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What is a Livable Community?

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

Illustration, People Enjoying Park, Livable Communities

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

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

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

It is important that the community and workplace have features that promote physical independence and increase opportunities for community engagement as the population ages.

People of varying physical abilities live more independent and meaningful lives through innovative design and modifications, as well as technical advances.

The physical design of workplaces, communities, and facilities greatly enhances individual independence, dignity, and choice.

Accessibility features, types of activities, facilities, housing, road design, walkability, transportation, and supportive services influence whether a person can remain in the community and for how long.

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

— AARP Policy Book 2017-2018, Chapter 9: Livable Communities, Introduction

Proper land-use planning and design are critical to developing livable communities. [The AARP Policy Book] chapter on livable communities broadly highlights the major land-use, housing, and transportation policies that support successful aging.

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.

Improve general livability

Provide features and services designed to enhance the ability of residents with diverse needs to remain independent and actively engaged in community life. This includes implementing land-use, housing, transportation, and mobility policies that meet the principles detailed below as well as considering other important factors of livability such as health, economic opportunity and social engagement.

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 should 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 and provide equal access to the decisionmaking 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 should ensure equitable rules, regulations, and funding decisions.

Recognize that factors of livability are interrelated and have intergenerational impact

Community land-use, infrastructure, housing, transportation, supportive services, and health care play a part in creating livable communities and promoting successful aging in place. Coordinate activities and develop policies, programs, planning processes and decisions within these policy areas in order to eliminate barriers that exist between them. Elimination of barriers can promote livable communities that have positive intergenerational impact.

Invest in existing communities

Investment in existing communities must be efficient and beneficial to those who desire to age in place. Development resources should be strengthened and directed toward existing communities. Planning processes including community revitalization and economic development plans should include the needs of all people regardless of age, income, physical ability, race, and other factors of older adults.

Page updated 2017

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