Cities at or near their all-time peaks of excellence

by on June 14, 2014 at 2:03 am in History, Travel, Uncategorized | Permalink

I would cite a few:

1. Berlin

2. Kuala Lumpur

3. Mexico City

4. San Francisco

5. Seoul

6. Toronto

7. Stockholm

8. Lagos

Higher living standards count toward this designation, but they are not enough.  Vienna’s general excellence was higher in the 20s, even though the city was much poorer back then, and so Vienna cannot make the list.

Los Angeles probably peaked in the 80s and New York arguably peaked in the postwar period through the 1970s or 80s.  Chicago might have a claim.  Can you think of others?  Does Shanghai have a chance, or did it peak around 2000 or so, before it got so polluted and crowded?

1 Mark Thorson June 14, 2014 at 2:13 am

What about cost of living? Just raising rents and real estate prices will exclude lots of “less desirable” residents. That reduces crime, increases median income, and lightens the complexion of the population. If that is not taken into account, some of the cities you cite have not peaked yet. For example, San Francisco has more “progress” to be made.

2 dan1111 June 14, 2014 at 3:50 am

This post is clearly designed to be an argument-fest, since there is no way one could even begin to measure “peak excellence” without any criteria or idea of what this is supposed to mean (except standard of living is somehow involved).

Of course, we are happy to oblige.

3 dearieme June 14, 2014 at 5:25 am

Even with a list of criteria, you’d need a crystal ball to know that this is a peak. Alternative headline: Cities about to Plunge in Attractiveness.

4 dan1111 June 14, 2014 at 7:42 am

Well, I took it to mean best so far.

5 Michael G. Heller June 14, 2014 at 5:29 am

Secretly we all enjoy Tyler’s “best” fests. Be it fiction, music, film, social science, or cities. Best of year, decade, or century. But never – ever – will we witness an MR economics “best” fest (too close to home, too much knowledge – the more you know the less you know, etc).

6 Brian June 14, 2014 at 7:11 pm

SF is the most expensive major city in the world, but Berlin, Seoul, and Mexico City are particularly famous for being among the cheapest first world capital cities on the planet. Therefore I don’t think that’s a central concern of this list.

7 zxcv June 15, 2014 at 3:43 pm

SF isn’t close to being the most expensive major city in the world (I’m dubious that it even qualifies as such). Be less provincial.

8 Memnon June 14, 2014 at 2:18 am

Addis Ababa. Dalian. Montreal.

9 dirk June 14, 2014 at 2:35 am

When will Houston peak? I predict 2040. It will continue to grow as a global energy technology hub.

10 money can't buy you a personality June 14, 2014 at 10:09 am

… With lots, and lots, and lots of strip malls and fat people.

11 Ted June 14, 2014 at 11:14 am

I see Houston’s peak in 2020 (if not 2015); real-estate prices are starting to take off (hurting its major comparative advantage), and low-skill immigration is having increasingly adverse effects on the school system. On the other hand, as traffic gets worse, downtown and the Inner Loop are gentrifying quickly, and the increased density is creating the first semblance of walkable neighborhoods. As 21st-century development starts to supplant the 1970s drek, the city will improve. But global warming will make the summers worse. Great potential, but still possible for local politicians to blow it if they unsustainably spend the increased property tax revenues on light-rail boondoggles and pension giveaways instead of reducing taxes further.

12 Alex' June 14, 2014 at 11:54 am

The city taxes are already pretty low.

I’d support raising them slightly if that meant improving that network of potholes, bumps and cracks they call “roads”

13 J June 14, 2014 at 1:57 pm

The low taxes is more marketing than truth. It’s just low services.

Sales tax and property tax are both on the rather high end.

14 David Lloyd-Jones June 14, 2014 at 7:13 pm

Houston reached a peak of a kind in 1966, I think it was. It was about then that Barbara Jordan turned 18, and they held a seat on City Council open until her birthday, and she ran unopposed.

Well done Houston!

Her illness was a great loss. Barack Obama would have done just fine as America’s second black President, Hillary as the second woman…


15 Art Deco June 15, 2014 at 2:55 pm

Barbara Jordan was 30 years old in 1966.

She had exceptional public dignity; next to her most of the presidents of the last 50 years – including the current incumbent – sound like cheap, tinny gongs. Her ambitions were circumscribed and she was never absorbed into Capitol Hill culture – three terms in Congress and then back to Houston. She was not a fountainhead of the elite consensus either; she advocated immigration restriction and brought others around to her view with her forensic talent and diplomacy. However, she did not have a catholic interest in public policy (“I told Mr. Jordan the only position I was interested in was Attorney-General”) and sometimes said the most peculiar things (e.g. suggesting that Bill Moyers would make a good president). Also, she died fairly young (at 59) and was too ill most of the last 15 years of her life to do physically taxing work. Right lady, wrong job.

16 dan1111 June 14, 2014 at 2:35 am

Excellence for whom? Shanghai might have been more fun to visit in 2000, but it’s hard to see how one could make a case that it was a better place to live in 2000. Since then it has gotten much richer and has vastly improved services.

17 money can't buy you a personality June 14, 2014 at 10:12 am

“Excellence for whom?”

People who sit in front of monitors and look at graphs all day long while making grandiose pronouncements based off of those graphs. Now that’s a high stand of living! When was the last time these people saw daylight?

18 Brian June 14, 2014 at 7:31 pm

A lot of these miss history and trends.

1. Berlin, plainly peaked in the 1920s.

3. Mexico City may be at its peak, but the late 1700s are a good candidate when Mexico was at the center of the Europe-China trade and the city at its most ethnically diverse.

4. San Francisco, 1967.

19 lump1 June 15, 2014 at 1:26 pm

I think we have to allow that there will be peaks and valleys and other peaks. About Berlin, I think once the artist squatters were evicted at the end of the 90’s, the recent peak was over. But then again, for Tyler “peaking” is understandably more associated with having a great meal than having a great rave. I read the list with that in mind, and it squares with my (more limited than Tyler’s) experience.

If I were to estimate urban peaks form the perspective of a young person looking for intense experiences with a restricted budget, I’d say Berlin’s recent peak was in 1994 (but it’s still #1 in Germany), SF in 1967 but had some rebounds in the 70’s and 80’s, and other cites are hard for me to judge even if I know them well. I’d say that Munich is peaking now, but that its peaks are lower than Berlin valleys. If I were advising a 22-year-old who wants to mess around in the world, I’d recommend the Baltic capitals, Budapest, Bucharest, Istanbul and Athens. That’s about where I judge the “wave of just right” has moved to: There needs to be the right mix of still fucked up but finding its voice, plus a youth culture that’s still seriously improvising and working around all the fucked-upedness. I can see that Kuala Lumpur and Mexico City would be like that, maybe also Curitiba.

20 Bradley Gardner June 14, 2014 at 2:39 am

Chongqing and Guangzhou are two of the most underrated cities in China.

The politics surrounding Chongqing’s development were toxic, but its incredibly livable now, with excellent food, beautiful scenery, developed shopping options and an economy that’s rapidly diversifying from it’s previous state-run mess (the city has been the largest beneficiary of rising wages on China’s coasts).

Guangzhou’s livability was greatly improved by the Asian games, while it managed to maintain much of the PRD dynamism, transport links with Hong Kong have been continually improving, and its probably one of the most ethnically diverse cities in mainland China if you don’t count embassy crowds.

Both cities are better situated to deal with pollution than Beijing/Shanghai/Chengdu.

21 dan1111 June 14, 2014 at 3:15 am

Given that China has 450 cities of at least 500,000, I bet the most underrated ones are places that even most Chinese have never heard of.

22 Jonathan June 14, 2014 at 5:49 am

China is a huge country, but this claim is a tad misleading, because Chinese cities are sprawling Jacksonvilles/Phoenixes/Houstons that contain their own suburbs.*

*Except in Chinese these “suburbs” are mostly just agricultural areas.

23 Eli Rabett June 14, 2014 at 5:44 am

Given the weather in Guagzhou, no, no way, no amount of money.

24 Paul June 14, 2014 at 9:04 am

Agreed. And anyway, Shenzhen kicks Guangzhou’s butt.

25 andao June 14, 2014 at 10:51 am

yes, transport links are great in Guangzhou, so you can get out quickly.

Every time i go there with the mindset that I’m finally going to like it. Still don’t like it. Colonial architecture? Shanghai and xiamen put it to better use. Close to Hong Kong? Shenzhen is even closer, less crowded, with more green space and beaches. I think Guangzhou was probably a more exciting place to be when it was the capital in the early Chinese republic

26 U June 26, 2014 at 11:21 am

Guangzhou is let down by crime, Chongqing: weather and lack of space. Shanghai: poor urban planning. Beijing: pollution. Chengdu: lack of history. The best “unknown” city in China: Fuzhou.

27 Jeff June 14, 2014 at 2:46 am

Singapore is at a local maximum at least.

28 money can't buy you a personality June 14, 2014 at 10:14 am

You know people get whipped there if they don’t have connections to the “right” families, right? Not to mention most people move from 200sf box to box all day long. Nice life.

29 honkie please June 14, 2014 at 2:50 am

Yeah, New York definitely peaked when you could score a rock in Central Park and get stabbed on the way home.

30 John Q Pranke June 14, 2014 at 7:33 am

I had the exact same thought. NYC peaked in the 70s/80s? Did Tyler hit the pipe before writing that?

Also , there’s no way Chicago is at or near its peak. For the last decade the city has experienced a large emigration of skilled, educated workers as people seek out places with better climates and less corruption.

31 Jan June 14, 2014 at 7:57 am

Yes on the emigration, yes on the climates, but also yes on more money, and not really on the corruption.

32 Brenton June 14, 2014 at 1:32 pm

Indeed, Chicago and New York peaked over 50 years ago, regardless of the hype generated about a small amount of recent gentrification. A drop in the bucket compared to the decay of the last 50 years (that continues to this day in many neighborhoods)

33 Larry Siegel June 15, 2014 at 4:42 am

Chicago and New York have clearly had two peaks, one in the early postwar period and one roughly now. This may be true of Berlin (1920s and now), London (1890-1914 and now), and other cities.

34 Michael K June 16, 2014 at 1:52 pm

As someone who grew up in the NY metro area during that time period my jaw dropped with Tyler’s comment. So why did all those NY Going to Hell movies get made during that period, for example, The Warriors and Escape from New York, if NY was at its peak. NY today is orders of magnitude a much better place than during the 70s/80s. Or is Tyler one of those people who think NYC back in the 70s was more “gritter” and “authentic”?

35 money can't buy you a personality June 14, 2014 at 10:16 am

Tyler should come up with the ‘NYC stabbing index’ for yet another NYC quality of life measurement.

36 Doug June 14, 2014 at 11:20 am

You beat me to the punch! 1970s New York was a dirty, crime-infested cesspool on the brink of insolvency. I’ll take the current “Disneyfied” version 100 times out of 100.

37 Mr. Econotarian June 14, 2014 at 12:06 pm

Or LA in the 80’s when gangs started drive-by shootings?

(Now largely not needed – every block in LA has a medical marijuana dispensary)

In the 2010’s, LA wins the Stanley cup despite having zero days of below freezing weather per year!

38 Dirck June 14, 2014 at 3:53 pm

I first experienced NYC in the early 60’s . It was far better then than in either the 70’s or 80’s .I suspect that the 50’s were even better .

39 CD June 14, 2014 at 8:33 pm

CBGB was open, there was a vibrant jazz scene, artists could afford to live there… I don’t think a case for 70s-80s NYC is hard to make.

You want safe streets, there are plenty of boring places you can go for that.

40 Anton Young June 14, 2014 at 2:52 am

Many cities, especially in Asia, have improved their core while their have deteriorated. This is true in the Americas as well. San Francisco may be at an all time peak, but the smaller cities of the central valley, Stockton, Modesto, etc are at their nadir.

41 Anton Young June 14, 2014 at 2:55 am

Outskirts have deteriorated. Just shuffling.

42 Chris June 14, 2014 at 3:16 am

Would love to see an elaboration for why the Berlin of 2014 tops the Berlin of the 1920s.

43 David Wright June 14, 2014 at 3:51 am

Agreed. Berlin is fine. It’s certainly the most rapidly developing German city. But it’s a long way from a distinctive, breathtaking experience. The soulless yuppie leftist elitist quotient is very high. The Turkish subculture has been decimated. The music and art scene was more vibrant before the wall fell. The environs have little to offer compared to, say, Munich.

44 CD June 14, 2014 at 8:35 pm

“compared to, say, Munich”

Oof. Or has Munich gotten better?

45 affenkopf June 14, 2014 at 3:59 am

No mass unemployment and no armed Nazis and communists on the street are pretty big pluses.

46 dan1111 June 14, 2014 at 4:04 am

On the other hand, back then Berliners (the people, not the donuts) had so much money that they were carting it around in wheelbarrows.

47 aNoN June 14, 2014 at 3:32 am

SF is past its peak…

48 Fazal Majid June 14, 2014 at 11:09 am

San Franciscan for the last 14 years and have to agree. SF used to be the undisputed capital of the West, but lost this preeminence in the 20s when it was overtaken by LA.

49 carlospln June 14, 2014 at 3:39 am

New York City peaked in the ’70’s?

In terms of art & music [in particular, punk, avant garde jazz], you’ve got a case. But the city was a s _ _ thole, and, for example, people used to leave their apt’s with ‘fake wallets’, when they were [regularly] mugged; whole ‘tens of blocks’ e.g. the lower west side were completely bombed out. OTOH, there was plenty of cheap space for artists to live & work – IN Manhattan.

Kuala Lumpur at its peak? I would have staked it in the late ’90’s, after the new KLIA airport was opened and Putrajaya was being built out from the Golden Triangle. Too polluted, congested and dirty today (& more great cheap food then as well).

For Sydney I’d nominate the run up to the Olympics in 2000 [and the event, of course].

50 Ex NYC June 14, 2014 at 2:41 pm

New York City peaked in the ’70′s? In terms of art & music [in particular, punk, avant garde jazz], you’ve got a case.

For avant-jazz the 70s don’t compare at all to the 90s. In the 70s you had Rashid Ali and Sam Rivers playing around in a few lofts. But in the 90s you had the “downtown” scene centered around the Knitting Factory and Tonic and other venues.. Each summer there were the “What is Jazz?” and “Visions” festivals and you could see groundbreaking jazz from all around the world just about any night of the week and big names playing every weekend (and it was cheap too).

51 carlospln June 15, 2014 at 6:28 am

Ex NYC: point taken on the ’90’s; wish I could have experienced it

but, re: ’70’s: just listen to the ‘Wildflowers’ box set from ’76

marvel and shake one’s head

& this was just one five day stretch – another ‘week @ the office’ in mid decade ‘loft jazz’


52 Matthew Pollock June 14, 2014 at 3:54 am

People are responding as if Cowen’s title referred to globally excellent cities. But that’s not what he said. Cowen says cities “at THEIR peak of excellence”. Nothing about global excellence.

The whole post is an object-lesson in contextual interpretation. Everyone has been seduced by the context – Cowen included.

53 Steve Sailer June 14, 2014 at 4:06 am

The sharp decline in smog has been a big improvement in Los Angeles, although it has done the most good for places technically just east of Los Angeles, such as Pasadena and Claremont.

54 Steve Sailer June 14, 2014 at 4:09 am

But, yes, the idea that Los Angeles peaked during its 1984 Summer Olympics is pretty reasonable … although one reason for that was because so few tourists showed up, having been scared away by warnings of traffic jams and smog, that, for two amazing weeks there was no traffic or smog.

55 dan1111 June 14, 2014 at 4:14 am

The logical extension of this argument is that LA is at its peak when it doesn’t exist.

56 Steve Sailer June 14, 2014 at 4:19 am

Similarly, it’s fun to visit Manhattan right before Labor Day when nobody is around. It would be real fun to be Will Smith in “I Am Legend” and hit golf balls off the aircraft carrier.

57 andrew' June 14, 2014 at 4:32 am

Then the zombies come back through grand central station. Straussian reading?

58 lump1 June 15, 2014 at 2:48 pm

An insightful comment. The same principle surely applies to several ill-conceived and ill-functioning Southwestern cities!

59 Steve Sailer June 14, 2014 at 4:16 am

Bill James wrote a book about the politics of the baseball Hall of Fame. The two players whose inclusion most puzzled him were Don Drysdale (Los Angeles Dodgers 1957-1969, best year 1962, the first one in Dodger Stadium) and Phil Rizzuto (New York Yankees 1941-1956, best year 1950).

James eventually concluded that Rizzuto was in the Hall of Fame mostly because New York City seemed so awesome overall right around 1950 that a lot of people from that time and place get remembered very fondly even if they weren’t quite that awesome individually. I think you could make the exact same argument about Los Angeles in 1962 and Drysdale, a local blond surfer who was a teammate of Robert Redford at Van Nuys HS.

60 dan1111 June 14, 2014 at 4:50 am

James is always looking for the counterintuitive answer. That is his strength and weakness.

Drysdale and Rizzuto were both quite good players who played on good teams and appeared in lots of World Series. That sort of exposure tends to push otherwise marginal cases over the top–nothing mysterious there.

61 Ted June 14, 2014 at 11:19 am

I agree. Tony Perez is another good example of a moderately above average player with a long career getting into the Hall because he had good teammates, and no one thinks nostalgically of Cincinnati in the 1970s. Rizzuto also had a lot of political clout pushing for his inclusion.

62 David Sligar June 14, 2014 at 4:23 am


63 Ray Lopez June 14, 2014 at 4:40 am

Melbourne seems nice when I visited. Northern Virginia, USA gets high marks too. Manila, where I’m now, is in the top 100, at 100th place, lol. All these cities have too many people because of overpopulation of the earth. Imagine back in colonial America there were only 4M colonists in the entire eastern seaboard, whereas today the greater DC area has twice that many, and Manila has about 30M in a 50 km radius, while Tokyo has 30+M. Too many people, too many problems. What the world needs is another plague like the Black Death to free up labor and get rid of the tyranny of capital. My new manifesto! I, and the Joker of the Batman series, think alike, lol.

64 Art Deco June 14, 2014 at 12:54 pm

Greater Washington (including NoVa) is quite affluent (equal to the Bay Area and second to none), but the urban planning and traffic engineering are wretched. All that affluence does not buy convenience or congenial amenity or even handsome residential blocs. It all looks very ordinary, the arterial roadways are cluttered at just about any time of the day, and the design and array of arterial roadways is often repellant and madcap.

65 Benfitz June 14, 2014 at 6:05 am

As lovely and cool as Melbourne is today, its peak was during the gold rush of the 19th century when it was one of the wealthiest cities in the world.

66 Antonios June 14, 2014 at 12:43 pm

In the 19th century, Melbourne might have been rich, but it was a rich backwater where no one would really want to live.

Melbourne is getting bigger and richer without the growing pains facing a lot of other cities in Australia. It’s very vibrant, and Aussie Rules Football is the world’s greatest sport (OK, so I’m biased).

Melbourne is projected to outgrow Sydney in terms of population by 2037. See

Of course, as with all population projections, extrapolation is a very poor guide.

67 Nick June 16, 2014 at 4:28 am

Agree. It combines the following very well:

Pseudo-European cafe culture, massive mix of sport availability, weather, employment, beach/water access + high standard of museums/galleries.

68 Nirav Kanodra June 14, 2014 at 4:41 am

Singapore? Hong Kong?

69 Ed June 14, 2014 at 5:04 am

Good choice to include Lagos on the list. Few people yet realize the extent of the entrepreneurial activity there, and the light rail mass transit projects that are soon to come on line. That city may actually make it, even as Nigeria collapses all around it.

70 Ed June 14, 2014 at 5:07 am

I would question including San Francisco on the list. If we include Silicon Valley in the greater San Francisco area, then yes, perhaps. But from what I read about San Francisco proper, its growth is stilted by insanely restrictive building codes and equally insane rent regulations. These make the city an expensive place to live and stir up resentment from the old-timers and the new arrivals. The very opposite that you would expect a vibrant and growing city to feel.

71 Ray Lopez June 14, 2014 at 5:18 am

I think Silicon Valley is included, since the Soho district of Frisco is arguably an extension of sorts of SiValley. But having lived there for a while, I tend to agree with your comments. And it’s hard to get a date with the opposite sex there since everybody assumes you are gay, lol.

72 Ray Lopez June 14, 2014 at 5:21 am

Substitute SoMa for Soho, I was thinking of NYC but meant South of Market, where all the startups are in SFO.

73 AC June 14, 2014 at 8:35 am

He MUST be talking about SF as the bay area – he must. Because if he’s just talking about SF, it’s got some pretty toxic politics going on; it’s great if you’re really wealthy but it’s also doing its best to expel all of the middle class (all my friends have fled to Oakland).

74 bob June 14, 2014 at 5:19 am

How about Istanbul, Beirut, Bangkok, or Tehran? All awesome and energetic, and except for the Paris of the Middle East, not too expensive.

75 Alvin June 14, 2014 at 11:05 am

Can’t speak for the others, but I’ve traveled to Istanbul several times since the 80s and every trip I notice how much more cleaner and prosperous looking it is. It used be a city with piles of trash everywhere that stunk like a women’s p-ssy. Still has a ways to go in terms of reducing corruption/crony capitalism, but is a relatively new democratic country with lots of young people. It’s not old and dying like Japan and many Euro countries.

76 Peter June 14, 2014 at 3:00 pm

Istanbul may be improving, but the threat of fundamentalism is always there.

77 Feyi June 14, 2014 at 5:33 am

Lagos? Not at all.
These days the place is a godawful mess (outside of the Island) bursting at the seams.

I reckon it peaked in the 70s under General Gowon when it was not only the country’s capital but Gowon famously declared that ‘the problem is not money but how to spend it’.

Most of the infrastructure there was built in that period.
And the international airport…goodness me. I’m Nigerian and nothing shames us more than that airport even after the recent ‘refurbishment’

The Island (where the wealthy live) has never been better though. Better roads and infrastructure. But that can’t compensate for the mess elsewhere where the 99% live

78 Brenton June 14, 2014 at 1:37 pm

How many of those 99% existed back in the 70s?

79 Feyi June 15, 2014 at 8:12 am

Probably not a lot. But then that supports my point in a way – the city is way past its best and the only hope right now is the light rail project (now delayed till 2017) and better transport links with next door Ogun state

80 Virgule June 14, 2014 at 6:04 am

All the Scandinavian capitals: Oslo, Stockholm and Copenhagen.

London, arguably. Politically less important before, but culturally and economically it is at a height.

81 Taeyoung June 14, 2014 at 6:09 am

Surprised to see San Francisco on this list — it’s a wonderful location and it has many nice old landmarks and neighbourhoods, but the last time I was there (maybe a decade ago), it seemed pretty loathsome. I remember huge piles of trash blowing down the streets, beggars, people casually making racist comments about Asians (“go back to China”), etc. That’s all a matter of the people who live there, though, not the physical plant. Has gentrification forced the filth out and restored some of the city’s old charm?

82 Ray Lopez June 14, 2014 at 6:51 am

You cannot judge a city by the homeless street people that live there, but you do have a point. Here in the Philippines when a beggar sees me, he does not say “Yankee go home”, since it’s bad for business. But in SF, since the bums are taken care of by social services, they can spout racist nonsense that mimics what the average lower income person is probably thinking.

83 Jan June 14, 2014 at 8:25 am

Are you black? I’ve never heard racist utterances in the Philippines toward white folks, but I could have just missed them.

84 Taeyoung June 14, 2014 at 6:14 pm

It’s not bums I heard saying “Go back to China” and the like. Or if they were bums they were dressed uncommonly nicely. Not suits and ties nice, but they looked like ordinary people you see on the bus, in coffee shops, etc. Whites, not Blacks (honestly, wouldn’t have been at all shocking with Blacks). It was only two instances but that’s more than I’ve heard in person from Whites in any other city in America. *Once* would have been more.

85 Brenton June 14, 2014 at 1:39 pm

Due to rent control and the increasing amount of “affordable housing”, homeless services, and subsidized SRO hotels… SF will never really gentrify. Sure, the people paying market rents are the gentry, but many are not paying market rent.

86 Conor Friedersdorf June 14, 2014 at 6:10 am

How is it that Los Angeles peaked at a time when it was more dangerous, smoggier, less walkable, riven by more intense gang tension, and without taco trucks or good cocktails? The Lakers were peaking, granted, but speaking overall, I’d say that L.A.’s peak is now… And it’s peak, factoring in the future, will be a decade from now, when changes in the need for a vehicle make traffic far more bearable than it’s been in decades.

87 thearmotrader June 14, 2014 at 12:27 pm

Agree. That was the weirdest thing I’ve read all week

LA didn’t peak in the 80s. LA’s turning point WAS the 80s, and more specifically the ’84 Olympics.
So of anything. LA BOTTOMED in the 80s.
I’m bullish on LA. Peak won’t come for decades.

88 Steve Sailer June 14, 2014 at 1:02 pm

1984 was the year before crack arrived in LA, so crime was low during the Olympics. Then a decade a nastiness leading up to OJ.

89 Art Deco June 14, 2014 at 1:04 pm

My uncle (who lived in Pasadena during the Depression) would have told you that it was La Dolce Vita around that time. His last visit was in 1988. He was aghast.

90 ap June 15, 2014 at 12:36 am

One thing that Los Angeles had in the 1980’s that it doesn’t have today was the evening street life in Westwood. That’s a big thing. There was a combination of good architecture, irregular street plan, crowds, first run movies (17 screens, then–now several theaters have closed, been torn down, or been converted back to grocery stores), street preformers, and Hari Kristinas that I miss. (A good book store would have made it even better—Had it for a while in the ’90’s, but now it’s gone. And yes, Border’s was good enough for me.) Some of this has moved Santa Monica, but it’s just not as good. SM has it on one major street and part of the charm of wandering around is coming back by a different route than the way you went. If there are other spots with good street life, I don’t know where they are—I don’t know much about LA east of Beverly Glen, hence smog wasn’t much of an issue even then.

91 Sal June 15, 2014 at 12:50 pm

From everything I’ve heard and read, LA peaked pre 1980s(probably around 1960). Less traffic, a more dynamic economy, less income inequality, better schools, better roads. The only aspects I’ve heard to improve are the smog and the crime in certain areas, though crime became worse in other areas as well.

The aerospace industry has left for the most part. The movie industry has been leaving for years. And Toyota is about to move its headquarters to Texas. Not sure how LA could be “peaking” because of taco trucks and better cocktails.

92 JWatts June 16, 2014 at 1:49 pm

“And Toyota is about to move its headquarters to Texas ”

Nissan moved it’s HQ from LA to Franklin, TN about 8 years ago.

93 Ryan June 17, 2014 at 12:25 am

Agreed; the murder rate is 1/5th now vs. 1980. There is subway and light rail; downtown is vibrant, the food and restaurants are dynamic, and the skies are much cleaner. The only negative vs then is land prices. LA was still in the midst of urban decay /white flight, so cheap land. Take Venice; the ‘slum by the sea’ with oil derricks, ruined piers, and gang wars back in the day.

94 shrikanthk June 14, 2014 at 6:30 am

Well the peaks for most cities are at the moment because we live in a richer and more enlightened world than ever before in human history..

A more interesting question is to identify the most happening, most culturally advanced cities of each era. That would be something like this –

400 BC – Athens
100 CE – Rome
400 CE – Pataliputra
1000 CE – Baghdad
1450 CE – Venice
1650 CE – Amsterdam
1800 CE – London
1850 CE – London
1900 CE – Paris
1950 CE – New York
2000 CE – New York
2014 CE – New York

95 T. Greer June 14, 2014 at 6:54 am

Baghdad in 1450? 40 years after the Timurid conquest Baghdad was long past its peak and in no position to compete for the world’s top spot. In 1450 that honor would probably go to Nanjing.

96 shrikanthk June 14, 2014 at 7:05 am

I said Baghdad in 1000 and Venice in 1450

97 chuck martel June 14, 2014 at 8:37 am

Vienna 1900 CE

98 Max June 14, 2014 at 6:41 am

Berlin might have peaked in some areas in the 20s, too. One example: it was one of the most imporant scientific centers of the world then. Much less so today.

Another candidate: Frankfurt.

Where is Hong Kong at? Where is Istanbul at, only looking at the last 150 years?

I like the previous post by “shrikanthk”. Interesting idea.

99 Just another MR Commentor June 14, 2014 at 6:44 am

Toronto is awful

100 Michal Lehuta June 14, 2014 at 6:56 am

Here’s some indexing of the world’s “most excellent” cities:

101 PFOJ June 14, 2014 at 7:03 am


102 AC June 14, 2014 at 8:32 am

I just moved to Philly and love it – but also live near Girard and have walked in areas that felt like an apocalypse happened. I have a hard time believing it is at it’s peak. Maybe when it was the nation’s capital? Maybe in the early 1900s when it was still growing?

103 PFOJ June 14, 2014 at 12:55 pm

Like Fishtown Girard? Good area if so. Go west on Girard too far though and yeah, you’re right.
I have a hard time believing that many cities peaked before World War II, just because the technological advancements since then mean I’d almost always take the current version over one that old. Philadelphia certainly at its best in the past fifty years so that’s why I suggested it.

104 Millian June 14, 2014 at 7:17 am

Why debate results without a mental model to analyse?

105 Walt June 14, 2014 at 9:26 am

Because nobody is getting paid kid.

106 Some Guy June 14, 2014 at 7:28 am


Hopefully you’ll be able to read this (not sure how the telegraph’s paywall and free limit work abroad, if you’re outside the UK) but there’s a great article here about how much better London was in the 90s.

107 Albert June 14, 2014 at 7:31 am

Williston, North Dakota. At absolutely the all-time peak of excellence.

108 Jeff June 14, 2014 at 8:06 am

Copenhagen. Dining (some of the best restaurants), drinking (craft beer continent of the continent), recent large scale infrastructure improvements (bridges, train lines, cultural buildings), etcetera.

Cartagena — very recently safe, connected and improved.

109 Jeff June 14, 2014 at 8:08 am

*…craft beer capital of the continent…

110 Cool Cough June 14, 2014 at 8:19 am

“The leadership in world civilization is inseparably linked with climate. With advance in culture it has been transferred toward colder lands, and when extant culture has declined, leadership usually has retreated southward.”

111 Ignacio June 14, 2014 at 8:30 am

Santiago, Chile.

112 AC June 14, 2014 at 8:31 am

Smaller city, but Portland must be near its peak (or still climbing). Great food, great music, great livability, etc, in a way that it hasn’t seen before. Seattle similarly?

113 kb June 14, 2014 at 10:18 am

+1: Portland easily, Seattle saw it’s peak 10 years ago

114 Sean P. June 15, 2014 at 4:17 pm

Seattle started going downhill 3-4 years ago when the latest tech hiring boom started (either that or when Mike McGinn was elected mayor). Portland is probably getting close to the point when the people who make Portland fun can no longer afford to live there. I give it a few more years.

115 Seattleite June 16, 2014 at 11:32 am

Seattle is pre-peak, IMHO.

The tech hiring boom has changed the landscape for the better in so many ways (South Lake Union and Fremont, for example). 10 years ago we didn’t have light rail. And we’ll have a huge new waterfront park once the tunnel is built (if it ever gets built).

Yes, the rents are too damn high, but I think it’s a supply issue. The restrictive residential zoning laws that have allowed Seattle to retain its beautiful center-city neighborhoods contribute to this quite a bit.

116 Anthony June 16, 2014 at 5:24 pm

“the people who make Portland fun can no longer afford to live there”

That happened to San Francisco a while ago, though if you can spin your offbeat idea as being “tech”, there will be someone to loan you enough to afford SF rent for about a year before you go broke, so there’s a lot more fun stuff going on than you’d expect from the expense of living or setting up shop in SF.

Oakland either peaked while Jerry Brown was mayor, or will peak soon, as people who can’t afford SF discover that Oakland is not all the Murder Dubs.

117 Michael Cain June 15, 2014 at 6:50 pm

Denver is another smaller city still climbing.

118 Jpa June 14, 2014 at 8:37 am

NYC peaked September 10, 2001.

119 Peter June 14, 2014 at 2:49 pm

If New York had made a fast and courageous recovery from 9/11, it’s possible it might have seen another peak. Instead, it horribly bungled the physical reconstruction, is still caught up in constant pity-poor-me whining,* and has descended into a permanent state of paranoia (e.g. turnstiles in office building lobbies, SS-style persecution of Occupy Wall Street, and the NYPD’s undercover surveillance of mosques).

* = best exemplified by the agonizing over whether it’s “appropriate” for the 9/11 memorial to have a cafeteria and gift shop

120 Anthony June 16, 2014 at 5:26 pm

Beat me to it. If Giuliani hadn’t been termed out shortly thereafter, the peak may have continued past then. But Bloomberg did not make the city more interesting or “excellent”.

121 genauer June 14, 2014 at 9:05 am

The clear winner is Munich.

and the central argument is property prices and transport contagion

property prices in Munich are skyrocketing. Enhancing transport is extremely difficult and expensive.

And Berlin as a damned cheap capital has stil a long way to go : – )

122 William June 14, 2014 at 9:19 am

What are some of the best numbers? I’ll provide you with a few:

1. 49
2. 86
3. 142
4. 4,992
5. 6,000
6. 9

Other candidates? Does 301 deserve to make the list? 1,011 is certainly an underrated number, but that’s not enough to put it among the “best.” In the past, I would have thought 38 an excellent choice, but no more.

123 Lorius June 14, 2014 at 11:08 am

19 didn’t make your list? 19 is AWESOME. You are an idiot, sir.

(I’ll play along.)

124 Mark Thorson June 14, 2014 at 11:44 am

19 is prime. Prime numbers are so booooring.

125 Lorius June 15, 2014 at 2:30 pm

Prime numbers are EXCELLENT.

126 buddyglass June 14, 2014 at 9:29 am

Austin, Texas. Though, possibly not big enough to make this list.

127 tothebatmobile June 14, 2014 at 1:23 pm

I would disagree with Austin. I think traffic has gotten worse every year for at least the last 10 years without a marked improvement in other things. House prices in the city are higher, traffic is worse, economy is slightly better since we are farther away from the .com bubble, but at a minimum, I think Austin was better 10 years ago (not sure about other eras), so I would disagree that this is the peak.

128 Keith June 14, 2014 at 10:07 am

Washington DC definitely. For most of its history it was a swampy backwater with pockets of charm despite its importance. It is gleaming now.

San Francisco? You could make an argument for the 1860’s after the population boom from gold fever. It was doing well then and local industrialists were doing things like building the transcontinental railroad. You could also point to the 1940’s when the war made this west coast port town very prosperous. Of course the 1960’s had a countercultural ferment. The tech boom has caused another gold rush now. If this boom lasts another few years then I would agree we can put San Francisco of mid 2010’s on the list.

Philly is getting better but you can’t possibly think it is better now than when Ben Franklin was getting things done.


129 Peter June 14, 2014 at 10:16 am

Las Vegas peaked 2000 – 2008. Huge new gambling casinos popping up everywhere, constant residential and commercial growth.

130 Art Deco June 14, 2014 at 1:08 pm

The place is ever a carbuncle.

131 Skink June 14, 2014 at 10:23 am

Boston/Cambridge, now?

132 andao June 14, 2014 at 11:01 am

Taipei. excellent food, cheap, clean, nice public transit, lots of green places, amazingly friendly people, 711 every 25m. love it, and keeps getting better. just pray it doesn’t get turned into a giant shopping mall for Chinese tourists. that already ruined Hong Kong, a once excellent city.

133 spandrell June 14, 2014 at 11:16 am

Lagos peaking now as a nasty hellhole. Good call TW, good call.

134 Nated June 14, 2014 at 11:18 am


135 Chris June 14, 2014 at 11:49 am

Chicago peaked around the same time as NYC (30s-50s for both, IMO), though New York is much closer to a new peak than Chicago. As soon as Chicago can stop the population losses and at least sorta fix the half of the city that’s a perpetual war zone, a new peak could be in sight too.

I’d put Seattle and Vancouver at their peaks right now.

136 david June 14, 2014 at 12:01 pm

I’d second Washington, DC – it has been changing rapidly over the past decade – and I’d speculate still pretty early innings when it comes to hitting its peak. I’d say it has all the potential to be a ‘world-class’ city in the next 20 years. It will need some significant infrastructure improvements though (new metro lines, streetcars etc) to handle this since the a while back transportation lines were mainly built to bring in suburban government employees into the city and less about city-to-city trips. We shall see.

137 Art Deco June 14, 2014 at 1:02 pm

Washington might benefit from a metropolitan government and some serious comprehensive planning to deal with the traffic problem. One thing you see in NoVa is the suburban problem in seven digits. The commercial strips are designed for automobiles bearing human cargo and the residential development does not incorporate commercial development supported by foot traffic. Then you get disasters wherein residential developments were planted along arterial roadways deeply unfriendly to pedestrians.

138 Doug June 14, 2014 at 12:41 pm

Lima, Copenhagen, London (thanks to Boris), Tallinn, Saigon, Taipei, Brooklyn, Miami, Dubai

139 Doug June 14, 2014 at 12:47 pm

Pittsburgh, West Coast Florida

140 Keith June 14, 2014 at 2:12 pm

I thought about Pittsburgh too but today’s easy living is not better than the old Economic Powerhouse it once was (to me obviously).

141 Antonios June 14, 2014 at 12:47 pm

I’d also say Oslo. Mostly because it’s never been much of a city. And every day it’s getting bigger and more vibrant, even though it’s still not much of a city.

142 Art Deco June 14, 2014 at 1:07 pm

BInghamton, N.Y. ca. 1948, when IBM and Endicott-Johnson were riding high.

143 QWERTY June 14, 2014 at 1:12 pm


Thats funny. It used to be an important city economically, culturaly, science. A lot of major companies have their hedaquarters there.

But they are all old companies. Nothing new is happening in Stockholm.

But crime has increased a lot. An racial segregation is massive.

A couple of european cities that could make the list:

144 Vanya June 15, 2014 at 11:05 am

Warsaw definitely. Bucharest will be there in about 10 years.

Montreal is a North American city that could make the list.

145 Engineer June 14, 2014 at 2:29 pm

What makes Toronto any less boring today than it was in the 20th century?

At least back then the people were nicer.

146 John Hall June 14, 2014 at 2:41 pm

New York peaked in the 70s or 80s? What’s the crime rate now compared to then? I’d take living there (rather, here) now versus then.

147 Kevin Frei June 14, 2014 at 3:21 pm

Phoenix! The food culture, the theatre scene, the night life, the entrepreneurial energy – all are at their all-time high and continuing to rise.

148 Axa June 14, 2014 at 3:58 pm

Mexico City? If an earthquake causes a lot of damage you can look at the past and miss the excellence times. It’s been less than 30 years since the last quake and the only change is that today more people and more infrastructure are exposed to the risk. What a gamble.

149 Brian June 14, 2014 at 7:37 pm

There was a 7.5 a month ago at Mexico City and nothing broke at all. Modern first world cities don’t collapse under an earthquake. Even another 8.3 like ’85 will do little damage to modern Mexico.

The 9.0 Japanese 2011 quake was a 9.0 and caused almost no damage because modern infrastructure is resilient.

150 KN June 14, 2014 at 4:51 pm

The premise of this list is deeply flawed. If you are gay, a minority, or a woman, pretty much every city in the developed world is at its peak. Was NYC glamorous and exciting in the 50’s and 60’s? Of course. Would I as a Pakistani-American be able to feel a part of the city the way I am now? Would my wife have the same career opportunities? Of course not.

151 Robert June 14, 2014 at 5:00 pm

New York peaking in the 80s?! Are you for real? It wasn’t until Giuliani was elected mayor that the city had a renaissance that it still experiences.

152 Bill Reeves June 14, 2014 at 9:10 pm

Houston. Without a doubt. On a cost of living adjusted basis it is perhaps the richest city in the world. And it increasingly shows.

153 Gary June 14, 2014 at 9:58 pm

Saying that New York peaked in the ’70’s is like saying Madonna peaked in 2010. Or, like saying that I should option those pumpkin futures right around November 3rd.

154 Ken June 15, 2014 at 3:18 am

Agree with Washington. No comparison between now and twenty/thirty years ago.

Would definitely add Moscow, which is rapidly transforming under the new, less corrupt Mayor Sobyanin.

Might add Perth, although the mining boom has been a double-edged sword. People are very nervous now compared to two years ago, but a lot of cool development projects financed with mining money are going forward.

155 jk June 15, 2014 at 7:53 am

Washington DC is on the list. Still powerful and relevant although declining given the US’ diminishing power in the world. Living standards on a rise.

156 Vanya June 15, 2014 at 11:01 am

Mexico peaked around 1518.

Tyler’s blind spot about things Viennese continues to astound. It’s hard to say Vienna peaked in the 1920s when most of its greatest intellectuals and artists were decamping to places like Berlin. I guess if you are a huge fan of the socialist housing projects the Socialist government built in that era, like Karl-Marx-Hof, then the 1920s were Vienna’s golden age. Only a devoted contrarian would pick an era other then 1900-1913, but in terms of actual quality of life, then Vienna is peaking now, and is a culturally a far more interesting place than it was in the 1920s.

157 lump1 June 15, 2014 at 3:03 pm

Really? What’s happening there that’s fresh and youthful in terms of music, fashion, culture or art? Where’s the scene that doesn’t sleep? Of course good stuff happens occasionally, as would be expected in every large and wealthy city, but not more than that. Vienna is clean and pretty, to its own detriment. The vitality is with its immigrants, but their voices haven’t punched through the sugary crust of the establishment. Spend a week in Berlin, tag along with some young people, and you’ll be amazed at the wonderful mess you will find! When Prague was peaking, I always had the feeling that all I had to do is hang out, drink beer, be open to people I meet, and something weird will inevitably happen. Not so much in Vienna.

158 jeffn June 15, 2014 at 11:01 am

Near peaks I’d also agree with Berlin, Montreal, Copenhagen, Frankfurt, and possibly Portland and London.. Some have suggested Vancouver but I’d say it’s on a downswing… seemed more vibrant/fun in the late 90s than today.

159 s June 15, 2014 at 11:07 am

Shanghai peaked in the 20’s, when it was the most prominent city of China and a center of culture and business.

160 Vanya June 15, 2014 at 11:18 am

Odd that no one has mentioned Singapore or Taipei.

161 Nathan W June 15, 2014 at 2:22 pm

Toronto needs a new mayor who doesn’t smoke crack and bully anyone who opposes his low-brow sloganeering or who thinks that mayors with a distaste for facts or numbers as a basic for public policy making. And less cops everywhere anytime anything fun is happening would be nice.

I think it was better 5-10 years ago, but things seem to be going more in the same direction.

162 lump1 June 15, 2014 at 3:09 pm

A good rule of thumb is that a place will peak about 20 years after a birth boom that is followed by a huge fertility drop. That guarantees a youth-dominated culture, but also leaves room for those youths to indulge in some proper decadence, since their energies aren’t just going into their own kids. So which places have 1969 San Francisco demographics? Places like Teheran.

163 Anonymose June 15, 2014 at 7:03 pm

Toronto has been on a rather steep upward climb for the last 70+ years. A little bobble due to an ’87 recession, but besides that the ascent has been continuous and rather insane. So it’s at a peak today, but the same could have been said for nearly every point since the 40s if not earlier.

NYC in the 70s is, as noted, insane unless you’re a wannabe cooler-than-thou hipster claiming that they prefer incessant muggings and arsons to a functioning city. Chicago is getting bombed out as we speak and paying for decades of democratic corruption. SF is horrific with rampant terrorism and homeless people crapping on sidewalks and doorways. Though there is potential in SF should anyone ever get around to holding crimes against humanities trials for everyone who aided and abetted global communist genocide.

164 Anonymose June 15, 2014 at 7:05 pm

@jeffn Montreal peaked around 1950. If they ever lamp post the virulently racist thugs who chase away anyone with a capitalist bone in their body they might have a chance, but that would require a large number of lamp posts.

165 kyle June 15, 2014 at 8:11 pm

Toronto top 10, confirmed!

166 Rek June 15, 2014 at 9:07 pm

Denver – Boulder. Colorado really. It has gone blue, and green. Bikes, food, and the arts are all hot. And the skiing is second only to Utah.

167 Granite26 June 16, 2014 at 10:44 am

Why does everyone hate Houston?

168 Gabe June 16, 2014 at 4:36 pm

Prattville Alabama. Some may think it was better back when the first cotton gins were being manufactured, but the growth of the last 20 years has been amazing. The mixture of anal air force retirees with crazy red necks and astoundingly athletic “freed urbanites” has a proven a fertile mixture for excellent high school football teams. The proximity to some of the best deer hunting and fishing is not to be ignored.

169 mobile June 17, 2014 at 10:36 am

Lots of cities in Texas: Austin, Dallas, Houston, Fort Worth, San Antonio, maybe El Paso too?

170 Zach June 17, 2014 at 8:17 pm

As someone who currently lives in the Bay Area and recently lived in Berlin, you are totally out smoking crack in left field with this list.

Berlin (all of Germany, really) peaked before WWI.

San Francisco is a seething cauldron of unhappiness.

Even “average” cities like Kansas City or Denver have glaringly higher standards of living than either Berlin or San Francisco.

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