If you create a city that’s good for an 8 year old and good for an 80 year old, you will create a successful city for everyone.
— 8-80 Cities
A well-designed place works for all of its residents, from the youngest family to the eldest veteran. We seem to have forgotten that in our rush to suburbanization, embracing the mobility of the automobile (for those who can drive) to the detriment of the mobility of everybody else. Now, after our half-century experiment of sprawl, an increasing number of folks are looking at restoring balance to our urban fabric. It’s not a question of cars or no-cars, but of building towns and cities that work for everyone.
A first step is getting a better picture of how our communities are working for all of our residents, aged eight or eighty and everyone in between. Deb Whitman and Rodney Harrell with AARP’s Public Policy Institute introduced a new tool, the Livability Index, at the American Planning Association’s National Planning Conference this week in Seattle. This community indicator toolbox offers a web-based tool aggregating data across seven different categories, typically at the Census Block Group or County level. These include:
- Housing: ADA accessibility, multi-family options, affordability, subsidized housing
- Neighborhood: Food deserts, parks, libraries, accessibility of jobs (by transit and auto), mixed use, density, safety, housing vacancy
- Transportation: Local transit, reported frequency of walking trips, congestion, transportation costs, speed limits, crash rates, ADA accessibility
- Environment: Drinking water quality, regional air quality, proximity to high-traffic roads, industrial pollution
- Health: Tobacco use, obesity, exercise opportunities, health care professional shortages, hospitalization rate, patient satisfaction
- Engagement: Broadband access (yeah!), civic organization, voting rates, cultural institutions
- Opportunity: Income inequality, jobs per worker, high school graduation rates, age diversity
The Livability Index assembles data from a variety of sources (not just American Community Survey) and presents it in accessible and visually appealing maps and charts, with transparent data citations and suggested resources for further information. The index average score is defined as 50 points—half of all areas score higher, half lower—with bonus points for participation in AARP-supported policies such as Complete Streets and their Age-Friendly Communities program. You can also compare up to three communities (block group, city, county, etc.) at one time.
My current community of choice scores 44, which is not bad for our generally sprawling area. Up the road, Durango, Colorado, scores a 54, with more multi-family housing although the cost of housing is much more expensive, and large differences in community health and civic engagement. It depends what your concerns happen to be. Since people will have different preferences they give the option of slider-bars to adjust weights among the data scenarios.
As in most data tools, I urge caution in smaller geographies, although results are interesting at the neighborhood level (data available may color results). For example, the city of Cheyenne scored 58 overall while my old neighborhood earned 56 points vs. downtown’s 62 points. Metropolitan areas seem to score higher with transit, formal subsidized housing, and larger gross number of jobs counted than small towns. Its a nice tool for bringing Big Data down to the community level. Like any report card, the scores are relative, and most useful for diagnosing areas for improvement.
Kudos to AARP for this effort.
- USA Today: AARP names top 10 most livable neighborhoods in USA
- Washington Post: Is your community a good place to grow old? Plug your zip code into AARP tool to find out