Housing

'Lonely and expensive': London is becoming less 'liveable' than other European cities, study finds

The number of Londoners who are satisfied with their city has plunged 8% in four years, according to the European Commission.

London is one of the UK's least liveable cities, new research suggests. Credit: Canva

London’s quality of life has plummeted over the last four years as housing prices and loneliness rates have soared.   

“When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life” – so goes the famous quote by 18th century writer Dr Samuel Johnson. Yet swathes of people are sick of the capital, damning new research suggests.

The number of Londoners who are satisfied with their city has plunged 8% in four years, according to the European Commission – the biggest drop of any city across the UK and Europe.

Some 85% of London residents are happy with their city overall, the lowest of any UK city in the survey. In Cardiff, 94% of residents reported feeling satisfied. The Welsh capital is closely followed by the ‘Tyneside Conurbation’ – an area centred around Newcastle – at 93%, Glasgow (90%), Manchester (89%), and Belfast (89%).

Making cities ‘satisfying’ for residents depends on “intelligent effort”, said Elisa Ferreira, the European Commissioner for Cohesion and Reforms.  

“Quality of life… depends crucially on the amenities and opportunities in the place where we live,” she said.

So where’s the best place in Europe to live, and what can UK cities learn?

What makes a city liveable?

Grey skies, freezing temperatures and abandoned New Year’s Resolutions: January in the UK can feel particularly miserable. So if you’re contemplating a move, where should you go?

The European Commission polled residents from 83 European and British cities to produce its liveability rankings.

Zurich ranked first, with a 97% resident satisfaction rate. In both the Danish capital Copenhagen and Dutch city Groningen, 96% of residents said they were happy with city life.

On the other end of the spectrum sits Palermo in Italy, where just 62% of residents are satisfied. Athens and Istanbul each earned a 65% satisfaction rate.

The report singled out three key elements of a satisfying city. Firstly, that residents can access high quality job opportunities. Just a quarter of people living in southern European cities said it’s easy to find a job, compared with more than half of the people in cities in western and northern cities

The second most important factor of a liveable city is functioning public amenities, a term that includes everything from education to buses.

“Public services and public administration matter. Notably, mobility and congestion – satisfaction with public transport is another key determinant of satisfaction with your city,” said Ferreira.

Thirdly, smaller cities tend to report higher levels of satisfaction. Around 89% of people living in a city with fewer than 250,000 inhabitants are satisfied with living in that city. This drops to 86% for cities with a population between one and five million and 79% for cities with more than five million inhabitants.

“[Smaller and medium sized cities] feel safer, cleaner, and less noisy,” Ferreira explained. “They are seen as better places to live, at every point in the lifecycle – from families bringing up young children, to those growing old.”

London and the UK’s other cities can’t exactly shrink – but the report’s recommendations for larger cities include bringing down congestion and high housing costs. Just one in five (22%) Londoners think that housing in the capital is affordable. Other UK cities are much better: more than 40% believe housing is affordable in Cardiff, Glasgow and Manchester, and more than half think so in Tyneside and Belfast.

Other proposals to improve cities include increasing access to green spaces and cultural facilities.

What can be done to make London or any city more liveable?

The report is filled with sweeping policy recommendations around transport and housing. But there are things you can do if you want to make your city more liveable, including tackling the loneliness epidemic.

London is one of the loneliest cities – 19% of people reported feeling lonely at some point in the preceding four weeks, more than 6% higher than the survey average. Manchester, Cardiff and Belfast aren’t much better, with an 18% loneliness rate.

One of the best ways to tackle loneliness is participating in community projects, research shows. Check out some places you can volunteer and get involved.  

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