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Attention Expats: Singapore Is Better Than Hong Kong

Description: A haze over Victoria Harbor and the North Point district skyline in Hong Kong.

Jerome Favre/Bloomberg NewsA haze over Victoria Harbor and the North Point district skyline in Hong Kong.

HONG KONG — Singapore and Hong Kong are engaged in a constant battle: which, oh which, is the more important Asian financial center? And which is more capable of attracting the top-quality workers that are needed to run the trading floors, logistics operations and universities that make both cities global players?

This week, once again, Singapore came out clearly ahead of Hong Kong, in an annual ranking of living conditions (as seen through the eyes of expatriate staff) compiled by ECA International, the management consultancy.

The assessment is designed to help companies determine what, if any, additional compensation or benefits they should offer employees they are sending abroad, and takes into consideration factors such as climate, health services, housing, leisure facilities, infrastructure, safety, political tensions and air quality.

Singapore was ranked as the best Asian city to live in (for the 13th year in a row), ahead of Hong Kong, which came in third, after Kobe, Japan.

Hong Kong’s positioning was an improvement from the previous year, when it ranked fifth within the region. But the 2-notch rise was nothing for Hong Kong to be proud of: It was the result of two other Japanese cities, Tokyo and Yokohama, dropping in the ranking because of the earthquake and tsunami of March 2011.

All in all, of course, Hong Kong does a good job in many respects: the transport infrastructure is awesomely efficient; health and education services are good; and on the personal safety front…well, name another city of seven million where a woman can go jogging on her own at night, as I do.

Still, where Hong Kong falls down — vis a vis urban rival Singapore — is air quality.

This may sound banal, but it is not. Pollution has worsened over the years (in part because of smog from neighboring mainland China), and, as I have reported, the government’s inability to reverse the trend (by giving out incentives to promote cleaner engines or cleaner fuel, for example) is drawing increasingly outspoken criticism.

Hong Kong, said Lee Quane, regional director for Asia at ECA International, has the third worst score for any of the 49 Asian cities assessed by the consulting firm, after Beijing and New Delhi, and now ranks among the worst locations worldwide for air quality, along with Santiago, Mexico City, and Cairo.

Air pollution, Mr. Quane said, could be a critical factor for an employee trying to decide whether to relocate here. “In this respect, Singapore has a clear lead over Hong Kong, giving it an advantage in terms of attracting business from overseas.”

(Oh, and in case you were wondering, Baghdad, Kabul, Port-au-Prince and Karachi are the worst cities to live in, according to the ECA ranking.)

So, tell us, why do you live in Hong Kong?

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