Saturday, September 3, 2011

Quality of Life: An Austral Update

Today's post deals with a survey on the quality of life in southernmost South America, plus a commentary on a surprising air accident in Chile.

Quality of Life: Buenos Aires & Santiago Measure Up

Every year, the Mercer Consulting group prepares a survey of the world’s best places to live, rated according to standards of air quality, traffic congestion, personal safety and the like. I last commented on this in 2008, when Montevideo came in 76th of 215 cities in the survey. Buenos Aires (pictured above) then came in 78th and Santiago de Chile (pictured below) 88th.

This year, Mercer has completed a similar survey for The Economist Intelligence Unit. It consists of just 140 cities, of which Melbourne (Australia) topped the list, with seven Australian and Canadian towns in the top ten. Paris came in 16th and London 53rd; the highest-ranking US city was Honolulu, at 26th. Harare (Zimbabwe) came in dead last.

In the new survey, Buenos Aires comes in 62nd, Santiago 63rd and Montevideo (pictured above) 65th. By that standard, the three Southern Cone capitals would appear to have fallen in the rankings, relatively speaking, but the rankings alone are a little misleading. To quote from the report summary, “The performance of the most livable cities reflects minimal variation between the scores of the top locations…In this context, some 63 cities (down to Santiago in Chile) are considered to be in the very top tier of livability, where few problems are encountered.” Given relative small statistical differences, says the EIU, “both cities can lay claim to being on an equal footing in terms of presenting few, if any, challenges to residents’ lifestyles.”

One can quibble, certainly, with the methodology of such studies, which may be skewed toward the needs of foreigners who work in these cities or travel to them for business reasons. That said, the difference between the best of the so-called “developed” world and the often underrated metropolises of the south is far smaller than many people – mostly those who have never been there – appear to believe.

Juan Fernández Plane Crash a Surprise

Every three years or so, while updating Moon Handbooks Chile, I spend about a week on Isla Robinson Crusoe, in the Juan Fernández archipelago, about 670 km off the coast of Valparaíso. Only small commercial aircraft (20 seats or fewer) serve the island, where I expect to return in November, landing at an airstrip on the dry southern side of the island.

The only larger planes that land here are C-130 transports belonging to the FACh, Chile’s air force, which perform special medical missions (with a population of barely 600, Robinson Crusoe has no hospital, doctors or dentists, though it does have a clinic). Yesterday, though, a FACh plane crashed into the Pacific, apparently killing all 21 persons aboard. Among the victims were five members of a TVN television crew planning to document the island’s recovery from the earthquake and tsunami of February 2010.

Frankly, the crash surprises me greatly. Every time I have flown to Robinson Crusoe, the airline has issued a warning that, if high winds or other weather conditions are too risky, they will return to the mainland. That’s never happened to me but, in one instance, I did have to wait an extra day in San Juan Bautista because the conditions – even though clear and sunny - were considered too precarious for that day’s flight from the mainland.

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