Vienna, Austria was voted the world’s most liveable city by both the Economist and Mercer. As to the validity of such rankings I point you to this article by Citylab which dissects the ranking of Zürich over Vienna by Monocle.  Economist, Mercer, Monocle. Do these firms speak for the man on the street or for a specific elitist clientele? I quote Citylab:

This brings us to the larger problem of city rankings in general, issues that reflects the problems of technocracy itself. By using data as a driver, such rankings present themselves as dispassionate and impartial, as if they are simply removing the lid on a machine to reveal objectively how the engine beneath is functioning. They nonetheless represent a worldview taken from a highly specific angle, one that is full of scarcely acknowledged assumptions about who the imaginary citizen they address is.

They assess, broadly, how much potential a city possesses when seen from a privileged point of view: that of a straight, affluent, mobile, and probably white couple who works in something akin to upper management and has children. Remove even one of those characteristics from the equation and the results often seem way off the mark.

I lived in Vienna for 25 years and was happy to escape back to the USA in 1985. I just couldn’t put up with all the restrictions anymore. It was suffocating. Having a Slavic last name didn’t help either as one morning the Austrian immigration police came knocking on my door demanding to see my papers. My American passport and my United Nations badge sent them off but left me wondering how my day would have ended without them.

I still have relatives and friends in Vienna. One of them recently shared an email he wrote to his father who had left Vienna over 30 years ago to retire in southern California. Now ageing and alone, his father was getting homesick for Vienna and was contemplating moving back there to see his life out. This is what my friend wrote to his father about life in modern Vienna and Austria:

You are understandably homesick, but there are a few things about Austria you need to be aware of:

Vienna has changed a lot. Two families I know have moved out from Vienna as they don’t feel welcome here anymore.

It is full of refugees. I tried talking to a sales person yesterday to find out the price of something and he didn’t understand a word. So I had to leave.

Baden is full of Russians. Hallstatt and the vicinity are full of Asians. The Salzkammergut is full of Arabs.  The signs in the shop windows there are now either in Russian, Chinese or Arabic.

I don’t want to travel to my beloved Salzkammergut anymore. I don’t feel welcome there. They complain of roosters crowing so the farmers have to get rid of the roosters. They complain of church bells ringing so the churches have to stay silent.

The Vienna and Austria of before have long gone. Everything is terribly expensive. I hardly go out anymore.

Medical treatment of the elderly is not very good here. Thomas had four bypasses, three of them have clogged up again. The Austrians will not operate on him anymore with the reasoning that he is old and his heart won’t make it anyway. He is 75. The doctors won’t even try anymore.

You can‘t live in a senior home as they are too expensive now. There was an article in the newspapers that they treat the elderly horribly there now. They are not well controlled as they are private.  You will have problems getting around with your walker.

On the surface everything is like the old Austria you know. But below the surface things are terrible. I feel like living in an expensive Austrian Disneyland. You are only welcome if you can pay your way to everything. For instance, there is a hospital that is like a baby factory for rich Russians, who come for artificial insemination and gender determination of their children. This is not allowed for Austrians. But if you are a rich foreigner, then there is no problem.

No comment. The email speaks for itself.

Vienna and Austria have sold out, as have other small and not so small European cities and countries. It is hard to say no to so much money, especially if tourism is a major part of your GDP. But silencing church bells for the sake of tourism goes too far.

Vienna, Austria: World’s Most Liveable City. But For Whom?

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