Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Life In Berlin By The Numbers

As we all know, statistics lie, but sometimes not. While it's true that I take a pretty dark view of life in Berlin, I was quite amazed at what I consider the accuracy of this survey, done by the European Commission's Directorate-General of Regional Policy, measuring people's happiness with the city they live in.

75 cities in the EU, plus Croatia and Turkey, were surveyed by Gallup-Hungary, and the results tabulated into some very nice graphs. Maybe it's because the results match my prejudices, but I think this is a fasciating document.

Between 75 and 95 percent of the responses indicated that people were happy to live in the cities they lived in. First four places went to Groningen (NL), Krakow, Leipzig, and Alborg (DK). Berlin came in 57th, just below Rotterdam and Torino and just above Brussels, Warsaw, and Ankara. Even so, the results look like about 80% were happy.

Less positive were the responses to "It is easy to find a good job," with Berlin scoring over 75% in "somewhat disagree" and "strongly disagree." It's 68th from the top in this, below Dortmund and Leipzig and above Kosisce (Slovakia) and Bialystock, Poland. It looks like only about 10% strongly or somewhat agreed with this statement. Given the local unemployment figures, this is hardly a surprise.

Also unsurprising was Berlin's high rating in "It is easy to find good housing at a reasonable price," what with the current real-estate glut. We wound up near the top in this one, number seven under Leipzig, Aalborg, Braga (Portugal), Dortmund, Oviedo (Spain) and Bialystock, and above Newcastle Upon Tyne and Oulu (Finland). At the bottom? Again no surprise; Paris, with close to 100% of the respondents somewhat or strongly disagreeing. Other bad values are Dublin, Luxemburg, and Bucharest.

Next up was "Foreigners are well-integrated," and again Berlin dwells in the cellar, 73rd, above Stockholm and Malmö. A little over 50% disagreed here, and only a little over 25% seem to have agreed. On top? Cluj-Napoca, Romania; Miskolic, Hungary; Pietra Neamt, Romania; and Burgas, Bulgaria. I've never even heard of these places, to be honest, but I think it shows that the melange of cultures in these countries, absent the kind of tensions that tore the former Yugoslavia apart, plus the poverty that all inhabitants are likely to share, will bring people together, rather than apart. Certainly that was my experience in Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria, in the four or five days I spent there. Shortly after my arrival at the American University, where I did some journalism workshops, I was up on the roof of the building with two students waiting for my professor-friend's class to end, and the dark, swarthy one turned out to be Bulgarian and the red-headed freckled one turned out to be Turkish, and they pointed to the distant mountains and said "That's Macedonia over there, where people are killing each other over this. It just doesn't make sense to us." And, indeed, the rest of my time there bore that out splendidly. Berlin's poverty in the middle of a nation of affluence, though, plus the well-documented urge to blame the Other, doesn't bode well for this sort of unity.

"Air pollution is a big problem" is one where Berlin might have scored higher not very long ago, but here we wind up pretty much smack in the middle, with a little over 50% agreeing and about 30% disagreeing, wedged inbetween Ostrava (Czech Republic) and Glasgow. The continuing reduction of coal heating and (yes, Ostalgics, get over it) the disappearance of the Trabant have a lot to do with this, I'd say.

Next up is satisfaction with the public transportation system, and, flash strikes notwithstanding, Berlin's ninth-place position only makes me wonder how great getting around top-rated Helsinki must be. Do they have stewardesses serving refreshments? Vienna, Rennes, Hamburg, Munich, Leipzig, Dortmund and...Frankfurt on Oder?... all beat us out, too, but all this says to me is Germany's pretty good with this stuff. I've never had any problem getting around any German city I've been in, which is more than I can say for Copenhagen or London, which are well below Berlin.

"Green spaces such as parks and gardens" is another place I'd expect good numbers for Berlin. We allegedly have more green space per square kilometer than any other city in Europe, thanks in part to huge forests like the Grunewald and Berliner Stadtforst being included in the city limits. And oddly, we only score 22 in this, perhaps because the rest of the city's so grim, but atop us are such hard-to-beat places as London, Vienna, Munich, Brussels, and Glasgow, who relentlessly promote their parks to their residents, which Berlin doesn't really do. Athens, Naples, and Sofia (without doubt the ugliest city I've seen on this continent) are the cellar-dwellers here.

"I feel safe in this city" was one I was curious about, given the fact that there's so little serious crime here, yet Berliners generally are paranoid beyond belief: do they lock the front door of your apartment building at 8? They used to where I lived, and it was a pain in the ass. Yet there we are at 47, although it looks like close to 80% agree with the statement, and something less than 20% disagree. But if you look at the chart, it seems that Europeans overwhelmingly feel safe, so the ranking isn't so important until you get to the very bottom, with significant fear being registered in Bucharest, Athens, Sofia, Naples and especially Istanbul.

Given Germans' hypochondriac tendencies, I wasn't overly optimistic for the graph of people satisfied with the health care offered by hospitals, but here's one where (knock on wood) I have absolutely no experience whatever. Berlin is at 28, which makes me feel better for all those folks who scream past in ambulances down Torstr. on their way to Charité.

And, finally, the one you've all been waiting for: "The city spends its resources in a responsible way." A whopping 75% negative on this, a 71 chart placement above such models of fiscal rectitude as Sofia, Naples, Bucharest and Frankfurt on Oder. Only a very tiny number seem to strongly agree with this, and if you're one of them, I suggest you get out of the house more often.

I certainly don't have the training to decipher What It All Means in any truly scientific way, but I do love charts like this, and was just astonished at the sort of intuitive accuracy I observed here.

Anyway, I guess I should be off to Alborg to look for some excuse to live there. Naaah, too cold. Maybe Groningen? Naaah, I hate how densely-packed Holland is. Hmmm, wonder why Montpellier isn't on this list...

Actually, I'm glad it isn't. Don't want the secret to get out before I can move there and find a nice apartment. And last I looked, I'm only $12,000 and change away from that...


Michael Scott Moore said...

Ed: Newcastle, Prague, Gdansk, and Bialystok are all above Rome in that main survery of general satisfaction. And Brussels is below Berlin? Does this fit with yourg notion of things?

Ed Ward said...

Doesn't matter if it's my notion, although I think I understand why Brusselers are dissatisfied -- miles and miles of suburbs, which are pretty grodtty. I've never had the fantasy that Rome is a particularly nice place to live, either; it has plenty of slums inhabited by various immigrant groups, and I've always heard that crime is pretty rampant there.

The survey is about how residents feel. Of all the cities you mention, I've only been to Prague and Brussels, and Newcastle ages ago. Prague-ites seem very satisfied, whether justifiably or not, and the folks I know in Brussels are there because they have to be. I get the feeling they'd jump in a minute if they had a place to jump to.

Anonymous said...

re: copenhagen public transport - it's not as bad as you may have experienced, if you've been in the past few years where they're ramping up a new underground (slickly designed, as expected). Plus, it's v.easy to get those free bikes or rent/acquire one cheaply. having worked for a few months at a time in copenhagen, i'd say the compactness of its centre and the swish 'burban train system (that stretches all the way to malmo, sweden!) makes for a easily navigable city, and compares well with berlin.
Re: 'integration' numbers - surprising to find malmo at the bottom, given the big numbers of danes with foreign spouses seeking 'refuge' there from denmark's recent anti-'dark foreigner' policies. I know several danes who have to commute to KBH to work using those fancy trains from malmo... however, given merkel's hype about germany's integration process and recent policy examples of bad faith, no surprises that berliners might rank their integration efforts so low. even some mild-mannered (former) filipinos i know - catholic to the core, and so not them jihadi-types - still gripe about german attitudes to people of colour...

Anonymous said...

I have to say I find Brussels the horriblest beautiful city I've ever been to. Yes, the centre is lovely-looking, and mythic-looking if seen from high up a bit further away. But what a horrible atmosphere. All those dead bureaucracy bits and tonnes of racial tension and then, if you're lucky (although my friend who's lived there for ever has experienced this only once), perhaps a bit of bother depending on whether you speak Dutch or French.

I'm interested to read what folk think of Berlin and foreigners/integration. I don't claim Berlin is a paradise, by any means, but can't it be considered a lot better than Paris or Brussels, for example, where the tension is palpable? There are no far-flung estates here where only foreigners (or their descendants) live. I know there are areas here which are more Turkish than others, for example, but there is no massive living-standard discrepancy, is there? At the same time, I'm sure it's easier to 'get on in life' if you're a non-white Brit in London than it is for a non-white German to get on here.

Anonymous said...

Mike, you must never have been to either Brussels or Berlin. As to the first: never mind the suburbs, even the center is squalid and dilapidated: the French say "très décati". Leprous buildings galore, potholed streets with narrow, disjointed sidewalks, streets facades pockmarked with missing ("dents creuses") or condemned buildings, a smelly subway with a very small network, an abundance of hideous 60s modern buildings that have not aged well and were often often built on the ruins of better things (demolished!) and so on and on: it's an urban and urbanistic debâcle. I read somewhere that the city has just approved a 5-year plan to spruce itself up and tone down its grubbiness; we'll see: all I can say is they have their work cut out for them. Only saving grace is the food, which is excellent.

As for Rome, that is a city in which is plenty to see but nothing to do: it's the deadest city I've ever lived in. In the 60s it was at least a cultural center but even that is gone. Plus, as Ed hints, it has a major immigration problem, like most of Italy but worse because of the presence of the Vatican, which goes on the war path every time the city tries to do something about its out-of-control immigrant problem.

Bowleserised said...

Mike, let me know if you're visiting Berlin. Would love to see you.

Michael Scott Moore said...

I kind of wish Berlin had _more_ of an integration problem. Berlin's trouble is that Germans and immigrants don't see enough of each other to act rude in the streets. And it's gotten worse: The "parallel society" is starker now than it was a generation ago, at least according to people who grew up here.

But really, Olivier, my point was that Ed 1) hates Berlin as much as you hate Brussels, 2) didn't seem to mind Brussels so much, if only because he ate well there, and 3) otherwise gave credence to the study whenever it served his purpose. I'm looking for consistency here. I was personally delighted to discover last spring that downtown Brussels had a disgusting subway and leprous buildings and French-style filthy streets (not to mention good seafood) when what I had expected was a paved and polished, Europeanized Indianapolis. "But you haven't seen the suburbs." I know, and I don't want to. I like Berlin better.

But I do want to know what Ed thinks of Marseille (below Berlin) vs. Gdansk (far above), because if the study is worth anything at all, statistically speaking, he should move to Gdansk immediately.

Ed Ward said...

Ummm, no. Actually, there don't seem to be many French cities in that survey, and the obscure-to-me places in Eastern Europe are doubtless there to achieve a good overall spread.

But that doesn't mean I should learn Polish (heaven forbid) or freeze my ass off in Gdansk -- or that I should move to Marseille, which I hear real mixed things about. It should be noted that the youth disturbances of a couple of summers ago totally skipped Marseille (and not Montpellier, although there wasn't much unrest there) because there actually does seem to be some integration there: I read an article where some Arab kid was saying "Nobody messes with our Jews because they know we'll kick their asses."

But it's also well-known that the city's run down, has a bad drug problem, a depressed economy due to Mediterranean shipping declining and going elsewhere, and the usual immigrant unemployment problem.

The idea that I should just move to a city with a higher chart position, though, is absurd. Especially one in Poland, a place I've never much wanted to go and really was happy to leave the two times I was there.

Anonymous said...

Mike, I am old enough to remember Paris before its own face lift in the 80s (not to mention the vertiginous cost-of-life inflation) and I have witnessed the questionable transformation of downtown Bordeaux as well, so I can relate to what you say but, for instance, Berlin was scrubbed clean without losing all personality. So maybe there can be a happy middle between Brussels and Indianapolis? Partly it's a question of taste in urbanism, too: e.g., there will never be any remedy for overly narrow sidewalks and yet details like that have a great impact on quality of life. Berlin is just better designed.

A big problem with Brussels compared to, say, Paris or Berlin, is one of divided authority: it is composed of many largely independant "communes" and the city does not really have a head (Brussels is a region, not a city, and the Ministry of the Brussels-Capital Region: its only unified tool of government, employs just 1500 people), which must make planning very difficult. The clochemerlesque general situation in Belgium cannot help either. That being said, you can have your cake and eat it, too, by living in Louvain (which is fabulous) or Malines (merely OK), both of which are just 15 min by train from the squalor and centrality of the Gare du Nord.

Anonymous said...

And, by the way, I don't "hate" Brussels: on the contrary I had a hard time deciding between it and Berlin 3 years ago but in the end I couldn't get over my physical reaction to the general leprosity of the place.

Michael Scott Moore said...

I bow to my friends' superior experience of Francophone cities, and retreat. But I still can't take that study seriously.