Creating Livable and Sustainable Communities


Urban, suburban, and rural policymakers can make their communities more livable by reflecting and acting upon the needs of the entire community, including older adults, across the issues of housing, transportation, land use, and the environment. Government policy in these areas influences how our communities develop and how people interact in those communities. For example, mixed-use development results in a range of community features and services including housing, commercial development, jobs, cultural institutions, and retail offerings clustered together. By bringing people closer to the community elements that they need, mixed-use development can reduce the need to drive and increase opportunities for exercise, promoting healthy behaviors.

Promoting compact, mixed-use development located within one-quarter to one-half mile of a public transit station—known as “transit-oriented development” (TOD)—creates “location efficiency” within larger, or dense, urban and suburban settings. TOD greatly improves transportation options and decreases transportation costs while increasing access to jobs, nutritious food, and medical care. It also improves health outcomes by encouraging walking and biking while minimizing air pollution from vehicle traffic.

Maximizing these benefits requires a focus on equity and community participation, to ensure that decisionmakers consider the needs of the entire community. That focus also ensures that everyone, regardless of income, can participate in development decisions and share in the benefits. Successful mixed-use development and TOD require coordinating several government functions and working with the local community, including the private sector. Government agencies that operate in isolation are unable to take advantage of these kinds of coordinated activities.

As the benefits of mixed land-use developments and TOD are evident, the demand for these communities—coupled with a limited supply of housing in them—often results in high housing costs. Communities can address this by creating a variety of housing sizes and types integrated throughout the community to meet the needs of people of all ages, abilities, family compositions, and incomes.

Creating Livable and Sustainable Communities: Policy

Mixed-use development

In this policy: LocalState

Policymakers should investigate the benefits of mixing land uses and providing incentives, such as increasing densities around transit stops, to encourage more diverse neighborhoods, easier access to a variety of needs and amenities, and greater transportation network efficiencies.

Affordability in mixed-use developments

In this policy: LocalState

Policymakers should include affordable housing requirements and incentives in mixed-use areas served by high levels of transit to ensure a diverse mix of households.

Creating livable communities

In this policy: FederalLocalState

Policymakers should promote the creation of livable communities that enhance safety, security, independence, and active engagement in community life through housing and community planning, land use, and development policies. These policies should encourage:

  • mixed-use development and the location of housing within easy walking distance of shopping, recreation, cultural institutions, public transportation, and services;
  • development strategies that provide a variety of housing types and sizes interspersed throughout the community to accommodate the needs of all ages, family sizes, and people of all incomes;
  • technology infrastructure, including affordable broadband, which can support information dissemination; service delivery; telehealth, including remote monitoring; and other methods to promote community-based independent living (see Chapter 7, Health—Access to Services in Medicare: Telehealth);
  • 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 (see chapter 12—Personal and Legal Rights—Intergenerational Cooperation);
  • innovative zoning, and effectively enforced design and construction standards and building codes, to improve access and maintain the livability of communities; and
  • a variety of techniques to promote the broad-based participation of a diverse cross-section of residents, including older adults, with policymakers paying special attention to providing the opportunity for input from representatives of individuals who are not able to advocate on their own behalf.

Site Planning

In this policy: LocalState

Policymakers should ensure that site plans submitted for new development or redevelopment adhere to accepted, modern site-planning methods and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements.

Site plans should be developed through a transparent public input process, with effective notification to key stakeholders.

Local government planners and engineers should be trained in modern site-planning methods and ADA requirements.

Community partnerships

In this policy: FederalLocalState

Policymakers should create and encourage partnerships with a variety of community stakeholders in order to create and promote livable communities.

Location efficiency

In this policy: FederalLocalState

Federal, state, and local governments should direct the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), as well as state and local housing agencies, to incorporate transportation costs associated with housing location into affordability measures and standards, and to make information about the combined housing and transportation costs publicly available.

Federal, state, and local governments should shape their housing and mortgage incentive programs to encourage residents to live near jobs, transit hubs, or other locations that reduce transportation costs and sprawl.

Regional planning support

In this policy: FederalLocalState

Policymakers should support regional planning to make communities more livable and eliminate barriers to federal coordination in promoting sustainable development.

Found in Creating Livable and Sustainable Communities