VIENNA, Austria,  Impressions of...


Ranking cities for 'quality of life' always stimulates media attention and controversy. Authoritative surveys announce winners annually - usually favouring spacious Antipodean and Canadian centres. Only one European "old world" city consistently scores well - Austria's capital: Vienna.

Viennese cake - Sachertorte

Economic, educational, and environmental factors vie with less tangible considerations such as culture, political stability and perceived safety in garnering life style credits. These surveys primarily target businesses aiming to relocate or invest, but the debate on quality of life involving an index of 'Gross National Happiness' should appeal to architects and planners.

Viennese art and architecture is internationally revered. Klimt; Schiele; Wagner; Olbrich, and Loos are among many distinguished names exhibited in the city's huge cultural complex 'MQ'- Museumsquartier. Spacious gardens and glorious Imperial Buildings provide inspirational contemporary galleries complimented by 1990's Leopald Museum, and MUMOK - themselves modern architectural masterpieces.

Karlsplatz (former station) designed by Otto Wagner 1899

Associated with Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Strauss (both junior and senior) the city retains significant musical culture. Vienna impressed the world by rebuilding its State Opera House as a priority, following devastating bombing in 1945. Speedy revival of the famous opera company was symbolic of Austrian post occupation spirit and recovery.

While Music, Art and Architecture feed the soul Vienna offers still sweeter nourishment. The city's sense of 'well being' could be attributable to its Cafe Culture and associated confections.

Haas Haus designed by Hans Hollien 1990

Coffee arrived from the orient during seventeenth century Turkish sieges of the city. Viennese serving techniques added whipped cream, powdered sugar and a glass of water - on silver trays - popularising the strong dark beverages and initiating rituals and cultural traditions which endure.

Marble topped tables, Thonet bentwood chairs, newspapers and stylish interiors epitomise traditional Viennese Cafes along with spectacular pastries and cakes. Such catalysts inspire thoughtful conversation and cafes became cultural hubs for architects, artists, writers, politicians and philosophers.

Innovative improvement to resident's living conditions won Vienna the United Nations urban-planning Award 2010. Between 1984 and 2003 the city refurbished thousands of older buildings under 'gentle urban renewal' achieving social housing and 'affordable' modern apartments whilst also reviving derelict districts.

Parallel targets were scheduled on three levels:- individual apartments, entire buildings, and complete blocks. Upgrading sanitation and spacial configuration for each apartment; joined with improved fabric insulation, windows, roofing and lift access per building; linked where possible with open space and landscaping measures around each block.

The City as biggest property owner historically shared an interest in providing generous public funding for renewal. This early 'public private partnership' with assisted funding, offered reduced taxation and restricted rental control for private owners whilst avoiding displacement of existing residents thus minimising undesirable 'gentrification' and stimulating healthy social interaction.

Vienna is proud of its reputation for high quality living. Consequently in future growth planning, urban and transportation policies focus on social justice and aim to provide frameworks which guarantee wealth, safety and security for all age groups. Several "sustainable development areas" are now rising high on the skyline and immense investment is transforming local and international rail travel by introducing through lines and integrating transport routes.  

It is inspiring to see how carefully Vienna slices its cake to share benefits evenly across society.    Viennese have long known the ingredients for baking a coveted chocolate cake - "Sachertorte". It seems they also hold a recipe to ensure "Gross National Happiness".

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© stuart campbell 2021