are poor for your wellbeing according to Knight Frank. The few others that made the cut include Miami (23), Los Angeles (27), and San Francisco (28).
The U.S. healthcare system means these cities rank poorly on a global level, but they suffer individually as well: Los Angeles’ famous smog is only slightly better than the air quality in Istanbul. Safety in San Francisco is on par with Buenos Aires.
Why Does Wellbeing Matter?
These wellbeing results might look out of place in the Knight Frank Wealth Report, an annual study of the super-rich, which published them. But increasingly cities, and real estate agencies, are finding that wellbeing equals wealth.
“The battle line for employers at the moment is the battle for talent: How do you attract the best employees?” asks Bailey. The advantage that the high ranking cities have is “in the longer term they’re able to deliver a high quality of life which is attractive to high skilled workers and entrepreneurs.”
High-skilled workers and entrepreneurs, the argument goes, create jobs and prosperity that trickles down to the rest of a city’s residents. But there is also money to be made from wellness.
Knight Frank found that 80% of UHNWIs (people worth over $30 million) are planning on spending more time and money on their personal wellbeing. For real estate developers this means houses with the best air filtration systems, access to green spaces and even private boreholes.
Even something as simple as sound proofing now matters to house buyers. Bailey mentions one developer who insisted on sound proofing at a time when nobody really thought it necessary. “He was ahead of where clients were because no one actually asked him for this but he noticed [noise] was a common complaint. It resonated and it really helped the sales there.”
How Can A City Become More Well?
So how can Los Angeles learn lessons from Lisbon, or Shenzhen from Stockholm when it comes to wellbeing? “Some of the innovations you’re getting in these European cities are offering lessons for other parts of the world,” says Bailey.
Reducing crime and improving healthcare are the obvious improvements. But others are much simpler.
Take green space, for example. Half of those polled by Knight Frank said access to nearby green spaces for recreation and leisure was the most important thing when choosing a new home. Singapore scored highly thanks to its abundance of greenery atop skyscrapers.
However, should the wealthy really embrace their wellbeing, they might start avoiding cities altogether. Safety, air-quality and happiness are, on the whole, more abundant in the countryside. And if green space really matters that much, then surely its better to buy a house surrounded by the stuff?
Some are going even further, says Alasdair Pritchard, a partner at Knight Frank. “If you are super-wealthy then the whole purpose of wellness is a retreat,” says Pritchard, who has helped families buy property in “far flung” parts of New Zealand and Colorado, simply so they can escape the relentless pace of cities.
These people want their properties to be cut off and with poor internet, he says. “People are buying with the mind to helping their family chill out and there’s more to life than connectivity.”