Creating Livable and Sustainable Communities


Urban, suburban, and rural policymakers can improve livability by reflecting and acting upon the needs of the entire community. That includes older adults. Housing, transportation, land use, and the environment all should be taken into consideration. Government policy in these areas influences how our communities develop and how people interact within them.

For example, public parks are important places for building a sense of community and social belonging. They belong to everyone, regardless of age, income, and background. They can also improve community members’ physical and mental health. Some communities have a robust network of parks for everyone to enjoy. But others are neglecting or failing to invest in these vital community resources.

Mixed-use development results in a range of community features and services including housing, commercial development, jobs, parks and other public spaces, cultural institutions, and retail offerings all clustered together. Mixed-use development can increase the range of transportation options available and 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)— 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 decision makers 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 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 livable and sustainable communities become more evident and well-known, the demand for them increases. This demand, as well as the limited supply of housing in these communities, often results in high housing costs. This can be addressed by increasing the variety and quantity of housing types integrated throughout the community to meet the needs of people of all ages, abilities, family compositions, and incomes.



Creating livable communities

Policymakers should promote the creation of mixed-use livable communities. These communities should include housing and transportation options, as well as community features such as parks, that meet the needs of people with varying ages, incomes, and abilities. 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 and the location of housing within easy walking distance of shopping, recreation, cultural institutions, public transportation, and services;
  • increased mobility through a wide range of connected transportation options, including public transit, cycling, and walking, with safe and accessible roads and intersections for all users;
  • development strategies that provide a variety of housing types and sizes interspersed throughout the community to accommodate the needs of people of all ages, family sizes, and incomes;
  • technology infrastructure, including affordable broadband, to support telehealth The use of electronic communications technologies and information to support and offer health care when distance separates patient from provider. Also sometimes referred to as telemedicine.  and other tools to support community-based independent living (see also Chapter 10, Utilities—Telecommunications: Broadband Internet Services; as well as Chapter 7, Health— Increasing Access to Services in Medicare);
  • 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;
  • lifelong-learning opportunities in local institutions of higher education and intergenerational use of public schools and community facilities (see also Chapter 12, Personal and Legal Rights—Intergenerational Cooperation); and
  • a variety of techniques to promote the broad-based participation in the policymaking process of a diverse cross-section of residents, including older adults and input from representatives of individuals who are not able to advocate on their own behalf.

Livable communities include parks and other public spaces that:

  • maximize interactions among people from different backgrounds;
  • are integrated in a safe and accessible manner; and
  • are equitably distributed across the community

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 ActLegislation that prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in employment, public services, public accommodations, transportation, and telecommunications. ( ADAThe Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is legislation that prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in employment, public services, public accommodations, transportation, and telecommunications. ) requirements.

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

Local government planners and engineers should be trained in modern site-planning methods and ADAThe Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is legislation that prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in employment, public services, public accommodations, transportation, and telecommunications. requirements.

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

Location efficiency: 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.