A survey of more than 230 cities around the world found that Medellín and Santiago are Latin America’s best cities to live — according to the people who actually live there.
The survey, conducted in spring of this year by Spanish information technology company Indra, polled 2,123 people in 234 major cities on their opinion of their city’s services — focused in particular on sustainability, energy, health and information — and solicited suggestions on how those services could be improved. According to the study’s writers, the idea was to give citizens a chance to “voice their opinions on the services provided by their cities.”
Medellín, the second-largest city in Colombia, and Santiago, the capital of Chile, were by far the region’s most livable cities, and two of the only cities in Latin America to receive scores above the global averages.
A total of 32 countries participated in the study [available for download here]. In Latin America, these included Mexico, Guatemala, Panama, the Dominican Republic and most of South America, with the exception of Paraguay and Guyana.
The study asked citizens to score their cities on a number of different characteristics: commuting time, perception of security, response to emergency situations, quality of healthcare services, perception of sustainability, e-governance (use of technology in public administration) and cleanliness.
Residents were also asked what was the most important factor to determine whether they would choose to live in a particular city. Almost 50 percent of those polled said security was the most important issue, followed by about 23 percent that cared most about education. Healthcare and transport were the most important factors for the others.
Latin America: below average
In general, European and Asian cities fared much better when it came to services, while African and Latin American cities scored below average in just about all categories.
The global average for time commuting to work, for example, was 46 minutes — a dream for most living in Latin America’s mega-cities, where commuters are lucky to get to work in less than an hour. In fact, Medellín was the only city in the region with a commuting time under the global average, at just 42 minutes. Most of Latin America’s other cities were close to or over an hour.
Among citizens’ suggestions to improve mobility were better traffic signal synchronization, enforcing bus schedules and making routes easier to understand, promoting working from home, creating community-sourced traffic apps and making cities more open to bicycle commuting.
Even famously bike-friendly cities struggled to earn high scores, though. Colombia’s capital of Bogotá, for example, received high marks for sustainability, but was slammed on mobility and transportation– a fair analysis of a city where it takes most residents more than an hour to commute to work on overcrowded, underfunded public transportation despite widespread efforts to promote biking to work.
The Brazilian megalopolis of São Paulo fared even worse when it came to mobility, with residents needing an average of 63 minutes to get to work. The city also scored low on overall services, with the best score for emergency responses and cleaning and the region’s lowest score (2.9) for healthcare. Rio also failed across the board, with an equally-low rating for healthcare and low public perception of emergency response, in spite of a recent overhaul of the city’s emergency services.
Sprawling Mexico City was under the global average for all services, and did especially poorly on emergency response, healthcare and cleanliness. The city received its highest marks for sustainability.
Surprisingly, Argentina’s capital of Buenos Aires, usually viewed as a modern and cosmopolitan city, was also below average on all services, including a brutal 64-minute average commute.
The good news
Medellín appeared to be the runaway regional winner, scoring higher than or equal to the global average on every single service, with especially high marks for sustainability. The city received its lowest score when it came to perception of security. Still, the fact that residents rated security at 6.1 (equal to the global average) is something to celebrate for a city that was once notorious as the “murder capital of the world.”
Santiago was also above average in every category except sustainability, in which it scored just .1 below the world average.