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AARP Livability Fact Sheet - Economic Development

Livable communities both save and make money — and they're very good for business

First, the bad news.

If public transit and community walkabilty continue to take a back seat to vehicle-only transportation systems, total U.S. costs resulting from obesity may be as high as $957 billion by 2030.

The price of poor air quality due to transportation-generated pollution is predicted to come in between $50 billion and $80 billion per year.

Expenses from traffic crashes in urban areas are expected to exceed $299 billion annually, with congestion costs adding another $121 billion or more to the bill each year.

A more balanced transportation system is needed or these costs will continue to climb and undermine the nation’s economic health and quality of life, say various experts and research studies. The good news: Beneficial changes can be made and the investment in them will almost surely pay off.

Key Points

Among the economic benefits of livable communities as cited in the fact sheet:

  • Building bicycle infrastructure creates an average of 11.4 jobs for every $1 million spent while road-only projects create 7.8 jobs per $1 million.

  • After slowing traffic and improving bicycling on Valencia Street in San Francisco’s Mission District, nearby businesses saw sales increase by 60 percent, which merchants attributed to increased pedestrian and bicycle activity.

  • Houses with above-average levels of walkability command a premium of about $4,000 to $34,000 more than homes with average levels of walkability.

  • A nationwide survey by Smart Growth America of 17 development studies concluded that dense, mixed-use development costs 38 percent less than conventional suburban development on average, generates 10 times more tax revenue per acre and saves municipalities an average of 10 percent on public services such as police, ambulances and firefighting.

  • One study estimates that if the U.S. would grow in a more compact way between 2000 and 2025, the country could save $110 billion in local road costs.

Among the places where smart growth and livability-oriented development efforts have paid off:

  • Clematis Street in West Palm Beach, Fla., was only 30 percent occupied in 1993. After a $10 million traffic-calming project rebuilt a fountain, restored key buildings and provided for event spaces, property values on the street doubled, $350 million in private investment came to the area and more than 80 percent of the building space became occupied. As traffic slowed, social links between neighbors increased, trash along the streets disappeared, and the area evolved from abandoned to alive. The average home sale price increased from $65,000 to $106,000.

  • The main boulevard in downtown Lancaster, Calif., was transformed into a thriving residential and commercial district by adopting a form-based code, streetscaping, new public facilities, affordable homes and local businesses. The project has generated almost $300 million in economic output and nearly 2,000 jobs.

How to Use

Because the fact sheets in the Livability series are only four pages each, the materials are quick and easy to read online or to download and print for sharing.

The Economic Development fact sheet can be used by policy makers, transportation planners, community leaders and citizen activists to educate themselves and others (such as investors, business owners and developers) about the financial benefits of creating walkable, bike-friendly, livable and lively and downtown communities.

Fact sheet published Summer 2014

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