Pursuing citizens’ happiness

Rapid urbanization brought Smart Cities at the forefront of several global challenges including climate change mitigation, digital transformation, and cybersecurity. At first urban leaders prioritized the resolution of infrastructure problems and directed investments to essential public services. Although not all issues got unraveled, cities are nowadays focusing more on the needs of their people. This trend stems from the fact that high satisfaction among residents increasingly contributes to the sustainable, inclusive development of a city, and therefore becomes beneficial to the entire community.

Metrics of citizens’ satisfaction, happiness, and wellbeing have become key performance indicators for cities. Back in 2009, Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz recommended using wellbeing as a measure of quality of life and social progress, and his suggestion didn’t fall on deaf ears. Just to mention some notable examples, the EU Commission conducts regular satisfaction survey among residents of major European cities, while Dubai launched a new development program called the Happiness Agenda, setting the goal of making the UAE’s capital “the happiest city on Earth”.

Expectations for the quality of urban living are definitely high, and the choice of which city to study or work in, visit, or invest in, has become more difficult. A new global study by Boston Consulting Group and BCG Henderson Institute surveyed 25,000 residents in 80 cities using 155 metrics to understand their satisfaction with urban life: their Cities of Choice ranking compares quality of life, economic opportunities, social capital, interactions with authorities, and speed of change.

According to this survey, London, New York, Helsinki, Copenhagen, and Abu Dhabi are the best five cities in which to live around the world. London had brilliant results in almost all variables but excelled for its public transportation system (only 8% of residents reported the station/bus stop they use is too far from their home or workplace, compared to 20% on average in the other cities) and inclusivity (68% of female respondents confirm people have equal opportunities regardless of their gender, ethnicity/race, in comparison to 51% on average in the other cities).

The availability of quality services proved to be a base element for citizens’ satisfaction. However, BCG researchers pointed out there are two really important factors to be considered. First, cities should beware people experience when using infrastructures and services, as satisfaction does not depend only on the existence of efficient and reliable services, but on their proximity, ease of access, waiting times, etc. Working on these conditions increases the return on investment expressed as positive advocacy score. Second, any improvement should we backed by widespread communication, as less well-informed residents often perceive services to be worse than do better informed ones.

Resident centricity will define cities of the future. Citizens’ satisfaction and happiness will increasingly impact the attractiveness of urban communities for potential residents, visitors, and investors – so city leaders should pay attention to the living environment they shape and nurture.

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