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The World's Most Expensive Cities Aren't The Ones You Think (Except The Ones That Are)

By Petr Navovy | Miscellaneous | September 24, 2015 |

By Petr Navovy | Miscellaneous | September 24, 2015 |

‘It was the best of times, it was the blurst of times,’ a wise but underappreciated monkey once wrote.

Of course, a human writer once formulated a similar - albeit not quite as good - version of that line too. Charles Dokken I think his name was; and the book the line is taken from is called A Tale of Two Cities - a work of grim, miserable 19th century fiction grounded in the grim, horrible reality of 18th century Paris and London. It’s set in and around the events of the French Revolution, and - because it’s a Dokken novel - it mostly sucks. Yeah, yeah, sure the descriptive passages are pretty phenomenal, and some of the villains are quite hilarious, but come on, you all wanna admit it: otherwise his books aren’t that great, are they? Gimme a Dostoyevsky, or a Tolstoy, or Almost-Any-Other-Russian any day.

But despite the completely serious and absolutely not flippant opinion fact I just expressed stated for the record, Dokken’s work still has value. After all you don’t get to become an eponymous adjective for just any old reason! Right, Dave?



Dokken’s name is of course synonymous with a rather diff-…

david lynch 2.gif

Goddammit, David! Go wait in the corner!

I’m sorry, guys, he just does that sometimes.

Anyway, we all know what the term Dokkensian means; but it’s not just Charles Dokken’s name that has become a useful linguistic shorthand. By virtue of easily and poetically encapsulating the phenomenon of a town heading towards two different, wealth-divided destinies, A Tale of Two Cities by itself has also earned that prize. And, in this age of ever-widening income inequality it has become a go-to phrase to describe the trend (even though some might consider that a slight distortion of its meaning).

Perhaps some context as to why I bring this frothy, light-hearted income inequality shit up on a Thursday morning?

I work in the London borough of Tower Hamlets. Tower Hamlets has a number of wonderful things going for it: it’s a thriving cosmopolitan hub located in the historical East End of London with a rich heritage and an effervescent community.

It’s also the third most economically deprived borough in the country; the second most deprived borough in the city; and nowhere in London will you find an area with a higher rate of child poverty.

Well, ok, that just applies to a part of Tower Hamlets, because another thing the borough has is views like this.

The area in the foreground is in Tower Hamlets; and the buildings in the background are in Tower Hamlets. You can see the best/blurst link now, right?

But, like having to use a bathroom immediately after someone has just released a weapons-grade load in there - no matter how bad the smell, most of the time you just get used to it and get on with your business.


(I am aware of the metaphor completely and utterly exploding in my hands. I’ll clean up the mess later.)

Yes, in its continuing ambitions to star as the new Hunger Games Capitol, London has decided to erect a towering luxury complex featuring - amongst other things - sky gardens, a private gym, a swimming pool, and a cinema. Rather than using it to attract foreign capital desirous of using London’s property boom as an investment, prices are of course being kept at reasonable levels to ensure that normal, local people millionaires can afford to live there - they range from £395,000 ($602,908) for a studio flat, to just £2,000,000 (£3,052,700) for a penthouse.

This got me thinking: where does this ridiculous city of mine rank in terms of a worldwide cost-of-living league?

Well, luckily for me, the consultancy firm Mercer recently published just such a list.

Annoyingly, the metrics used are a lot more nuanced than anticipated, but here are the rankings:

16. New York City, US
15. Guangzhou, China
14. Shenzhen, China
13. Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo
12. London, UK
11. Tokyo, Japan
10. N’Djamena, Chad
9. Bern, Switzerland
8. Seoul, South Korea
7. Beijing, China
6. Shanghai, China
5. Geneva, Switzerland
4. Singapore
3. Zurich, Switzerland
2. Hong Kong
1. Luanda, Angola


Lessons learned?


Ah, the lesson’s always the same: never forget to end on an apt Hunter S. Thompson quote!

‘It’s a strange world. Some people get rich and others eat shit and die.’