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London, Paris, New York: Some Things You Just Can't Bottle

Posted: 06/09/2013 00:00

This week I was a panellist at the launch event for the inaugural Ipsos MORI Top Cities survey - a worldwide poll that crowned London as the most popular city in Europe, but forced us to tip our bowler hats to New York as the global winner.

London came second in the overall rankings (along with Paris), and I wasn't surprised to find it riding high as a city where people around the world would like to live, visit and do business - after all, I live here, don't I?

But in amongst the data were a few fascinating phenomena:

1) Surprises: Berlin and Toronto - why so low?

If I had to tip a likely contender to knock the UK off the top of the 'soft power' league, I'd probably (in secret) let on that I'd choose Germany. Mighty economics obviously, fine engineering of course, but also top football and a vibrant cultural scene - not least in Berlin. What happened? As for Toronto, Canada always comes top in global polls as it's America without the sharp edges.

But both finish outside the Top 10, with Berlin in 11th place and Toronto in 12th. Why so low?

It could be that these cities aren't distinctive enough to stand out from their neighbours. My pet theory is that both Germany and Canada are multi-centred countries. Munich, Hamburg, Frankfurt, Dusseldorf, Vancouver, Ottawa etc. Perhaps all these other great cities split the vote.

2) BRICs: Can't live in them, but can't live without them

A series of BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) cities made it into the charts: Beijing, Rio, Shanghai, Moscow, Mumbai, Ghuagzhou (in that order). But none of them got more than 4% of the votes for the place where people would most like to live. And their average was just 2%.

Yes, these are seen as great places to do business - but much less popular as places to live. This highlights one of the big challenges of rapid economic growth and social change - liveability, and developing a rich and lively cultural scene.

3) 'Eurovision' and 'Reverse Eurovision' effects

Most countries vote for themselves - which is a good job, as a number of them get 'nul points' from everyone else. But a couple of countries are in a funk with their own capital - Poles don't vote for Warsaw and Spaniards don't vote for Madrid.

What's this about? You couldn't choose a more fabulous place than Madrid, and Poles are more upbeat about their country than almost anywhere else in Europe in recent - forgive the pun - polls.

4) The Perfume Bottle: London - Paris - New York

I think this sums it all up. You can be a huge country on the world stage, a must-do city for business or shopping - or popular at home or in your neighbourhood - but it'll take a lot to bump London, Paris and New York off the perfume bottle.

The combination of mammon, chic, culture and history makes them tough to beat. And beauty and bit of the beast help too - a 'world city' needs a bit of edge. Why? That's what attracts young people, talent, creativity and creates that all-important vibrant cultural scene... And you need a few run-down bits too which enable new funky bits of your city to emerge and let artists and young people set up.


But tastes do change. As someone on a recent delegation from the Far East said, when asked what his greatest memory of the UK would be, it wasn't London - but the Bicester outlet shops which sell top brands at knock-down prices.

I hope he bought some perfume.

 

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