Civic and social involvement

A livable community fosters interaction among residents. 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. The Index explores and examines the different ways in which residents engage with and support their communities, and how they impact livability as a whole.

How does my community compare to neighborhoods across the country?

  • Top Third
  • Middle Third
  • Bottom Third
  • Missing Data

Internet access Broadband cost and speed

of residents have high-speed, low-cost service Median US neighborhood: 14.6%

Percentage of residents who have access to three or more wireline Internet service providers, and two or more providers that offer maximum download speeds of 50 megabits per second: measured at the neighborhood scale, higher values are better

The Internet isn’t just an option, it’s a necessity. Internet service is crucial in helping a community stay informed and connected, and it opens up new channels for businesses to grow. The Livability Index measures the percentage of people in a neighborhood who have access to Internet service that meets our criteria for both cost and speed, because high-quality Internet service should be affordable and fast. In communities that have access to three or more wireline Internet service providers, competition keeps prices down; and where multiple providers offer maximum advertised download speeds over 50 megabits per second, residents should have a variety of affordable options for high-speed service.


Civic engagement Opportunity for civic involvement

organizations per 10,000 people Median US neighborhood: 7.0

Number of civic, social, religious, political, and business organizations per 10,000 people: measured at the county scale, higher values are better

Strong communities give residents plenty of opportunities to work together and effect change. Whether it’s a fundraiser, election, or volunteer event, nothing helps bring a neighborhood together like civic participation. These events, and the organizations that facilitate them, give like-minded people a chance to meet and make a difference. The Livability Index measures how well a county is served by civic organizations. Available data captures only cultural institutions with paid staff, not volunteer-run organizations.


Civic engagement Voting rate

of people voted Median US neighborhood: 55.6%

Percentage of people ages 18 years or older who voted in the last presidential election: measured at the county scale, higher values are better. Voting rates are bounded at 30% and 85%.

Voting is one of the simplest—and strongest—ways we can show we care about our communities. People who vote in national elections are more likely to also be politically informed and active on a local level, participating in local elections that directly shape community life. Low participation may reflect voting barriers within a community. The Index uses data from the 2012 presidential election.


Social engagement Social involvement index

index from 0 to 2 Median US neighborhood: 0.98

Extent to which residents eat dinner with household members, see or hear from friends and family, talk with neighbors, and do favors for neighbors: measured at the metro area scale from 0 to 2, higher values are better

Being neighborly isn’t just a matter of etiquette—it’s what creates a community, often with lasting benefits for its residents. In fact, studies show that Americans who socialize regularly live longer. Here, using  data at the metro level for the largest 51 metropolitan areas and state-level data for other places, we look at how often people interact with their friends and neighbors. Communities where people socialize more frequently than average receive values above 1; those with people who socialize less frequently receive values below 1.


Social engagement Cultural, arts, and entertainment institutions

institutions per 10,000 people Median US neighborhood: 0.1

Number of performing arts companies, museums, concert venues, sports stadiums, and movie theaters per 10,000 people: measured at the neighborhood scale, higher values are better

From sports fanatics to film buffs, a great community helps cultivate the interests of its residents through opportunities to learn, play, and interact with others. Here, the Livability Index measures how many cultural, arts, and entertainment institutions serve a county’s residents. Our data capture only cultural institutions with paid staff, not volunteer-run organizations, such as community theater groups.


Internet Access State barriers to community broadband

Absence of state policies that prevent cities from operating public broadband networks

From students to grandparents to business owners, the Internet provides people with the information, connections, and opportunities they need to succeed. Many communities have created their own broadband networks that are directly accountable to local residents and businesses, but some states have restricted communities from building these networks. This results in less competition among Internet service providers. The Index gives credit to states that allow community broadband networks to operate freely.


Civic engagement Early, absentee, or mail-in state voting laws

State laws allowing early, no-excuse absentee, or mail-in voting

Voter turnout is low in many communities across the United States, partly due to long lines and limited hours at polling stations, which make it challenging for people to vote. This is particularly true for lower-income residents who may not have the time to wait at their voting station or the transportation to get there. Physical barriers, such as overly steep wheelchair ramps, can pose challenges for voters with disabilities. Fortunately, many states have taken steps to make voting easier, allowing early voting, which lets people visit a polling station at their convenience, and no-excuse absentee voting or voting by mail, which permit people to vote without having to be present in person. Here, the Index awards credit to states that offer at least one of these three options to residents.


Equal rights Local human rights commissions

Local human rights commissions

While federal law prohibits discrimination based on race, sex, age, or nationality, among other factors, many victims of discrimination lack the support they need to file a complaint. Cities and counties have increasingly established local human rights commissions that not only empower victims, but also take proactive steps to combat intolerance within the community. Some conduct education and outreach campaigns, advise local governments on key issues, or foster collaborative anti-discriminatory efforts. The Index gives credit to cities and counties that have established local human rights commissions.


Equal rights Local LGBT anti-discrimination laws

Total score of 75 or greater from the Human Rights Campaign Municipal Equality Index

Since federal law doesn’t currently prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, it’s up to state and local governments to protect equal rights for people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT). The Human Rights Campaign Municipal Equality Index (MEI) rates 506 cities and counties on a scale of 0 to 100 based on 6 factors related to LGBT rights: relationship recognition, non-discrimination laws, municipal employment practices, municipal services, law enforcement, and relationship with the LGBT community. Some of the issues covered, such as reporting hate crimes, are relevant to non-LGBT residents as well. The Index gives credit to cities and counties that receive a score of 75 or higher from the MEI.


Comprehensive livability commitment State and local plans to create age-friendly communities

Communities that have taken comprehensive steps to prepare for the aging of the U.S. population

By 2030, there will be twice as many Americans over the age of 65 as there were in 2000. To help residents live comfortably in all stages of life, communities must provide opportunities like convenient transportation, walkable neighborhoods, affordable and accessible housing, multi-generational social opportunities, and inclusive business practices—just to name a few. To guide communities toward making these forward-thinking changes, several organizations have also established peer-learning networks and identified processes to help make communities age-friendly. The Index gives credit to states, metropolitan areas, counties, and cities that are part of the AARP Network of Age-Friendly States and Communities or recipients of Grantmakers in Aging Community AGEnda grants. In the future, the Index may award communities that participate in other age-friendly initiatives.