Minding costs of scaling global ladder

A ranking of business cities by PricewaterhouseCoopers in which Singapore placed third, after London and New York, authenticates the island-state's global orientation. London is a trendsetter with its wealth of banking, legal and insurance expertise to undergird its position as a service innovator and provider to the world. The city's cultural stew completes a palatable picture. Singapore is catching up in key indexes, even in the cultural category, which, in PwC's criteria, is not just about museums and artistic performances, but also extends to the richness of the restaurant scene. Varied forms of street life, as much as Formula One-type spectaculars, help to burnish a city's attractiveness.

The attributes for which Singapore has gained international recognition did not come about by accident, of course. Planning and effort were involved. PwC's study, Cities of Opportunity, differs from liveability rankings in that it seeks out quality in the locus where finance, commerce and culture intersect. But there are some similarities with quality-of-life indexes, which Singapore's planners would do well to take note of.

Singapore ranked best in transport and infrastructure, including housing, but it came off poorly in living costs, not surprisingly. It kept company with notoriously expensive cities for transients and residents alike: think Tokyo, Paris, London. This was mirrored in transport ticket prices, in which Singapore was in mid-table among the 30 cities surveyed. This finding will reinforce strong views held about rail and bus fares and periodic increases. The cost factor has echoes of a much-talked-about finding by the Economist Intelligence Unit that ranked Singapore as the world's most expensive for expatriate workers, among 131 cities surveyed. In sustainability, another liveability marker, the PwC report gave Singapore middling marks for waste recycling.

But context is relevant in comparative studies. Poorer ratings in some indexes need not detract from the core of PwC's study, which seeks foremost to identify cities at the forefront of business and urbanisation trends, and where evolving opportunities lie. This could explain why staples like Amsterdam and Zurich were excluded in the index, now in its sixth year, whereas Nairobi and Milan were included.

Singapore is different from many other cities ranked because, as an international business centre, it also is home to 5.4 million people, about two-thirds of them citizens. They are subject to the percolating effects of workaday costs and the urban crush, which most global cities face. Singapore cannot stand still in competing for funds, skills and service efficiencies, but all these must eventually translate into a commodious whole for the citizenry.