Imagine: “Being able to take your kids to school, go to work, see a doctor, drop by the grocery or post office, go out to dinner and a movie, and play with your kids in a park, all without having to get in your car.” This might sound like a day’s activities in an Austrian city—utopian by the standards of urban sprawl America. But the quotation comes from U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood as he defines livability, a catchword you see in numerous grant programs these days. So how does livability manifest at the federal initiative level down to the local implementation level across the U.S.?
Livability, from a federal standpoint, is based on these six principles: to provide more transportation choices, promote fair and affordable housing, enhance economic competitiveness, support existing communities, coordinate policies and leverage investment, and value communities and neighborhoods. In June 2009, the federal government created the HUD-DOT-EPA Partnership for Sustainable Communities to address issues of livability, combining the agencies behind transportation, housing, and the environment to help redefine our urban centers and promote the above principles.
Federal, State, and Local Governments Pursue Livability
Last year the DOT announced $175 million in funding for projects demonstrating livability, and various cities around the nation have centered urban renewal projects on this idea. For example, doing their part to promote livability, the EPA, the State of Maryland, and the Chesapeake Bay Trust announced the Green Streets, Green Jobs, Green Towns grant initiative this past February “to help accelerate greening efforts that improve watershed protection in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.” The Department of City Planning for low-lying New York City has built a program to address climate resilience and rising sea levels through the efforts of a Sustainable Communities Regional Planning grant coordinated by HUD.
Smaller cities are striving to implement programs promoting livability. Take for example the economically distressed City of Prestonburg, Kentucky, which has sought DOT funds for construction of a pedestrian/bikeway and the reconstruction of a bridge as a walking bridge, among other efforts. Consider the City of Woonsocket, Rhode Island, which won a $100,000 grant to prepare a “Main Street Livability Plan” to address streetscape design, pedestrian/bike and transit planning, and parking. Thanks to the Partnership for Sustainable Communities, the City of Columbia, Tennessee, has initiated “The Boulevard 2050” program to retrofit its highway to make it into a true boulevard that is pedestrian/cyclist-friendly. Numerous cities across the states have initiated similar campaigns.
With livability comes walkability, and with walkability comes increased housing values—a point driven home by CEOs for Cities. Livability is thus good for the economy—that’s something we all should invest in. It’s real ROI that grant writers ought to reiterate.
Annotated Links on Livability
Other useful sources on this topic include:
- Forbes’ “America’s Most Liveable Cities.” Many of the top-ranking cities hail from the Northeast and have a strong college/university presence. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (pictured above) ranks first, with New Hampshire and Utah making a good showing.
- The Economist’s 2011 global livability report of the world’s 140 most livable cities. Melbourne bumps out Vancouver for first, but we can still look to our neighbors to the north: Three Canadian cities make the top 10.
- Planning Magazine’s “Signs of a New Regionalism?” This article brings a focused look at regionalism spawned by HUD’s Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grant Program.
Has your city sought funding for projects centered on livability? If so, tell us about how your city is working to improve quality of life for residents. And if you’re a subscriber to Grants Network, be sure to check out the latest programs related to livability.
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