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The 'world's most livable city' has a proven, 100-year-old approach to affordable housing

More than 60% of this city of 1.9 million people lives in government-subsidized housing.

nighttime view of Vienna
Photo by Jacek Dylag on Unsplash

Vienna, Austria, is the "world's most livable city."

My family recently spent a week exploring Vienna, Austria, getting a first-hand look at why it's been named "the world's most livable city" for 8 out of the past 10 years. As we enjoyed the efficient public transportation system and meandered the picturesque streets filled with gorgeous architecture, we did find ourselves thinking, "Yeah, we could live here."

Part of that feeling was prompted by the beauty of the place, but as we spent hours walking through the historic heart of the city, something else struck me. Unlike every other big city I've visited in recent years, I didn't see anyone sleeping on the sidewalk. No tents as makeshift homes set up anywhere. It was so striking, I kept wondering, "Where were all the homeless people?"

Vienna is home to 1.9 million people—more than twice the population of Seattle or Boston, where you can't walk for 5 minutes through downtown without seeing multiple people experiencing homelessness. I began to wonder if perhaps Vienna was a case of homelessness being shoved out of view into slums or something. But after digging a bit, I learned that Vienna does have some homeless population. It just doesn't have the numbers or the homelessnessproblem that most modern large cities do, thanks to its 100-year-old approach to affordable housing.


In the late 19th century, Vienna faced a huge housing and economic crisis. It was bad, even contributing to a tragically young life expectancy in 1900.

To address the problem, from 1919 to 1934, the city poured tax revenue into public housing—but not like any public housing most of us have ever seen. Known as as Volkswohnungspaläste, or “people’s apartment palaces," the homes that were built were multi-story apartment blocks built with quality materials and beautified architectural details. They included green spaces and playgrounds and were built with easy access to medical facilities, schools, libraries, post offices and theater spaces.

The ideas was that government housing should be conducive to a good quality of life for all. And this novel concept has been at the heart of the approach to housing in Vienna ever since. Today, more than 60% of the Viennese population lives in government-subsidized housing and nearly nearly half of the housing market is city-owned flats or cooperative apartments. There is no stigma attached to public housing, which is interspersed throughout the city.

While other European cities began to privatize and commodify housing in the 1980s and 90s, Vienna held the course, viewing housing as a human right. And now it's being named the "world's most livable city" almost every year. Go figure.

In the fall of 2022, a delegation of 50 American tenant and homeless leaders, organizers, researchers, and elected officials visited Vienna to learn more about their social housing programs. Here were a few of their impressions they shared with "The Nation":

"The attitude there is so different than what we have in the United States. We have it ingrained that public things are supposed to be nasty, supposed to be the lowest of the low. But to see what we saw in Vienna, it was like, wow, it is achievable to have housing that is government-owned, for the people, and beautiful." – Julie Cohon, lead housing organizer at Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition

"I work hard. And, I still don’t have a safe place to live. In Vienna, we saw regular people who had not only safe but beautiful spaces. [When we were touring Sonnwendviertel, a 5,500 apartment social housing development not far from the city’s main train station], I kept noticing a lot of kids. And we saw how space was really designed for them: lots of day care centers and beautiful, car-free streets. What we saw is when the profit motive is taken out of housing, it’s a game changer." – Dorca Reynoso, board member of the Met Council Action

"My main reflections from Vienna was how long the culture of housing for all has been in existence. The quality of social housing was also interesting: the Viennese government chose maintaining well-constructed buildings, rather than demolishing and rebuilding every 30 to 50 years. The very first municipal complex was built in 1924 and is still fully occupied today." – India Walton, senior adviser at the Working Families Party

Is it possible to apply what has been learned in Vienna over the past century to other places? Why not? Considering the unaffordability of housing in so many cities, it seems worth a try. Housing isn't the only thing that makes Vienna a highly livable city, but it definitely plays a huge role. When housing is reasonably desirable at every price point and people aren't worried about affording a nice roof over their heads, it's easier to address the other things that make life good. It at least seems like a good place to start.

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Music’s biggest night took place Sunday, February 4 with the 66th Annual GRAMMY Awards. Now, fans have the opportunity to take home a piece of the famed event.

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“Through our GRAMMY Awards campaign, we’ve created an opportunity for our brand, our partners and consumers to come together over shared values, to participate during a moment when we can celebrate our passion for music and our commitment to make meaningful investments to preserve the environment,” says Rustom Dastoor, Executive Vice President of Marketing and Communications, North America at Mastercard.

The campaign kicked off with an inspired self-guided multi-sensory tour at the GRAMMY House presented by Mastercard, where people journeyed through their passion of music and educational experience about Mastercard’s longstanding commitment to tree restoration. Then, this year’s most-nominated GRAMMY artist and a passionate voice for the environment, SZA, led the charge with the debut performance of her new song, Saturn.

Mastercard’s partners are also joining the mission by encouraging people all over the country to participate; Lyft and Sirius XM are both offering ways for consumers to get involved in the Priceless Planet Coalition. To learn more about how you can support these efforts, visit mastercard.com/forceofnature.

While fashion is always a highlight of any GRAMMY Awards event, SZA’s outfit worn during her performance of Saturn was designed to make a statement; made of tree seeds to help spread awareness. Fans can even comment ‘🌱’ and tag a friend on Mastercard’s designated post of SZA’s GRAMMY House performance for a chance to win a tree seed from the performance outfit*.

“SZA has a personal passion for sustainability – not just in forest restoration but in the clothes she wears and the platforms and partners she aligns herself with. It was important to us to partner with someone who is not only showing up big at the GRAMMY Awards – as the most GRAMMY-nominated artist this year – but also showing up big for the environment,” says Dastoor.

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The results were alarming—an average of 240,000 nanoplastics per 1 liter bottle—but what does it mean for our health?

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Columbia University researchers tested bottled water for nanoplastics and found hundreds of thousands of them.

Evian, Fiji, Voss, SmartWater, Aquafina, Dasani—it's impressive how many brands we have for something humans have been consuming for millennia. Despite years of studies showing that bottled water is no safer to drink than tap water, Americans are more consuming more bottled water than ever, to the tune of billions of dollars in bottled water sales.

People cite convenience and taste in addition to perceived safety for reasons they prefer bottle to tap, but the fear factor surrounding tap water is still a driving force. It doesn't help when emergencies like floods cause tap water contamination or when investigations reveal issues with lead pipes in some communities, but municipal water supplies are tested regularly, and in the vast majority of the U.S., you can safely grab a glass of water from a tap.

And now, a new study on nanoplastics found in three popular bottled water brands is throwing more data into the bottled vs. tap water choice.

Researchers from Columbia University used a new laser-guided technology to detect nanoplastics that had previously evaded detection due to their miniscule size. The new technology can detect, count and analyze and chemical structure of nanoparticles, and they found seven different major types of plastic: polyamide, polypropylene, polyethylene, polymethyl methacrylate, polyvinyl chloride, polystyrene, and polyethylene terephthalate.

In contrast to a 2018 study that found around 300 plastic particles in an average liter of bottled water, the study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in January of 2024 found 240,000 nanoplastic particles per liter bottle on average between the three brands studied. (The name of the brands were not indicated in the study.)

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Is it possible that some of these nanoplastics were already present in the water from their original sources? Again, research is always evolving on this front, but microplastics have been detected in lakes, streams and other freshwater sources, so it's not a big stretch to imagine that nanoplastics may be making their way into freshwater ecosystems as well. However, microplastics are found at much higher levels in bottled water than tap water, so it's also not a stretch to assume that most of the nanoplastics are likely coming from the bottling process and packaging rather than from freshwater sources.

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We need to drink water, and we need to drink safe water. At this point, we have plenty of environmental reasons for avoiding bottled water unless absolutely necessary and opting for tap water instead. Even if there's still more research to be done, the presence of hundreds of thousands of nanoplastics in bottled water might just be another reason to make the switch.

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via KIvanKC/TikTok and KIvanKC/TikTok. Images used with permission.

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