Creating Livable and Sustainable Communities


Livable and sustainable communities are safe and healthy. They offer residents choices in where to live and how to get around. They equitably serve residents of all ages, ability levels, incomes, races, ethnicities, and other backgrounds. To create livable communities, planners must understand and meet the needs and desires of all community members. Planners work in partnership with community representatives to reach underserved populations. 

Housing, transportation, land use and zoning, and the environment all contribute to livability. Government policy in all these areas influences how our communities develop and how people interact within them. Public spaces—such as parks, community centers, and public libraries—are also important. They bring a sense of community and social belonging. They belong to everyone, regardless of age, income, and background. Parks, in particular, can improve community members’ mental and physical health. They can also enhance the environmental quality of a community. Some communities have a robust network of parks for everyone to enjoy. But other places neglect or fail to invest in these vital community resources. 

Livable communities depend in large part on the type of development that is allowed. Mixed-use development allows different types of development in the same area. As a result, housing can be located near shopping, office space, public spaces, cultural amenities, and other types of development. Mixed-use development also is more likely to include a range of transit options. This includes public transit, biking, and walking. These transit options can promote positive health outcomes. Mixed-use development contrasts with single-use development, in which only one use is allowed in each area. When this is the case, housing may be located far from shopping, offices, parks, and cultural amenities. 

Promoting compact, mixed-use development located within one-quarter to one-half mile of a public transit station is known as transit-oriented development (TOD). TOD improves transportation options and decreases transportation costs while increasing access to jobs, 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 decisionmakers to consider the needs of the entire community through broad and thoughtful community participation. The goal is to ensure equitable access to services and opportunities. Everyone, regardless of income and other factors, should be able to participate in development decisions and share in the benefits. Successful mixed-use development and TOD require the coordination of several government functions with the local community. Doing so allows a community to maximize the benefits and minimize negative impacts like displacement. 

As the benefits of livable and sustainable communities become more evident and well-known, the demand for them increases. This demand, as well as the limited housing supply in these communities, can result in high housing costs and displacement of current residents. To ensure that people of all incomes can live in a community, planners and other policymakers can lower housing costs by increasing the variety and quantity of housing types (see also Market-Rate Housing Affordability). 



Mixed-use development

Policymakers should promote the creation of mixed-use livable communities. These communities should include a range of housing and transportation options that meet the needs of people of all ages, ability levels, and backgrounds. They should also contain community features, such as parks that meet the needs of all members of the community. They should enhance residents’ safety, security, independence, and active engagement in community life (see also the Effective Planning section of this chapter). 

These policies should encourage: 

  • mixed-use development—housing located within easy walking distance of public transportation, grocery stores and other shopping, healthcare and other services, recreation, and cultural institutions. 
  • increased mobility—safe and accessible infrastructure that provides a wide range of connected transportation options, including public transit, cycling, micromobility devices, and walking. 
  • housing variety—housing of varying types and sizes interspersed throughout the community to accommodate the needs of people of all ages, ability levels, family sizes, and incomes (see also Market-Rate Housing Affordability—policy on Removing regulatory barriers). 
  • community-based independent living options. This includes deploying the technological infrastructure, such as affordable high-speed internet, that supports access to telehealth (see also High-Speed Internet Services; see also Telehealth). 
  • public spaces that are safe, accessible, and equitably interspersed throughout the community. This includes parks, beaches, community centers, public libraries, and public bathrooms. Public spaces should maximize interactions among people from different backgrounds and ability levels. Any user fees should be reasonable and should ensure that people of all income levels can benefit from public spaces. 
  • lifelong-learning opportunities—intergenerational use of public schools and community facilities (see also Intergenerational Cooperation). 
  • participation in policymaking—broad community involvement from a diverse cross section of residents, including older adults. 
  • coordination of housing, transportation, infrastructure, and service decisions at the local, regional, and state levels. 

Site planning: 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 sufficient notification to key community members. 

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

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

Location efficiency: Measures of housing costs should include transportation costs associated with housing location. Policymakers should publicly release data about combined housing and transportation costs. 

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. 

Parks for all

National, state, and local parks should be age-friendly, accessible, and sufficiently funded. They should be equitably located throughout communities. They should be designed to enable everyone—regardless of age, ability level, income, race, ethnicity, or other backgrounds—to benefit from them. In developing and updating park plans, planners should seek and incorporate input from a diverse group of community members with a range of perspectives, including older adults and people from groups that are discriminated against