Livability Index: A Way to Create Great Neighborhoods for All Ages

You may have heard of Walk Score, not to mention Transit Score, Bike Score and Park Score.  But what about the Livability Index?  The Livability Index is a project of AARP’s Public Policy Institute.

The goal is to help community leaders and individuals learn about their communities and discover whether they have the features that people want and need. Then, stakeholders can use the Index to take steps to address gaps and improve livability.

The Livability Index scores neighborhoods and communities across the U.S. for the services and amenities that impact your life the most. It takes a holistic approach to understanding livability. While it wasn’t created to solely measure the quality of the built environment or the health of residents, it includes those elements, but it also considers engagement, opportunity, and the natural environment.

The Index encourages policymakers and professionals to get outside their areas of expertise and understand the interrelated nature of livability. For example, public health is influenced both by access to quality care and by neighborhoods that provide ample opportunity for people to be active as part of their daily lives.

The Index is also unique in that it allows measurement by address or ZIP Code and reports scores for every neighborhood in the United States. Previous indices have provided neighborhood-level analysis for the entire country, but for only one category of livability. Others have offered neighborhood-level analysis for many categories of livability, but only for a single city, using local data.

The Index takes a look at seven major livability categories.  AARP has posted numerous resources within each category that can help consumers and policymakers get started on improving aspects of their neighborhoods and communities.  Resources provides ideas for more livability; Metrics measure key aspects of livability and Policies list laws and policies to advocate for. Below is a description of each category and a couple of metrics associated with each category.

  • Housing: Housing is a central component of livability. Deciding where to live influences many of the topics the Index covers. We spend more time in our homes than anywhere else, so housing costs, choices, and accessibility are critical. Great communities provide housing opportunities for people of all ages, incomes, and abilities, allowing everyone to live in a quality neighborhood regardless of their circumstances.  Metrics include housing options, affordability and accessibility.
  • Neighborhood: What makes a neighborhood truly livable? Two important qualities are access and convenience. Compact neighborhoods make it easier for residents to reach the things they need most, from jobs to grocery stores to libraries. Nearby parks and places to buy healthy food help people make smart choices, and diverse, walkable neighborhoods with shops, restaurants, and movie theatres make local life interesting. Additionally, neighborhoods served by good access to more distant destinations via transit or automobile help residents connect to jobs, health care, and services throughout the greater community. Metrics include proximity to destinations, compact neighborhoods and neighborhood quality.

  • Environment: Good communities maintain a clean environment for their residents. Great communities enact policies to improve and protect the environment for generations to come. The Livability Index looks at air and water quality. It measures communities’ actions to create resilience plans to prepare for emergencies and natural disasters, and it awards points to states that have policies promoting energy efficiency and that protect consumers from having their utilities cut off during extreme weather events. Metrics include water and air quality.
  • Health: Community conditions influence health behaviors. Healthy communities have comprehensive smoke-free air laws, offer easy access to exercise opportunities, and have high-quality health care available. Because health is so deeply related to quality of life, many other categories of livability in this Index include metrics related to health. For example, access to healthy foods, jobs and education, number of walk trips, lower speed limits, social engagement measures, and air and water pollution are all related to health. Where you live matters. Metrics include healthy behaviors, access to health care and quality of health care.
  • Transportation: How easily and safely we’re able to get from one place to another has a major effect on our quality of life. Livable communities provide their residents with transportation options that connect people to social activities, economic opportunities, and medical care, and offer convenient, healthy, accessible, and low-cost alternative to driving. Metrics include convenient transportation options, accessible system design and costs.

  • Engagement: A livable community fosters interaction among residents. From social engagement to civic action to Internet access, residents’ individual opportunities to connect and feel welcomed help lessen social isolation and strengthen the greater community. The Index explores and examines the different ways in which residents engage with and support their communities, and how they impact livability as a whole.  Metrics include Internet access, civic and social engagement.
  • Opportunity: America was built on opportunity—and our nation’s many thriving communities are no different. The degree to which a community embraces diversity and offers opportunities to residents of all ages and backgrounds is important to overall livability. Backed by a strong regional economy and fiscally healthy local governments, welcoming communities provide residents an equal chance to earn a living wage and improve their well-being, from jobs to education.  Metrics include equal, economic and educational opportunity.

Policies are also associated with each category.   For example policies associated with the environmental category include state policies that support energy-efficient buildings, facilities, and appliances and policies associated with the transportation category include state and local Complete Street policies.   If your community scores in the lower third, it may be time to advocate for policies that will move your community up on the Index.

While I live in Washington, DC, I am from a small town in Pennsylvania and thought I’d find out its Livability Index.  Their Index is 48, not too great.   However, the Engagement category is 75 but the health category is 30.   So that could mean an opportunity to increase the score by getting local residents involved in making the town more livable.

You can take a look at how your community compares to neighborhoods across the country.   Is your community in the top third, middle third or bottom third?

If not in the top third, maybe it’s time to contact your state and local officials and advocate for them to implement policies to create a more livable community where you live.

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