Livable communities are livable for people of all ages, abilities, and economic levels. That’s an aspirational goal worthy of all our attention. It certainly had the attention of the World Health Organization (WHO) when they created the global Age-Friendly movement in 2006. WHO designated domains of livability that influence our health and quality of life to help communities better adapt their structures and services to meet the needs of their changing demographics. On a national level, AARP took up the cause and further defined livable communities. It included safety and security, housing and transportation options, and other supportive community features and services. To further assist communities in tracking components of livability, AARP launched a Livability Index in 2015 – an interactive tool tracking dozens of policies and indicators that calculates how livable a community is by zip code. It is organized by categories that include: Housing, Neighborhood, Transportation, Environment, Health, Engagement and Opportunity.
I was fortunate to represent The Patterson Foundation (TPF) and Age-Friendly Sarasota (AFS) at AARP’s Public Policy Institute’s livestream release of the 2018 Livability Index at AARP Studios in Washington, DC, on June 21, 2018. The updated version now measures 60 facts, including 40 metrics and 20 policies, and includes new user-friendly features and resources. Changes from the 2015 Index to the 2018 update include a 400% increase in the national Network of Age-Friendly Communities. (A continuing pride point – Sarasota County was Florida’s first Age-Friendly community.) Positively, more local communities are taking steps to be healthier, with the South as a region making significant improvements. It was also noted that America continues to sprawl, adding more challenges to public transportation access and other related amenities. Top scorers of the updated index were revealed with San Francisco, Boston, and Seattle leading larger cities. Mid-level city achievers include Madison, WI, Arlington, VA, and St. Paul, MN, while Wisconsin is home to the top three smaller communities.
A lunch discussion lead by Rodney Harrell, guru of the Livability Index, followed the livestream broadcast. It included governmental, nonprofit, and community leaders from across the county as well as AARP policy, livability, and advocacy staff. Each participant was asked to access their community’s livability score online and add it to their nametag to highlight both the ease of access and the scoring tool. Discussion topics focused on livable communities’ local strategy, and how the Index can be used to effect community change. Connections were made, ideas were shared, and special regional and rural challenges identified. Florida communities, as a whole, ranked comparatively lower as current measures defined limited options for housing, transportation and other components than those of higher scoring communities. The real value of the Index, however, is beyond community comparisons and competition. It’s a valuable tool that helps us measure and track our progress and achievements at the community level. It can help us identify our assets and define our aspirations. It’s available to help us make our communities more livable for people of all ages, abilities, and economic levels. Visit livabilityindex.aarp.org and check out your neighborhood livability score. Go deeper with the information if so motivated. It’s all there waiting to inspire and challenge us.
Note that the Livability Index is just one of the valuable tools accessible online at the AARP.org website. Others include Home Fit Guide, Roadmap to Livability, the Walk Audit Tool Kit, and more. They are all user-friendly, and I strongly encourage you to visit and explore.