Look at any ranking for “Most Livable City”, and you’ll notice Vienna is almost always at the top every year. It’s a particularly special accomplishment considering Vienna, a city of about 2 million, is adding about 25,000 new residents annually without making the city more expensive. So, how is Vienna managing to do this?
Well, unlike many North American cities, population growth isn’t coming in the form of suburban-style sprawl and an unaffordable central city, thanks to strict land-use codes and serious government subsidies for housing. Instead, about half the city is reserved for green space and 62 percent of the population, including a broad middle class.
This housing-as-a-human-right is a key element in the city’s vaunted livability. The Viennese social housing model is a century-old tradition that endures despite population pressure from immigrants and political turmoil from the rise of the far-right national Freedom Party. It’s often invoked by affordability advocates in other cities as the gold standard in public housing. Many subsidized units are owned directly by the government, and rent control assures that housing costs remain a relatively modest share of residents’ annual income, especially compared to costly capitals like London or Washington, D.C.
The housing part of Vienna’s livability story is complemented by another important factor—the ease and affordability of transportation. Residents are served by one of Europe’s more comprehensive public transit systems, a network of subway, buses, and trams that residents can access for a flat annual fee of €365-and most do. That’s just one euro a day.
For our North American cities dealing with gentrification and skyrocketing prices, Vienna’s approach to housing and transportation serves as a model blueprint.