How are Livability Scores Determined?

People experience communities as a whole, so the Public Policy Institute looked across multiple aspects of livability to get the full picture. The Livability Index assesses seven broad categories of community livability: housing, neighborhood, transportation, environment, health, engagement, and opportunity. Metric values and policy points within each category are combined to create the category score. Those category scores are then averaged to create a location’s total livability score.
  • Housing
  • Neighborhood
  • Transportation
  • Environment
  • Health
  • Engagement
  • Opportunity
Explore Your Score

Explore the Score

82

Engagement Metrics

  • Internet access: Broadband cost and speed
  • Civic engagement: Opportunity for civic involvement
  • Civic engagement: Voting rate
See More

Engagement Metrics

  • Internet access: Broadband cost and speed
  • Civic engagement: Opportunity for civic involvement
  • Civic engagement: Voting rate
  • Social engagement: Social involvement index
  • Social engagement: Cultural, arts, and entertainment institutions

Environment Metrics

  • Water quality: Drinking water quality
  • Air quality: Regional air quality
  • Air quality: Near-roadway pollution
See More

Environment Metrics

  • Water quality: Drinking water quality
  • Air quality: Regional air quality
  • Air quality: Near-roadway pollution
  • Air quality: Local industrial pollution

Health Metrics

  • Healthy behaviors: Smoking prevalence
  • Healthy behaviors: Obesity prevalence
  • Healthy behaviors: Access to exercise opportunities
See More

Health Metrics

  • Healthy behaviors: Smoking prevalence
  • Healthy behaviors: Obesity prevalence
  • Healthy behaviors: Access to exercise opportunities
  • Access to health care: Health care professional shortage areas
  • Quality of health care: Preventable hospitalization rate
  • Quality of health care: Patient satisfaction

Housing Metrics

  • Housing accessibility: Basic passage
  • Housing options: Availability of multi-family housing
  • Housing affordability: Housing costs
See More

Housing Metrics

  • Housing accessibility: Basic passage
  • Housing options: Availability of multi-family housing
  • Housing affordability: Housing costs
  • Housing affordability: Housing cost burden
  • Housing affordability: Availability of subsidized housing

Neighborhood Metrics

  • Proximity to destinations: Access to grocery stores and farmers’ markets
  • Proximity to destinations: Access to parks
  • Proximity to destinations: Access to libraries
See More

Neighborhood Metrics

  • Proximity to destinations: Access to grocery stores and farmers’ markets
  • Proximity to destinations: Access to parks
  • Proximity to destinations: Access to libraries
  • Proximity to destinations: Access to jobs by transit
  • Proximity to destinations: Access to jobs by auto
  • Mixed-use neighborhoods: Diversity of destinations
  • Compact neighborhoods: Activity density
  • Personal safety: Crime rate
  • Neighborhood quality: Vacancy rate

Opportunity Metrics

  • Equal opportunity: Income inequality
  • Economic opportunity: Jobs per worker
  • Education: High school graduation rate
See More

Opportunity Metrics

  • Equal opportunity: Income inequality
  • Economic opportunity: Jobs per worker
  • Education: High school graduation rate
  • Multi-generational communities: Age diversity

Transportation Metrics

  • Convenient transportation options: Frequency of local transit service
  • Convenient transportation options: Walk trips
  • Convenient transportation options : Congestion
See More

Transportation Metrics

  • Convenient transportation options: Frequency of local transit service
  • Convenient transportation options: Walk trips
  • Convenient transportation options : Congestion
  • Transportation costs: Household transportation costs
  • Safe streets: Speed limits
  • Safe streets: Crash rate
  • Accessible system design: ADA-accessible stations and vehicles

The Livability Index score rates the overall livability of the selected neighborhood, city, county, or state on a scale from 0 to 100. The total livability score is based on the average of all seven category scores, which also range from 0 to 100. We score communities by comparing them to one another, so the average community gets a score of 50, while above-average communities score higher and below-average communities score lower.

Scoring Essentials

We draw from more than 50 unique sources of data to create the Livability Index. At the heart of the Livability Index are 40 metrics and 20 policies. While metrics measure how livable communities are in the present, policies measure how they might become more livable over time. Twenty-one of those metrics evaluate livability at the neighborhood scale (defined as the census block group), while the others use data sources at higher levels of geography. Sometimes we use a data source as-is to create a metric. Other times, existing data require extra calculations or statistical modeling to produce the best measure of community livability. In some cases, the Index combines multiple sources or creates estimates when data aren’t available. This allows us to produce the best set of metrics to measure livability and to create a nationwide neighborhood Livability Index.

Creating a livable community is challenging, and so is getting a high livability score. Scores are built from the neighborhood level up. To get a perfect score of 100, a neighborhood would have to be among the best in the country in each of the seven livability categories. It can be difficult to score highly across categories. For example, a transit-rich neighborhood has its benefits, but it can also drive up housing prices. To help that neighborhood score highly in both categories, community leaders would have to commit to ensuring affordable housing near public transit is available.

Cities, counties, and states receive a score based on the average scores of neighborhoods within their boundaries. Most communities have a range of more- or less-livable neighborhoods, but for a community to get a high score, neighborhoods throughout it need to score well. This makes it even more challenging for a city, county, or state to get a high score: the more neighborhoods there are within a given boundary, the less likely it will be that all of them have high scores.

  • Metrics and Policies

     

    Each category contains 4-9 metrics and 2-5 policies.


    Metrics measure how livable a community currently is.


    Policies capture steps communities take to become more livable in the future.

  • Categories

     

    Each metric is scored on a scale of 0-100.


    We average metric scores to determine the category score. Each metric receives equal weight.


    Communities receive additional points in their category score for each policy in place.

  • Total Score

     

    We average category scores to determine the total score. Each category receives equal weight.


    You can customize the total score by adjusting how important each category is to you.

Inputs to the Index

Metric Indicators

What does this community look like today? Simple questions about livability can have complex answers.  This is why the index includes a large number of metrics.  Metrics measure how livable communities are in the present.  Data are collected and analyzed from local, state, federal, and private sources.

Policy Interventions

Are there steps being made to improve this community long term? Actions now can greatly impact the future – especially on issues of livability.  Policies are used to measure how communities might become more livable over time.  Policies are based on data that are publicly available and cover the entire US. A host of organizations working on issues central to livability contributed the policy data used in the Index.

Individual Preferences

What do people want? AARP survey research helped to inform our selection of metrics and policies.  Personal preferences vary greatly.  In response, the index is designed to take individual preferences into account by allowing users to customize their scores.  Those changes may affect the overall score based on what the user thinks is more or less important.


Expert Analysis

We conducted a thorough vetting process to determine which metrics and policies best capture the broad nature of livability. We also gave great thought and consideration to the data sources and methodology used in scoring. We did this in partnership with experts from the AARP Public Policy Institute (PPI), our consultant team, and PPI’s technical advisory committee, which includes 30 experts in public policy, community planning, public health, aging, environmental studies, consumer affairs, and economics. The result is a tool that sheds deep insight into what makes a community livable.

Meet the Experts

Understanding Your Score

To best understand the score for your neighborhood or larger community, browse through each of the numbers. Is your community strong in some categories but weaker in others? Does your community perform well on certain metrics and poorly on others? Or does it mirror the national median? Does your community earn points for having policies in place? Where might your community focus its improvement efforts? Personalize your results by adjusting how important each category is to you.

Surprised by your neighborhood or community’s score? Remember that issues surrounding livable communities are complex and interconnected, and each score represents a snapshot of the current conditions in a certain location, based on the available data. Many of our metrics and policies check and balance one another; that is, if a neighborhood receives a good score for one metric, a low score for another metric in a different category may balance things out. The ideal community has everything, and all communities can work toward this goal. Most communities score above average in at least one category of livability, but every community has room to improve. Click the category icons below and take a deeper dive into the nuances of calculating livability.

  • Housing

    Housing
  • Neighborhood

    Neighborhood
  • Transportation

    Transportation
  • Environment

    Environment
  • Health

    Health
  • Engagement

    Engagement
  • Opportunity

    Opportunity

What all goes into our Housing category?

Housing is a central component of livability and this category draws attention to the need for people of various levels of physical ability and income to find appropriate housing. Despite the high housing costs often associated with cities, an urban neighborhood might score well on housing due to the prevalence of multifamily and subsidized housing options for people who want to downsize or cannot afford housing.  Conversely, a rural neighborhood might have a similar score, but for different reasons. For example, housing may cost less but there may be limited options for multifamily or subsidized housing.  As a result, these metrics balance one another yielding some potential surprises.

Learn More
Infographic

What all goes into our Neighborhood category?

What makes a neighborhood truly livable? Two qualities are most important: access and convenience. Compact neighborhoods make it easier for residents to conveniently reach the things they need most, from jobs to grocery stores to libraries and parks. We measure whether several amenities are within one-half mile of the neighborhood boundary, not whether they exist at all in the community (e.g, grocery stores, parks and libraries). Downtown neighborhoods in both cities and small towns laid out on a compact grid of streets will typically score higher in this category than suburban and rural neighborhoods that spread out over a greater distance with fewer nearby destinations. Our neighborhood category also includes county-level crime rates.  With the data available, we are not able to identify the safest or most dangerous neighborhoods within a community, but high levels of crime in areas within a community will negatively impact the community’s overall Neighborhood score.

Learn More
Infographic

What all goes into our Transportation category?

Livable communities provide their residents with transportation options that offer convenient, healthy, and low-cost alternatives to driving that are accessible to all. Some urban communities thought to be doing incredibly well on transportation may not necessarily see that translated in their Transportation score.  There are several possible explanations. Their streets may be clogged with traffic, the local transit provider may not report data on the frequency of local transit service, or it may have to do with the nuances of measuring transit service. Frequency of local transit service measures the total number of buses and trains per hour in both directions at all stops within a quarter mile of the neighborhood boundary. Census block groups are drawn smallest in dense cities and largest in rural areas. Also, rail stations are typically farther apart than bus stops, so transit-rich cities with dense populations (like New York) may show lower transit frequency for each block group than less urban communities do.

Learn More
Infographic

What all goes into our Environment category?

The Livability Index monitors how healthy the environment is today by looking at air and water quality, as well as whether communities have taken steps for the future to improve energy efficiency and prepare resilience plans in the event of emergencies and natural disasters.  Very few places across the country are exposed to local industrial pollution or drinking water quality violations.  Places that are exposed to any degree of that pollution will see a lower Environment score.  On issues of water quality, available data limits the index to assessing public water supplies.  Private systems common in rural areas are not included in our drinking water quality metric.

Learn More
Infographic

What all goes into our Health category?

Great communities offer easy access to exercise opportunities and high-quality health care.  Metrics within the Health category provide a multi-faceted perspective by assessing the health behaviors that can affect a community and measuring access to quality care.  Because healthy neighborhoods are integral to livability, health-related factors are represented in multiple categories. For example, air and water quality, access to healthy foods, and social engagement – all important aspects of a healthy community – are measured elsewhere in the Index. Socioeconomic characteristics, such as poverty rates, also relate to health outcomes, but we do not include these as metrics because we believe that all places have the potential to be livable regardless of how much money residents make. Instead, we include poverty rates and median income as map layers so that users can understand how livability varies among neighborhoods with different income levels and demographic characteristics. 

Learn More
Infographic

What all goes into our Engagement category?

From social engagement to civic action to Internet access, residents’ individual opportunities to connect and feel welcomed help lessen social isolation and strengthen the greater community. Four of the five metrics included in the Engagement category use county- or metro area-level data, meaning that every neighborhood within the county or metro area receives the same value for our civic and social engagement metrics. To measure internet access, we use neighborhood-level broadband data to identify those neighborhoods with the fastest and most affordable broadband networks: a rigorous standard for achieving high scores. We measure the percentage of residents who have access to three or more wireline internet service providers and two or more providers who offer maximum download speeds of 50 megabits per second. The internet access in the majority of the largest cities does not meet these criteria.

Learn More
Infographic

What all goes into our Opportunity category?

The degree to which a community embraces diversity and offers opportunities to residents of all ages, incomes, and backgrounds is a strong indicator of overall livability. Backed by a strong regional economy and fiscally healthy local governments, welcoming communities provide residents an equal chance to earn a living wage and improve their well-being. Jobs and education are key. While the jobs per worker metric considers the availability of employment opportunities, it doesn’t measure whether jobs offer a living wage. The Index makes up for this by awarding a policy point to communities within states that have a higher minimum wage than the federal minimum wage. Age-diverse communities are rich with residents to learn from and support each other in meaningful ways. People at different phases of life contribute to the economy and well-being of the community in many different ways, including working, paying taxes, supporting local businesses, and volunteering.  While the “Jobs per Worker” metric considers the availability of local employment opportunities, it doesn’t indicate whether that job offers a living wage. The index balances this by awarding policy points for locations with minimum wage above the federal floor.

Learn More
Infographic