Skip to content

Livable Lingo: A Livability Glossary

Planners, policy makers, politicians and assorted livability pros often use these terms. Here’s what each means so you can talk the talk

The following terms, programs and policies are mentioned throughout our website — — and in our award-winning e-newsletter. The lingo is often used by planners, policy makers, politicians and others working on livability and age-friendly issues.

Here's what they mean.

Livable Communities

As defined by AARP, a livable community "... is safe and secure, has affordable and appropriate housing, diverse transportation options, and supportive community features and services. Once in place, these resources enhance personal independence and health, and engage residents in an area’s civic, economic and social life." Proper land-use planning and design are critical to developing livable communities and policy makers at the federal, state and local levels have important roles to play in designing and maintaining — and, at times, retrofitting — cities, towns and neighborhoods so they are active places where residents of all ages can live, work and play.

AARP Network of Age-Friendly States and Communities

Founded in 2012, the age-friendly network encourages states, cities, towns, counties and rural areas to prepare for the rapid aging of the U.S. population by paying increased attention to the environmental, economic and social factors that influence the health and well-being of older adults. Because membership requires a commitment to age-friendly work by the municipality's local government, the application to join the network is made by the community's highest elected official (such as its mayor) or governing body if there is no chief executive. Once accepted into the network by AARP, the community leadership and residents work to assess the needs of older residents, craft an action plan for needed improvements and then implement and evaluate the efforts.

Complete Streets (or Safe Streets) Policies

Complete Streets are streets for everyone. They are designed and operated to enable safe access for all users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit riders of all ages and abilities. By adopting a Complete Streets policy, communities direct their transportation planners and engineers to routinely design and enable safe access for all users. In doing so, the community becomes a better place to live. A Complete Street may include sidewalks, bicycle lanes (or wide, paved shoulders), special bus lanes, comfortable and accessible public transit stops, frequent and safe crossing opportunities, median islands, curb extensions, narrower travel lanes, modern roundabouts and more. A Complete Street in a rural area will be different from a Complete Street in an urban area, but both are designed to balance safety and convenience for everyone using the road.

The 8 Domains Of Livability

The World Health Organization Global Network of Age-Friendly Cities and Communities, an international effort launched in 2006 to help cities prepare for rapid population aging, has identified eight domains of livability that influence the quality of life of older adults and benefit people of all ages. The domains are often used as a framework and starting point by the U.S.-based towns, cities and counties that belong to the AARP Network of Age-Friendly States and Communities. By organizing work based on the domains, a community can better focus its efforts to a particular area (e.g. Housing) or select work that will have an impact in several areas at once. The domains are traditionally listed as follows, but each community can adapt the focus and number of domains as needed:

  1. Outdoor Spaces and Buildings
  2. Transportation
  3. Housing
  4. Social Participation
  5. Respect and Social Inclusion
  6. Work and Civic Engagement
  7. Communication and Information
  8. Community and Health Services

Form-Based Code

Traditional zoning tends to promote a separation of land uses, which typically leads to low-density development, "one-size-fits-all" housing choices and excessive automobile dependency. By using the physical form rather than the separation of uses as an organizing principle, form-based codes offer a powerful alternative to conventional zoning. Form-based codes maximize the relationships between buildings and the street, pedestrians and vehicles, public and private spaces and the size and types of roads and blocks. Instead of dictating or limiting activities, the code focuses on such elements as parking locations and limits, building frontages and entrances, window standards, streetscaping and building elevations. Form-based code can be customized to fit a community's vision, be it to preserve and enhance a neighborhood’s character or to dramatically change and improve it. Learn more by reading the Livability Fact Sheet: Form-Based Code

Health Impact Assessments

When public health is considered among the goals of transportation policy and land-use planning, the results can help reduce air pollution, prevent traffic injuries and deaths and lower the rates of chronic disease. Transportation health impact assessments (HIAs) help policy makers evaluate and address the potential health effects of a proposed transportation project and plan a policy before it’s built or implemented. A transportation HIA can ensure that all people, regardless of age, income or ability, are able to move about their community easily and safely.


Placemaking is both an overarching concept and a hands-on tool for improving a neighborhood, city or region. It combines the art and science of planning, designing and managing public spaces to attract people, build community and create a local identity. Transportation systems contribute to placemaking when they encourage walking and bicycling, which are activities that help to create public spaces that promote health, happiness, and well-being. Placemaking can be used to improve all of the spaces that comprise the gathering places within a community — its streets, sidewalks, parks, buildings and other public spaces — so they invite greater interaction between people and foster healthier, more social and economically viable communities.

Smart Growth

Smart growth is about creating and supporting communities that "offer people choices in transportation, housing and employment opportunities," explains Parris Glendening of Smart Growth America. "It makes a point of supporting existing communities while not subsidizing sprawl. Specifically, it's walkable communities, mixed-use, and the availability of transit."

Universal Design

Universal design is the practice of designing places and products so homes, offices and public places can accommodate a wide range of users. A home that is created or renovated using universal design principles can work well for people of differing ages and physical abilities. For instance, a zero-step entrance into a home or building is a universal design feature, as are doorways and hall ways that are wide enough for access by a wheelchair user. An important tenet of universal design (sometimes called UD) is that the accommodations incorporated into the design are so appealing or unnoticeable that the properties and products using them are marketable to a wide audience.

Vision Zero

The Vision Zero approach to road safety sets as its goal no deaths or serious injuries due to vehicular causes. "Transport systems traditionally place responsibility for safety on road users," notes the Vision Zero initiative, a collaboration launched in 1997 of Swedish businesses, organizations and government leaders. "The Vision Zero Initiative puts this responsibility on system design." Vision Zero is being used in cities including Seattle, San Francisco, Boston, New York and Washington, D.C. Vision Zero-inspired laws often call for redesigning streets and they bolster enforcement against speeding, dangerous driving and the failure to yield to pedestrians.

Some of the definitions presented above were adapted from The Imagining Livability Design Collection. Click on the image for more livability tools, "before and after" transformations and to download the complete collection.

Learn More


Stay Informed — For Free!

The weekly, award-winning AARP Livable Communities e-Newsletter provides local leaders with information and inspiration for making their town, city or neighborhood more livable for older adults and people of all ages. Subscribe today!

Our Free Publications!

See the complete list at

Follow Us

Contact Us

  • Email AARP Livable Communities at

  • Ask about the AARP Livability Index by completing this online form.

  • AARP Members: For questions about your benefits, AARP The Magazine or the AARP Bulletin, visit the AARP Contact Us page or call 1-888-OUR-AARP (1-888-687-2277).