What strikes me about European cities in general, in comparison with American cities, is that they seem more liveable. Family-run businesses still survive. And not just corner convenience stores where you can pick up a 40 oz. There are boulangeries, fromageries, chocolatiers, boucheries, charcuteries, pharmacies, libraries, and the list goes on. The cities seem safe. It's not complicated to get around on public transportation. There are public parks for playing and picnicking and congregating and simply lingering. And even in remote country towns, there are historical points of interest, or small museums or charming restaurants, and usually even a public house or watering hole where people can gather and socialize instead of spending another night alone in front of the boob tube. It seems like in many parts of Europe, country folk are country folk, and city folk are city folk, and families choose to stay in cities or country towns and live there because the lifestyle suits them. Whereas, the trend among my friends is that once you have children, you have to move to the suburbs, because the schools in the city are bad, or the neighborhood is sketchy, or it's too expensive, or too inconvenient to get around with a stroller (unless you live in Noe Valley).
My dad forwarded me an article he read in the International Herald Tribune's Monocle magazine called Urban Manifesto: Factors that make a city great. Of their list of the 20 most liveable cities, Honolulu is the only American city that made the cut. Most cities on the list are European, with Melbourne, Syndey, Auckland, Vancouver (yay!), Montreal,
Singapore, Tokyo and Kyoto representing the rest of the globe. The writers' criteria for judging included a city with a thoughtfully designed airport (I love the Madrid and Brussels airports), low murder and crime rates (this basically disqualified most U.S. cities), pleasant temps and sunshine, and the ease of getting a drink after 1 am. Also, access to health care and education were factors, as well as good public transport, local media, access to nature or parks, and finally environmental initiatives.
San Francisco is a great place to live, but admittedly taxis are frightfully expensive and the Muni leaves much to be desired. Plus, compared with Europe, SF has a long way to go before becoming notably bike-friendly. And we can all agree that the local media sucks (even LA beats SF in this regard). Maybe it's because European countries signed the Kyoto Protocol and so they are already decades ahead in making cities more sustainable, or maybe it's because European cities already have gone through major transformations as a result of disease and overcrowding during the Industrial period or as a result of the devastation wrought by wars and the subsequent Reconstruction. Or maybe, as my pal Lilia put it, Europe is just better.