The Brentwood/Bel Air/Beverly Crest area in the hills on the Westside of Los Angeles is the second most desirable place in the country, according to a new study by economists David Albouy and Bert Lue, published in the Journal of Urban Economics. They looked at about 2,000 of the US Census's Public Use Microdata Areas (which in cities are essentially neighborhoods) and analyzed the real take-home pay of residents in those areas to see "how much of that pay people are willing to sacrifice to live in the best neighborhoods and to access the best possible services and amenities," as Richard Florida explains at CityLab. So rather than calculating quality of life based on a bunch of amenities selected by the researcher, they calculated it based on its intrinsic desirability, as measured by how much of their incomes people will put toward living there.
The Upper East Side topped the quality-of-life rankings with a .327; Bel Air and surroundings followed at .311.
Overall, the economists found people were willing to pay for good, well-funded schools (which is potentially question-begging, since richer residents tend to invest more in schools); lower murder rates; and more bars and restaurants. Brentwood/Bel Air/Beverly Crest is kind of an outlier, then—the area is in the city of LA, so it's served by the LAUSD (though it certainly has other educational advantages and more money to supplement public school funding), and it's fairly suburban and remote, with bars and restaurants clustered around a few corridors in Brentwood but pretty much absent from hilly Bel Air and Beverly Crest. (The murder rates are definitely low.)
The study also found that "a neighborhood's size, density and 'artificial amenities'—those that are created by a neighborhood's residents—create demand, more so than aspects of its natural environment, like mountains or coastlines." The inverse is most likely true in Brentwood/Bel Air/Beverly Crest: the neighborhoods are rather sprawling and don't have a ton of "artificial amenities," but they do have glorious views and a lot of privacy afforded by the geography. Suburban, seaside Redondo Beach and Malibu both ranked high on the index too. (LA's weirdness in how rich people sort themselves geographically has been documented before.)
And, the authors write, "Quality of life varies as much within metros as across them, and is typically high in areas that are dense, suburban, mild, safe, entertaining, and have higher school funding." And there are plenty of places in Los Angeles that aren't any of those things. Southeast LA ranked lowest in the metro area, at 1,122 with a quality-of-life index score of -.019; East LA came in at 941 on the list, with a score of -.003; and Compton/Willowbrook was ranked 828, but made it into the positives with a score of .007.