'QUALITY of life' survey among residents in Spain's biggest cities shows attitudes have changed since the start of the pandemic, according to national consumer organisation OCU, which conducted the research.
Vigo, province of Pontevedra, in mainland Spain's far north-western region of Galicia (photo: Galicia tourism board)
Taking a stratified sample of 3,000 people in 15 major metropolitan areas, the study asked participants to rank nine key areas which contributed to 'liveability'.
Public safety, health and education services, things to do – leisure, culture and sports – pollution and environment, mobility, the job market, cost of living, housing market and cleanliness of streets and outdoor areas in general were scrutinised.
The 15 cities assessed were mainly in descending order of size: Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Sevilla, Zaragoza, Málaga, Murcia, Palma de Mallorca, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Bilbao, Alicante, Córdoba, Valladolid, Vigo and Gijón.
Based upon answers received in October and November 2020, scores given do not give an overall picture, since in some cases, most or all areas ranked highly and, in others, certain features were given exceptionally-high scores with the rest getting fair or poor ratings, leading to some cities where satisfaction was across the board falling below those where given aspects had clear room for improvement.
Given that the criteria included leisure opportunities, ease of getting about, and the job market, it would have been expected that the 'big two', Madrid and Barcelona, would score highest – but in fact, the latter came second from bottom and Spain's capital came right at the bottom.
The average rating out of 100 was 64, and Barcelona and Madrid scored 56 and 55 respectively – still a 'pass mark' overall, but below the mid-point for the 15.
Even though the weather is generally milder in winter and warmer in spring and autumn south of the capital, four of the top five cities were in the north of the mainland.
Vigo (Pontevedra province, Galicia) turned out to boast the best quality of life for urban dwellers in Spain, netting 70%.
According to the OCU, the north-western city – which is not a provincial capital and is quite small compared with many of the others on the list – ranked highly for safety, clean streets, environmental factors including lack of pollution, given that it has large car-free areas, and quality and ease of access of schools.
Residents said it was 'one of the best' cities to live in for families with children, especially for leisure and entertainment facilities; but Vigo fell down on its housing and job markets.
Aragón's largest city, Zaragoza, scored highly across the board – Spain's fifth-largest city, along with the Basque port capital of Bilbao, came joint second with 69%.
Zaragoza's only low rating was for the cleanliness of its streets – but, at least, this is an aspect that is easily solved.
Bilbao got the best ranking for its healthcare and, along with Zaragoza, earned the joint highest scores for mobility, whilst these two plus Vigo got good marks for their schools.
In Bilbao, the cost of living and housing market 'could be better', the OCU reveals.
Madrid and Barcelona fell down on pollution, housing market, cost of living, and cleanliness, but scored well for job opportunities and spare-time activities.
Valladolid in the centre-northern region of Castilla y León – a city where it has long been held that the natives speak the purest form of 'received Spanish' in the country – and the land-locked far-southern city of Córdoba in Andalucía, world-famous for its splendid Great Mosque and its bright, floral patios, came joint fourth with 68%, completing the top five.
Málaga scored 66%, in sixth place, with Valencia and the Asturias city of Gijón slap-bang in the middle of the rankings on 65%.
Alicante (64%) and Málaga both gained points compared with similar pre-pandemic surveys on mobility, although Málaga, along with Sevilla and Madrid, did not score well for their public healthcare facilities – despite all three being home to some of the most pioneering hospitals in the country.
Joint ninth, completing the first 10, were Sevilla and Las Palmas de Gran Canaria (63%), followed by Murcia on 61%.
The OCU says life in the cities of Palma de Mallorca and Sevilla is perceived as being of less quality now than in earlier data gatherings from before Covid-19 hit Spain, although scores overall have decreased in all 15.
This would lend support to other polls conducted throughout 2020, which found city-dwellers in general had become dissatisfied with their lives and locations and were either strongly considering, or at least dreaming, of a house move to a more rural or coastal environment where they would get more for their money in property terms, and in particular, more outside space.
Lockdown between mid-March and early June led to an upsurge in enquiries for homes with gardens, terraces, larger balconies, and private or shared swimming pools, as householders with nowhere to go to get fresh air and sunlight found having to stay at home permanently to be much harder.
Also, with the pandemic's giving rise to an increase in working from home, buyer habits are now said to be changing, since location is no longer as crucial – being within comfortable commuting distance from the office is becoming less of a factor.