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Livability Literature Review: A Synthesis Of Current Practice

Introduction and Purpose

In 2009, the U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (U.S. HUD) created the Partnership for Sustainable Communities (the Partnership) “to help improve access to affordable housing, more transportation options, and lower transportation costs while protecting the environment in communities nationwide” (U.S. EPA, 2009, para. 6).

Guided by the goals of the Partnership, the federal government has committed significant resources and attention to implementing livability in state and local governments. While high-level, strategic federal investment in livability is relatively recent; states, regions, and localities have planned and implemented livable communities for more than a decade. For example, the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) and the Metropolitan Council of the Twin Cities (Met Council) established their programs in 1995. As many of the livable community programs that existed prior to the creation of the Partnership developed their programs based on existing local or regional needs and resources, the recent federal efforts caused states and localities to investigate the role that livability could play in their jurisdictions.

The multitude of local, state and federal livability initiatives and the lack of widespread local and regional implementation tools led NARC to ask how practitioners and policy officials implement and integrate livability on local and regional levels. NARC reviewed literature covering transportation, local and regional comprehensive and master plans, livability reports, and policy documents. Using the Partnership’s six livability principles as a framework, NARC identified the tactics and mechanisms local governments and their regional planning organizations used to support these principles. Using a spreadsheet to classify the tactics and mechanisms, NARC sorted over 130 documents and identified reoccurring livability mechanisms and tactics.

This literature review first examined the difficulty in creating livability consensus concepts, decoupled livability from sustainability and expanded on reoccurring themes. This review will assist practitioners and policymakers understand how states and localities define, plan and implement livability.