Surprisingly, London is the least happy major city in the UK

Can’t get no satisfaction. 

Sad in the city. Photo: Getty images

Everyone knows Londoners are grumpy. They file in and out of their fancy underground network with faces of thunder, avoiding each others’ eyes and rushing home to count the pennies left over after they’ve paid their astronomical housing costs.

All this we know anecdotally - but now, you'll be pleased to hear, we have the data to prove it. Urban Audit, a branch of the European Commission tasked with assessing the “attractiveness” and “quality of life” of European cities, has released the results of its 2012 Perception Survey. It asked people in 79 cities, including 6 in the UK, about their satisfaction with everything from their cities’ healthcare to its public spaces. It then used this data to put together average satisfaction levels on 12 different issues for each city. 

If you take an average of those 12 percentages for UK cities, they on the whole turn out to be “pretty satisfied” – all six fall in the 75-85 per cent range. They’re certainly doing better than Athens, which has an average satisfaction rate of 42 per cent.

But lagging in last place among the Brits is London, which feels the least satisfied with its schools, sports facilities, health services, and pollution and noise levels. (Its schools, incidentally, are among the best in Britain.)

The only category where London came out on top was public transport. Here's a graph of the overall satisfaction levels.

The survey also asked respondents whether they agreed with certain statements about their cities. Only 71 per cent of Londoners agreed with the statement “I feel safe in London”, which places it below the European median of 74 per cent and at the bottle of the pile in the UK. Londoners feel less safe than residents of Paris, Barcelona, Zagreb, and Malaga, to name but four.  Finally, in utterly unsurprising news, only 12 per cent of respondents agreed with the statement “It is easy to find good housing at a reasonable price in London.”

So should Londoners really be so down on their city? As the UK’s largest, it’s pretty much fated to have the highest crime and pollution levels. And yes, the housing market is awful. 

But when the researchers asked the question “are you satisfied with the place where you live?”, offering respondants the chance to say they liked their city despite its crime and pollution, Londoners were still the most dissatisfied in the UK – 82 per cent said they were satisfied, which sounds OK, but it places London ahead of only 17 European cities, and behind 51. The median satisfaction level for Europe was much higher, at 92 per cent. Here's the results for some major European cities: 

One explanation for London's poor performance could be that Londoners have less pride in their city - a result, perhaps, of the fact relatively few of them were born there. In 2001, Sheffield University conducted a “sense of belonging” study across the UK, based on the number of non-married adults, one-person households and people who had lived at their current address for less than a year. (The thinking was that these were the groups least likely to have roots in an area.) The researchers' results show that, of the six British cities included in the Urban Audit study, it was those who lived in London who were likely to have the lowest “sense of belonging”. Residents of Cardiff – also the winning city in terms of satisfaction – were likely to have the highest.

In other words, despite all their phone contacts, Londoners are lonely, disconnected and dissatisfied. Someone sort out the housing market before it’s too late.

This is a preview of our new sister publication, CityMetric. We'll be launching its website soon - in the meantime, you can follow it on Twitter and Facebook. 

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