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What is a Livable Community?

The term means different things to different people. Here’s our definition

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Illustration showing all ages in a community. Credit: Getty Images

Livable communities make for happier, healthier residents of every age, in all life stages. — Getty Images

A livable community is one that is safe and secure, has affordable and appropriate diverse housing and transportation options, and supportive community features and services.

Once in place, these resources enhance personal independence, allow residents to age in place, and foster residents’ engagement in the community’s civic, economic, and social life.

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As the population ages, the importance of community and workplace features that promote physical independence and increase opportunities for community engagement for all residents becomes more apparent.

Innovative design and modifications, as well as technological advances, can allow people of varying physical abilities to live more independent and meaningful lives.

The physical design of workplaces, communities, and facilities can greatly enhance individual independence, dignity, and choice. The availability of accessible features, facilities, housing, road design, walkability, transportation, and supportive services influences not only whether a person can remain in the community but also the types of activities in which someone can participate. Proper land-use planning and design are critical to developing livable communities.

Policymakers on the federal, state, and local levels have important roles to play in designing and maintaining—and at times, retrofitting — communities so that they are active places where residents of all ages, including those 50 and older, can participate fully.

The following principles set out the broad goals for policymakers, both in establishing such communities generally and in the specific areas of land use, housing, and transportation.

Create Livable Communities

Provide features and services designed to enhance the ability of residents with diverse needs to remain independent and actively engaged in community life, including safe, appropriate, decent, affordable, and accessible housing, and comprehensive mobility options that include alternatives to driving (through transportation design, zoning, walkable neighborhoods, and technology infrastructure).

Improve Health

Communities should provide access to healthy food options, opportunities for walking, biking and exercise, and connections to health facilities and related services and supports, including home and community-based supportive features and services. Governments should promote changes to the physical environment that improve health outcomes and minimize the negative health effects of policies and actions affecting the built environment, particularly those with disproportionate impacts on vulnerable communities and populations, including older adults.

Foster Safety and Personal Security

Governments should support and promote community safety and security initiatives that promote neighborhood cohesion and maximize opportunities for residents to be active and engaged with neighbors, family, and friends. Individuals play a role in making communities safe and secure through Neighborhood Watch programs and other collaborations with law enforcement.

Engage Residents in Community Planning/Provide Equal Access to the Decision-making Process

Government land-use, housing and transportation decisions have broad effects on the lives of residents. Communities should put in place structures that ensure that these decisions are made only with the active input of a wide cross-section of community members, including representation of those unable to advocate on their own behalf. Community decisions on land-use, housing, and transportation should be consistent with comprehensive plans that have been developed with ample public input. The costs and benefits of community decisions should be equitably shared within the community.

Protect Civil and Legal Rights

Communities should promote policies and efforts to eliminate discrimination on the basis of income, race, national origin, disability, or other categories and ensure equitable rules, regulations, and funding decisions.

Livable Communities Policies

Federal, state, and local housing and community planning, land-use, and development policies should promote the development of livable communities that enhance safety, security, independence, and active engagement in community life.

These policies should encourage:

  • mixed-use development and location of housing within easy walking distance of shopping, recreation, public transportation, and services

  • development strategies that provide a variety of housing types and sizes interspersed throughout the community to accommodate the needs of people of all ages, family sizes, and incomes

  • technology infrastructure that can support information dissemination, service delivery, remote monitoring, and other methods to promote community-based independent living (e.g., the delivery of affordable broadband technologies)

  • the coordination of housing, transportation, infrastructure, and service decisions at the local, regional, and state levels

  • safe and accessible public facilities (including parks, public libraries, public restrooms, and other public areas) interspersed throughout the community and usable by people of all abilities

  • safe and accessible roads and intersections for all users

  • lifelong-learning opportunities in local institutions of higher education and intergenerational use of public schools and community facilities

  • innovative zoning and effectively enforced design and construction standards and building codes to improve access and maintain the livability of communities

  • a variety of techniques to promote the broad-based participation of a diverse cross-section of residents, including older people

  • special attention should be paid to providing opportunity for input from representatives of those who are not able to advocate on their own behalf

From the AARP Public Policy Book: 2013-2014

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