Photo: UN


When is a city too big to be livable or too small to have the quality of life that we feel we need?

The answer would be worth a fortune. Of course, social scientists try to measure such things.

A recent study by Elaine Siu of the University of British Columbia looked seriously at the question: Does population size impact quality of life?

Break away first to Mexico City, alias CDMX. Almost everyone knows it is large. A few less might know it is one of the largest cities of the world. Probably only geography nerds would know that Tokyo is number one, Mexico City comes in at fifth and New York City, which most assume to be larger than Mexico City, is actually 12th in world rank for 2021.

As Mexico City becomes a more and more popular destination for tourists because of its economical airfare options, it has also become a place tourists are checking out beyond the traditional beach locations.

But what is it like to live there as one of the world’s really big mega cities?

Back to the study and then we will get back to CDMX.

Just like New York or Tokyo, inhabitants of big cities tend to do most things in their own corner or sometimes quadrant of the city, so the level of personal satisfaction might not be equal across a city, but it is a start.

Despite the chaos of urban life, large cities offer a number of comforts and conveniences that are harder to find in smaller towns. That is why more people are moving into urban areas around the world. It is generically safe to say that the world’s population has moved off the farm years ago, and we are seeing the impact now.

But do these conveniences reflect people’s quality of life?

Quality-of-life indexes have been covered before in other Pulse News Mexico stories. These indexes measure, by country, specifics like safety, health care, climate, commute time, pollution, property prices, purchasing power and the overall cost of living.

The study turns out to be somewhat of the Goldilocks story. Too small a city does not offer enough for most, but the actual population size has no impact on those looking for that. In midsize cities, under 1.8 million in size, the study found that population size has no statistical relation to satisfaction, but in the large cities, those over 1.8 million, there is a direct negative correlation with size and satisfaction. Beyond 1.8 million, added population negatively impacts satisfaction.

Mexico City, at 22 million, sits on the predicted spot for lower satisfaction. Tokyo breaks the trend and comes out much higher on the expected curve. The large Chinese cities come out much, much below.

So if Mexico City, just by its size, is doomed to chaos, what should be the best Mexican cities, at least from the ideal population perspective?

Fitting the 1.8 million population indicator are the following: Iztapalapa, León, Puebla and Ecatepec. Two of the four seem great, but I doubt anyone is moving to the other two for quality of life.

So what about Guadalajara and Monterrey, which most of us think of as second and third? According to a 2020 report by the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (Inegi), they come in as ninth and 10th places, with Tijuana in second.

Maybe the only conclusion can be that Mexico is changing, and doing so right before our eyes.

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