4 Reasons You Should Move To Vienna

Urbanists obsess over the Austrian capital city and for good reason: it's beautiful, has affordable housing, great public transit, and gender-inclusive planning.

Urbanists have a major boner for Vienna. It is, by one quality-of-life study, the most livable city in the world. According to our friends over at Co.Exist, it's one of the smartest cities in Europe.

Now, in New York magazine, Justin Davidson argues that New York City should embrace Vienna's superior model of housing as a method of social justice. "If de Blasio is serious about making New York not just pleasant but just, he ought to go on a scouting trip to Vienna," he writes. Why is Austria's capital such a hotspot for urbanist obsession?

It makes affordable housing look so, so cool

Vienna builds around 5,000 units of affordable public housing per year. Somewhere in the range of 60% of its population lives in public housing. And you know what? It's beautiful. Unlike the U.S., where public housing too often looks like a series of soulless fortresses, subsidized housing in Vienna is colorful, unique, and occasionally filled with amenities like rooftop pools and Finnish saunas. “You cannot win a project for housing in Vienna if you don’t meet a high planning and architectural level," Pratt professor William Menking told Davidson, "and none of it is out of reach in terms of quality for New York City."

Gasometer housing via Wikipedia

Vienna understands that well-designed residential architecture is not a luxury, it's a social need. "When every dollar has to multitask, when saving money on lighting bills frees it for better windows, when a hallway needs to double as a social space--that’s when inventive design becomes an urgent necessity," Davidson writes.

It plans for gender equality

In the early 1990s, Vienna instituted a policy called gender mainstreaming, aimed at providing equal access to city resources for both men and women, who don't always use the city in the same way. Clare Foran wrote in the Atlantic Cities in September that this approach is reshaping the experience of the city for its residents.

More than 60 pilot projects have been carried out, such as a housing complex designed by women with an on-site kindergarten, doctor's office, and pharmacy. Other projects include improved street lighting for safety and parks redesigned to encourage more equal access. "It’s become a way of changing the structure and fabric of the city so that different groups of people can coexist," Foran writes.

Bike Citycredit Gesiba

It's leading the smart city pack

Vienna is the third smartest city in Europe, as climate strategist Boyd Cohen writes at Co.Exist. This means that the city uses information technology to improve the efficiency of city operations and the quality of life of its citizens. A public-private partnership called TINA Vienna develops smart solutions for the city, like a crowd-funded Citizen Solar Power Plant, which is a former slaughterhouse-turned-startup-center. They've also expanded their electric vehicle charging network and have been experimenting with electric car sharing and electric bike rentals.

It's got great public transportation

You know what totally kills an urbanist's boner? Cars. But Vienna, dreamboat that it is, has an awesome public transportation network (deemed one of Europe's best) with buses, trains, trams, and subways.

Its transit is also balanced in favor of gender equality. In 1999, as part of the gender mainstreaming plan, city officials asked men and women how they used public transit. Women, who were more likely to run errands and take care of children and family members, used public transportation more frequently and at different times than men. In response, Vienna's city planners made an effort to improve transit access and pedestrian mobility.

Because so many people use public transportation, city housing has started ditching parking requirements. Vienna's car-free residential projects ask residents to commit to living without a car upon signing the rental agreement. Though the city still requires most developers to build a parking space for each residential unit, the car-free projects and developments like Bike City have managed to build without dedicated parking spots.

A city designed for affordability, sustainability, gender equality, and easy transit? Might be time to call the movers.

[Image: Vienna via Arseniy Krasnevsky / Shutterstock]

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  • Colin Roch

    I love everything about this article except, I think it would have been 1000% improved without the use of the word "boner". If you think it's somehow justified as trendy or whatever, think again, it just comes across as unprofessional / not respectable / not serious / immature.

  • Philipp Conrad

    vienna needs more e-car charging stations! and free parking to EV drivers, if it wants to consider itself "smart"

  • Unfortunately it has a shitty smoking policy: they have created non-smoking areas everywhere, but they are at the back of cafes and restaurants, so you always have to cross the smoking areas. Worse is that they always leave the doors between the areas open, so the non-smoking areas basically do not exist at all. The more alternative places for concerts etc do not have non smoking areas at all. It is a reason for me NOT to move to Vienna, after serious consideration.

  • Basia Szarir

    You talking private apartments. For rental and social housing it's affordable and Vienna has laws on the books to protects the tenants. They also have social organisations that provide information about your rights and keep to improve the standards. I live in Vienna and I totally agree with the article. This city is also incredibly safe with a huge number of well trained policemen, children-friendly and clean. It seriously makes you want to pay your taxes.

  • Basia Szarir

    You talking private apartments. For rental and social housing it's affordable and Vienna has laws on the books to protects the tenants. They also have social organisations that provide information about your rights and keep to improve the standards. I live in Vienna and I totally agree with the article. This city is also incredibly safe with a huge number of well trained policemen, children-friendly and clean. It seriously makes you want to pay your taxes.

  • Carl Caspersen

    It is indeed a beautiful city, buy also lots of narrow minded conservatives. I've never seen as much anti-Semitic graffiti in any other place. Austria is still trying to play the victim of the Nazi, and anti-Semitism is still a huge problem.

  • Basia Szarir

    I don't know where you've seen that. The rest of Austria tends to be conservative but Vienna is actually super open.

  • Franz Jazzco

    not sure where you got your fact from, but they're wrong.

    vienna has stopped building new public housing in 2004. most of the new projects are run by industrial cooperatives and far from affordable for normal people, as there's usually a deposit of several thousand euro (compared: minimum wages for fulltime jobs are below eur 1000.- per month for several branches). sure, there's still a - especially compared to other capitals - high number of public housing projects, but the restrictions to even get access to application for a public flat can't be called anything else then grotesque.

    especially the gasometer, which is viewed on one of the pictures, is a really bad example - most of the flats are only available for sale and the few ones which might be rented are quite expensive and, again, connected to a high-priced deposit. plus the building was originally built as a gas tank (thus the name) and was only adopted for living purposes like fifteen years ago.

  • Charlie Lang

    On paper Vienna is indeed an amazing city, due to the mentioned points and others like public parks, being clean and education, although the latter one is going down in recent years. Being from Vienna but having lived for many years in other major capitals in Europe, I recently moved back. Unfortunately I had to come to the realization that Vienna is not that great as it pretends to be! Outside the city center, it is not that beautiful and the gap between social classes is widening (ok, that's true everywhere). But what makes a city truly great are the people who live in it. Not all, but many are narrow minded and conservative. Racism is still a very big issue here, shown in the huge popularity of the right wing party! Being a child of an immigrant mother, I am confronted with that issue on a daily basis. Innovation in business and culture are held back by bureaucracy created by an out of touch older generation, stopping Vienna to move forward and stop relying on past glories!

  • Basia Szarir

    I am an immigrant in Vienna since over 5yrs now and I've never met with any open racism. The part about the widening inequality is true unfortunately but this is a global trend and relative to other places I've lived in Vienna is holding in there pretty well. There are still a lot of awesome social policies in place. Of course, things like that are constantly under attack from the idiot neoliberals and austerity proponents (like the recent idea to reduce the number of policemen and close multiple police stations or cuts to hospitals).

  • I lived in Vienna for several years in my 20s (back in the 90s) and travel back to visit friends regularly. It's an amazing city - could not agree here more with this assessment. I would happily move back. My friends there are all married with kids these days (like me) and tell me what a wonderful city it is to raise a family. My husband and I took our kids with us for a visit and had an amazing trip. Oh, I love Vienna! Still miss it so much!

  • This is great, except "Urbanists have a major boner for Vienna"? What a crass, adolescent-boy way to write about one of the world's most beautiful cities. I initially wanted to share this article with professional colleagues and family as Vienna is quite relevant to us, but I can't imagine making them read about boners - twice. Stay classy, Co.Design.