Cities are anonymous, loud and hectic. Until the end of the last century this image drove many city residents out into the suburbs. In recent years this trend has reversed. Today, more people already live in cities than in rural areas.

smart fortwo, BR C453, 2014

By 2050 it is expected that around 70 percent of the world’s population will live in cities. The result: increasingly densely-inhabited urban areas. Private living space becomes smaller and more expensive. What do city-dwellers need and what do they wish for to be satisfied and happy with their life and their city? How do rising costs of living, infrastructure and cultural offerings affect the satisfaction of city-dwellers? And do the happiest people also live in the biggest cities?

Der neue smart fortwo, 2014The new smart fortwo, 2014

The representative smart study “Joy of urban living in Europe” examined these questions. For the first time it provides scientific evidence of the criteria that influence the subjective perception of urban joie de vivre. Based on in-depth psychological interviews, the Cologne market research institute rheingold identified six factors that define joie de vivre in equal measure in 31 European cities. These are: “the magnificent whole”, “enthralling vitality”, “contrasting diversity”, “home village”, “constant reinvention” and “comprehensive infrastructure”. In addition, the study showed that there are several essential prerequisites that must be met before joy of living can develop at all. These include enough space, time and financial resources. If these basic conditions are not met the result is dissatisfaction and annoyance. In 31 cities a total of 3269 inhabitants aged between 18 and 65 from all socio-demographic strata were interviewed.

The city with the highest level of urban joie de vivre is Porto, followed by Hamburg and Cologne
Based on the results of the study smart developed the pan-European “Urban Joy Index” with scores on a scale of 0 (no joie de vivre at all) to 100 (greatest joie de vivre) – a comprehensive measure of the perceived joy of urban living. The European average currently stands at 74. This means that despite the effects of the economic and financial crisis and infrastructure problems in some cities, on average those interviewed rated their city very positively. 82 percent are pleased to live in their city, whilst 72 percent even regard it as a privilege to live there. 76 percent would like to remain in their city for the next five to ten years. And 65 percent cannot imagine living anywhere else at all.

However, it is not the lively and multifaceted metropolises such as Paris, Rome or London where urban joie de vivre is greatest. The city with the highest urban joie de vivre is the Portuguese port city of Porto, with an Urban Joy Index (UJI) of 86. It is followed by Hamburg (UJI = 85), Cologne, Munich and Barcelona (each with an UJI of 80), and then Amsterdam, Seville and Leeds (each with an UJI of 79). By contrast, Paris has an Urban Joy Index of 75, whilst Rome and London both achieve a score of 70. Naples and Marseilles are below average with a UJI of 62 and 58 respectively.

Victorious gladiator instead of “couch potato”
The expectations and wishes that Europeans have of city life are similar everywhere. Paradoxically, joy of living does not arise when everything is going smoothly, the day is straightforward and nothing bad happens. It is not the comfortable, consuming and completely secure life of the “couch potato” that leads to happiness and satisfaction; rather, there is joy of living when the everyday challenges of city life are successfully mastered, when obstacles arise that can be overcome, when the “urban gladiator” victoriously leaves the arena. “You can make it big in Berlin or the city can kill you”, “London is a beast”, and “You can be everything here, even a princess” are three examples from the depth-analysis interviews. The appeal of the cities therefore lies first and foremost in a promise of development: “If you master my tasks, I’ll make you a hero.” Each of the six psychological factors identified for urban joy of living is therefore a herculean task that a city gives its inhabitants – and that must be mastered again each and every day.

The city – the big picture
The city is seen as a big picture – a gigantic scenario of human possibilities and achievements. It offers a concentrated history and allows its residents to experience important social, political or cultural developments up close. People who move to a city want to belong and be a part of this big picture. For example, as the Romans say: “Wherever you turn you find remains of ancient times. Rome gives you the feeling that you have gained a place in history yourself.” In Paris people say: “Paris is the city where trends are born”, “When you are able to buy your first Louis Vuitton handbag, you’ve arrived in Paris.” But it’s not just material success that is important to city-dwellers. Being a small “part of the London music scene” or finally “being able to do exhibitions in Berlin” can also constitute a great success.

Those who manage this acquire a feeling of superiority and pride in having come so far. But such participation is becoming increasingly difficult. In some cities, for example in Paris and London, the greatness that has always characterised the city is to some extent only perceived as a fossilised vision which people work hard for but without achieving it: “It is flattering and satisfying to belong to this big city [Paris] … but the magic gradually disappears. At the beginning I was captivated, but now fatigue prevails.”, “London spits you out if you’re not strong enough.” 79 percent of Parisians say that you encounter anonymity, coldness, egoism and loneliness in their city. In London 68 percent agree, whilst this only holds true for 46 percent of respondents in Hamburg and 31 percent in Porto.

In addition, housing costs in inner city areas are very high and “a cool night out” costs a fortune. This can result in a feeling of only being an “onlooker”: “People are only observing London and no longer experiencing the city.” Across Europe the greatly increased costs of housing and living in cities proves to be the biggest negative factor. 59 percent of all respondents complain that they are only able to afford a small apartment and that their basic need for space suffers considerably through this. This applies to 85 percent of respondents in Paris, 79 percent in London and 78 percent in Rome.

Intoxicating vibrancy
The city never sleeps. Constant stimuli and offerings invite city dwellers to become active, to participate in life, to discover what their city has to offer and to draw inspiration from all that is happening around them. Chance encounters and events make life interesting and exciting. The city is embroiled in a constant pull of enthralling vitality according to the principle “Anything can happen”. 79 percent of interviewees value the fact that their cities offer a wealth of amenities and opportunities for taking an active involvement in city life: “City life in Madrid is like a white canvas ready to be painted. Every day is different, surprising, anything can happen.”, “London is like a big party with everyone you’ve ever known.” “Berlin – that’s city flair! You can do anything, any time. “However, 72 percent say that they would like to have more time to enjoy everything.

City-dwellers see the challenge in experiencing this daily intoxication, but without becoming too distracted and losing sight of their own path. But only 32 percent of European city-dwellers see this risk. And 38 percent find life in their city too strenuous, stressful or complicated.

Contrasting diversity
The contrasting diversity offered by modern cities is an equally important factor for urban joie de vivre. Extreme contrasts give rise to an exciting diversity. Splendour and decay, wealth and poverty, different cultures and nationalities, different lifestyles and characters, buildings from all different eras. The interviewees describe an intensification of experience through the colourful diversity of people and contrasts: “The more different the people, the more you learn.” “I love London’s international flair: the nationalities, the music scene, the festivals, the diverse cuisines. Whenever you think you’ve seen everything, you discover something new around the corner.”

79 percent of European city-dwellers find the extreme diversity of lifestyles, types of people and characters in their city exciting. Just as many believe that everyone can live out their individual personality and preferences in the city – without being censured for this. For example, 88 percent in Porto, 87 percent in Amsterdam, 82 percent in Berlin and 81 percent in Bordeaux say that their city gives them the feeling of freedom to be able to decide for themselves how they want to live. For many city-dwellers this was the reason for moving to the city from a small town or rural area: “I never really felt at home in Stuttgart. In Berlin I met people like me and I was accepted at last.”

In a comparison of European cities, in particular Porto, Barcelona, Hamburg and Manchester/Liverpool are seen as having an almost perfect level of contrasting diversity (average 78 – 81). In Brussels and Marseilles on the other hand, the contrasts are perceived as too severe (average 59 – 61). Whilst, for example, 87 percent of people in Hamburg, 80 percent in Porto and 72 percent in Amsterdam believe that different people in their city show respect and tolerance to one another, in Marseilles just 53 percent are of this opinion and in Brussels the figure falls to 49 percent.

Village home
Despite adventure and hustle and bustle, city-dwellers also wish for village-like qualities. City districts and quarters are like “retreats of belonging” and offer familiar connections. For new arrivals in particular it is a big challenge to create a personal setting where they can feel at home in the city. If they succeed in establishing a “home village” this goes hand-in-hand with a considerable increase in well-being. The small and manageable setting of a home village makes life safe and homely and ensures that people do not become lonely, even in a big city. 76 percent of all those interviewed consider life in their city district to be straightforward, uncomplicated and comfortable. 81 percent even find everything they need in life here. People close to them are first and foremost family and friends. There is rarely actual communication and assistance bewteen neighbours. Only 51 percent of respondents help one another at least occasionally as neighbors.

Top in the “home village” rankings are Cologne, Düsseldorf, Porto, Malaga and Seville with average values between 73 and 75. There are deficits in Marseilles, London and Rome with values between 58 and 60. 89 percent of the residents of Porto, 81 percent in Cologne and Barcelona and 80 percent in Malaga and Amsterdam feel at home in their city because people live there who are close to them. This applies to just 58 percent of respondents in London, 56 percent in Rome and 54 percent in Marseilles.

Constant reinvention
Nothing stays as it is: just like their inhabitants, cities must constantly reinvent themselves in order to develop and keep themselves alive. City districts grow and change their character, people change their views and move, old things must cease to exist in order to make room for new things. Houses are pulled down to build new ones, old bars and restaurants close and new ones open. For flexible and creative city-dwellers the city is a constant source of enrichment and inspiration. Change brings fresh energy and exhilaration. New ideas can be quickly implemented. Cities that change quickly and follow the zeitgeist are reference points for global trends, innovation and progress.

76 percent of European city-dwellers love the creative and dynamic atmosphere in their city and 71 percent find it fascinating that their city changes constantly. The leaders in urban joie de vivre through constant reinvention are Barcelona, Hamburg and Porto. 95 percent of the people who live in Barcelona, 93 percent of those who live in Hamburg and 91 percent of the residents of Porto are constantly able to discover new things in their city. This means that they are also able to constantly rediscover and reinvent themselves, say 81 percent in Porto and Barcelona and 75 percent in Hamburg.

However, in certain cities this joie de vivre is slowly being lost. It is giving way to a feeling that nothing is progressing any more and that the will to innovate is lacking in their city. For example, 60 percent of the people who live in Brussels, 58 percent in Naples, 51 percent in Marseilles and 50 percent in Rome complain about far too much stagnation. The European average here is just 31 percent.

Comprehensive infrastructure
Satisfaction with the infrastructure is low compared with all other criteria for urban joy of life. On a scale of 0 to 100 it gets a mediocre 54 points. First and foremost, city-dwellers are dissatisfied with the availability of parking spaces. 74 percent rate the availability in inner cities as middling to poor. 36 percent of interviewees also rate the road network as middling to poor. By contrast, Europe’s city-dwellers are more satisfied with the cultural offerings. 61 percent rate this area, just like the universities and training centers, as very good to excellent.

It is interesting that cities in the UK receive better ratings than all other European cities when it comes to infrastructure (averaging between 60 and 67 points). With the exception of car parking and the road network, the inhabitants of London, Leeds, Manchester, Glasgow, Liverpool and Sheffield are very satisfied with the green areas, recreational areas, training centres, culture, nightlife and clubs and associations. Across Europe only Munich and Zurich are able to keep up with these cities (average 60 to 63). Problematic cities where the infrastructure receives a poor rating include Naples, Rome and Marseilles (average values from 38 to 41), followed by Valencia, Malaga/Seville and Lisbon (average values from 46 to 49).

According to the Head of smart, Dr Annette Winkler, “smart stands for actively shaping mobility and joie de vivre in cities through innovation. For the first time and across Europe, the study allows us to describe the concept of ‘urban joie de vivre’ and what it means to people in their city based on a specific survey. This is extremely important for the smart brand and its products so that we are better able to understand residents’ expectations while taking them into consideration as part of the continuous development of our products and services.”

On the method of the study
The market researchers from rheingold institute conducted their survey in two steps in the period from November 2013 to March 2014. First, qualitative basic research was carried out in five European cities (Berlin, Paris, Rome, London and Madrid) in the form of group discussions, in-depth interviews and ethnographic reconnaissance trips. The results provided a fundamental understanding of big city life and identified the six factors determining the joy of urban living. The questionnaire for the second stage of the study was developed from these factors. It involved a quantitative online survey in 31 European cities with at least 100 respondents in each city. From the results of the second stage the Urban Joy Indices were established. The cities surveyed were: Berlin, Düsseldorf/Cologne, Hamburg, Frankfurt am Main, Munich, Milan, Naples, Rome, Turin, Bordeaux/Toulouse, Lyon, Paris, Marseilles, Barcelona, Madrid, Malaga/Seville, Valencia, Glasgow, Leeds/ Sheffield, Manchester/Liverpool, London, Salzburg/Innsbruck, Vienna, Bern/ Basel, Zurich, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Utrecht, Brussels, Lisbon, Porto.

The market research institute rheingold today ranks among the most renowned providers of qualitative psychological research worldwide. The researchers use morphological psychology to analyse the unconscious mental factors and contexts that determine the actions of every individual.
Further details and results of the study are available online:

Source: smart