What makes a city a destination of choice for today’s urban worker? Most people living, working and playing in today’s fast-paced corporate environment are desperate for a sound business infrastructure that includes good opportunities for jobs, quick and efficient ways to travel to work and good credit for entrepreneurial opportunities. But when the sun sets, and it’s time to unwind, today’s worker also craves decent watering holes, multiplexes to watch the latest Bond movie, and for the overly energetic, a club to dance the night away. That’s not all though. Today’s urban worker expects a safe civic environment—especially for women— good hospitals, schools and parks, and the one thing that Indians constantly pray for—but seldom get—namely, regular power supply.Which is why, this year, Business Today’s Best Cities Survey divvies up cities on the basis of how they stack up in ‘Life at Work’ as well as ‘Life after Work’. Often, cities scoring high in one index have fared rather averagely on the other. A case in point is Gurgaon, which is not just the top ranked city in the ‘Life at Work’ category but also the overall best city to live and work in. Yet, it scores a distant 11th in the ‘Life after Work’ index—not because of a lack of malls, restaurants or movie theatres of which it has plenty—but because of its shoddy roads and inconsistent power supply.
This year’s survey, besides having a larger base of respondents—6,000 spread across 50 cities—has ranked cities relative to each other rather than in absolute terms which is a more fair assessment of how cities size up against each other across different variables. So, while Delhi’s improved infrastructure should see it jumping ranks vis-à-vis last year, the fact that other cities have evolved on other parameters at a faster pace means that India’s political power centre has actually seen its ranking drop. Ditto for Mumbai, which, if one goes by popular perception of its passenger-bursting local trains and traffic-choked roads, should probably be a candidate for the worst city, but because of its sheer strength in terms of wealth creation, job opportunities, per capita income and safety, especially of women, is ranked higher than Delhi.
Rise of suburbia
Gurgaon’s top ranking, of course, is indicative of a new trend —the rise of the suburb and tier II cities. Mumbai, in fact, is the only mega-city to feature in the top five, and that too barely. “The driver for the overall shift was the real estate cost, which spiralled exponentially in the metros, necessitating the development of the suburbs where asset prices were still under control,” says Anshul Jain, CEO, DTZ International Property Advisers, by way of explanation. He should know. DTZ itself moved out from Delhi’s Nehru Place commercial centre to Gurgaon citing proximity to clients. In fact, high real estate costs fuel inflationary trends in the other major company expense, namely human resources, as a higher cost of living demands higher compensation packages.
“What counts in favour of the secondary cities is the availability of good accommodation and office space, daily conveniences and a support system for working professionals— for instance, availability of domestic help,” points out Nakul Anand, Divisional Chief Executive, Hotels, ITC, headquartered in Gurgaon. He adds though, that much of the comparison between cities is relative to a specific reference in time, having lived in Bangalore during its pre-IT boom period as well as Chennai.
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