I heard about AARP’s new Livability Index while listening to the Talking Headways podcast this past week. The mission of the Livable Communities initiative: “AARP Livable Communities supports the efforts of neighborhoods, towns and cities to become great places for people of all ages.” The idea of this tool is much in line with the 8-80 cities concept: Can residents of all incomes, ages, and abilities thrive in our community?
Listening to the podcast, I learned that Madison, Wisconsin achieves the top livability score of any American city. The livability index contains a comparison tool in which a user can input three locations and arrive at a livability score for the three side by side, and the data is presented at the level of the census block so it is fairly granular and allows for comparison at the neighborhood level.
How does West Palm Beach stack up?
I chose Clematis Street, a location in Riverwalk, and a location on Atlantic Avenue in Delray Beach as comparisons. Of these three locations, Clematis Street won out, scoring slightly higher than Atlantic Avenue in Delray Beach, and four points higher than the Riverwalk location. It seems the distribution of most scores are within a relatively narrow range, so those few points matter.
Downtown WPB does well in the transportation and neighborhood categories. I would even wager that our transportation and neighborhood scores are undervalued, because the metrics are not giving us points for the impressive public transportation options we have downtown (trolley, Palm Tran, Tri-Rail, SkyBike) and jobs near those transit modes.
One disconcerting facet of the index is our poor score for Safe Streets. We are almost double the median US neighborhood in downtown for traffic deaths. This surprised me, but I suspect a combination of small sample size for traffic fatalities and the large amount of people walking contribute. Nonetheless, it’s an area we clearly need to improve.
There are some fascinating map overlays available in the Livability Index tool. Downtown and the surrounding traditional neighborhoods are a clear outliers in number of daily walk trips per households, more than double the national average. We can also see the higher proportion of car free households in the Northwest and North Tamarind neighborhoods, all the more reason to support non-vehicular modes rather than designing neighborhoods for car dependency. The map overlays also show that we have a lot of work to do in reducing annual fatal car crashes, the top killer for in the age 2 -14 age group.
We should put a focus on creating a more multi-generational neighborhood and improve high school graduation rates, according to the Opportunity Score. This is the area where West Palm Beach is found the most lacking. As I’ve argued in the past, having public schools located downtown would be a tremendous boost to the livability of our downtown by attracting a more age diverse cohort of residents to live downtown and have their children attend a neighborhood school. Dreyfoos stands as an example of what could be, but Dreyfoos is a magnet school only and isn’t open to downtown residents who live walking distance to it. We need real neighborhood school options for downtown residents. We also need more affordable housing options. The coming supply of rental apartments should help with this metric. Downtown cannot be solely an enclave for the wealthy.
One of the features I like about the Livability Index is the Policies and Resources that accompany each of the metrics. For example, in the Environment metric, it is suggested that communities adopt an Age-Friendly Communities policy, and the Resources tab links to various ‘how to’ documents.
These metrics, although useful, can’t tell the whole picture of city prosperity as there are confounding factors for which reductionist methods do not apply. However, that isn’t to say this data isn’t helpful: as a quick snapshot, diagnostic tool, it’s a very user-friendly look at what makes a livable city. It should help citizens and public officials measure where we are and chart a course toward a more livable city.
How does your neighborhood measure up in the Livability Index?
Don’t miss a post. Subscribe to the Walkable West Palm Beach email list at top right of the page.