Whether you’re a resident searching for a new home or an experienced community leader working to make an impact, the journey to understanding livability can be complex.
Below we answer common questions to help you better understand the AARP Livability Index, scores, and what it all means for you.
What is the AARP Livability Index?
The AARP Livability Index is a web-based tool developed by the AARP Public Policy Institute to measure community livability on a scale of 0 to 100, with higher scores representing greater livability. Users can search the AARP Livability Index by address, ZIP Code, city, or county and receive an overall score along with scores in each of seven livability categories.
Who can use the AARP Livability Index?
Anyone! It is a great tool for individuals and families looking to relocate to a new community or to help their aging loved ones find a neighborhood that supports their specific needs. It is equally good for policymakers looking to make their neighborhoods and communities more livable.
What does livability mean?
There is no one definition of livability—it means different things to different people. Some prioritize convenient travel by foot, bike, or transit, while others prioritize access to affordable housing or open space. Communities that are truly livable offer diverse features that appeal to people of all ages, incomes, and abilities. Learn more about Livability.
What is the value of a livable community?
Livable communities benefit people of all ages. During a lifetime, people develop deep connections to their homes and communities. Our definition of livability considers the likelihood that everyone can continue to enjoy the vibrant communities they know and love as they age.
How is the AARP Livability Index unique in representing AARP’s mission and purpose?
While the AARP Livability Index focuses on great neighborhoods for all ages, AARP’s particular focus is on measuring and improving community livability as we age. When we plan for older adults, we plan for everyone. The measures in the AARP Livability Index are relevant for people in all age groups; however, we chose metrics and policies with an eye toward how well a community meets the needs of its residents as they age. For instance, accessible transit systems and housing, age diversity, and commitment to age-friendly communities reflect a deliberate effort to measure how well a community meets the needs of an aging population.
What makes the AARP Livability Index unique from other indices?
The AARP Livability Index takes a holistic approach to understanding livability. It wasn’t created to solely measure the quality of the built environment or the health of residents. It includes those elements, but it also considers engagement, opportunity, and the natural environment. It encourages policymakers and professionals to get outside their areas of expertise and understand the interrelated nature of livability. For example, public health is influenced both by access to quality care and by neighborhoods that provide ample opportunity for people to be active as part of their daily lives. The AARP Livability Index is also unique in that it allows measurement by address or ZIP Code and reports scores for every neighborhood in the United States. Previous indices have provided neighborhood-level analysis for the entire country, but for only one category of livability. Others have offered neighborhood-level analysis for many categories of livability, but only for a single city, using local data.
What is the goal of the AARP Livability Index?
To help community leaders and individuals learn about their communities and discover whether they have the features that people want and need. With this information, stakeholders can use the AARP Livability Index to take steps to address gaps and improve livability.
What prompted AARP to create the AARP Livability Index?
AARP determined that nothing as comprehensive as the AARP Livability Index existed to assess livability at the neighborhood level, and consumers and community stakeholders could use an information source that lays out the benefits and challenges facing communities. Additionally, AARP’s state office staff needed an on-the-ground picture of how to improve neighborhoods and communities within their states. The AARP Livability Index was created to help fill this gap and promote ways to improve livability. The AARP Livability Index is intended to prompt community conversations and action regarding livable communities.
How do I search for a location?
Locations may be searched by address, community name, ZIP code, county, or state. Note that street addresses must be included to correctly locate an address. To lookup a location by ZIP code, it is best to enter both the ZIP code and community name to locate (e.g. 10001 New York NY).
Why isn’t my community in the AARP Livability Index?
The AARP Livability Index uses U.S. Census Bureau Designated Places (CDPs) for city-level data as the best representation of how residents recognize the location and boundaries of their communities. Some places may be known by a different name than a CDP or otherwise not included by the Census Bureau, depending on how administrative jurisdictions are determined in a particular state. It is advisable to search for a particular street address within a community in these instances.
Why is my AARP Livability Index score result not showing any data?
My neighborhood or community got a low score. Does this mean it’s unlivable?
No. The AARP Livability Index measures many aspects needed for a livable community. While a low score suggests a threat to livability, it also represents an opportunity for community members and policymakers to work on improving livability. Every neighborhood and community has room to improve. We also recognize that livability is subjective and our Customize Your Score tool allows users to tailor their scores based on their individual preferences.
What can I do to help make improvements in my community?
A fundamental goal of the AARP Livability Index is to help improve livability in neighborhoods across the country. Therefore, we’ve shared numerous resources within each category that can help residents and policymakers get started on improving aspects of their neighborhoods and communities.
I love my home and neighborhood, yet it scores poorly in the AARP Livability Index. What if a neighborhood or community reflects my preferences even though it doesn’t do well on a particular category?
The AARP Livability Index measures the performance of communities against several attributes known to be important for community livability, based on years of research by AARP and other organizations and the insights of our technical advisory committee. AARP’s survey research helped to inform our selection of metrics and policies, and our survey found general agreement on key characteristics of livable communities, such as having transit stops and grocery stores nearby. We also found that personal preferences vary greatly. In response, the AARP Livability Index is designed to take individual preferences into account by allowing users to customize their scores, which may impact the overall score based on what the user thinks is more or less important.
Why does my score change as I move from my neighborhood to my city, county, and state?
Higher levels of geography are based on the average of all neighborhoods within that geographic level. At the neighborhood level, scores range from 20 to 76, with many neighborhoods scoring 100 in at least one category of livability. At the city level, total scores range from 23 to 73.
How can my community show a value for ADA-accessible stations and vehicles if the frequency of local transit service is 0?
Data for these metrics comes from two different sources, each of which is at a different scale and covers different areas. There are four potential explanations for why this may occur. Your community may...
- Have local transit service, but may not report data, so the value for frequency of local transit service is 0. Not all transit agencies report to the data source that we use for transit frequency.
- Lack local transit service, but there are ADA-accessible stations and vehicles throughout your region. Frequency of local transit service is measured at the neighborhood scale, while ADA-accessible stations and vehicles are measured at the regional scale.
- Not have a regular, fixed-route bus or rail service, but it may be served by demand-responsive transit, such as dial-a-ride, for which we have data on the percent of wheelchair accessible vehicles.
- Be a rural area with no transit service. There is no reliable data on which rural areas have transit service and which areas do not. In order to have a neutral effect on scoring, we calculate the average accessibility for rural areas that report data and assign that value to remaining rural areas (82.9%).
What does the AARP Livability Index consider?
The AARP Livability Index considers seven categories: housing, neighborhood, transportation, environment, health, engagement, and opportunity. For each category, the AARP Livability Index evaluates current conditions as well as policies and programs that can enhance community livability over time. Take a deeper dive into the categories.
Why did AARP choose this set of metrics and policies?
We’ve gone through a thorough evaluation process with our technical advisory committee and other policy and research experts to choose the metrics, policies, and data sources that best measure the key aspects of livability. We also conducted an individual preference survey of more than 4,500 people ages 50 and older to understand which characteristics make a community livable for different groups. This provides a deliberate and informative picture that sheds deep insight into what makes a community livable.
If this is a neighborhood-level Index, why does it include county- and state-level data?
While more than half of our metrics rely on data at the neighborhood level, the balance rely on data at larger scales, such as counties or metropolitan areas. In some cases, it is more appropriate to measure metrics or policies at a larger scale. For example, income inequality is typically measured at the regional or county level to capture disparities among different neighborhoods, and state-level policies benefit everyone living within a state. In other cases, it would be preferable to measure a metric at the neighborhood level, but the best available data is at the county- or metro-area scale. Where we do not have neighborhood-level data, all neighborhoods within a county or metro area receive the same value as the county or metro area.
I see that “Commitment to Livability: Age-Friendly Communities” is listed for each of the seven categories. If my community is a member of the AARP Network of Age-Friendly States and Communities (NAFSC), are they awarded seven additional policy points (one under each category)?
No. AARP NAFSC members receive one point added to their total livability score for participation in the network. Membership is displayed as “policy in place” for each category. We list this particular program throughout the seven categories because of the cross-cutting nature of the work.
Why isn’t there much variation among scores at higher levels of geography?
Scores are built at the neighborhood level and then aggregated up to the city, county, and state levels. Because those scores are based on averages for all neighborhoods within a particular geographic region, and larger areas contain a mix of high and low-scoring neighborhoods, scores for higher levels of geography tend toward the middle, and the range of scores is more narrow.
Can a location score higher than 100?
No. Livability scores range from 0 to 100, with 100 being the highest possible score. We score neighborhoods by comparing them to one another, so the average neighborhood gets a score of 50, while above-average neighborhoods score higher and below-average ones score lower.
Can a neighborhood or city get a perfect score?
Creating a livable community is challenging, and so is getting a high livability score. To get a perfect score of 100, a neighborhood would have to be among the best in the country for each of the seven livability categories. This is very difficult because of built-in trade-offs between categories. For example, a community with excellent schools, convenient amenities, and excellent transportation options may score highly in the opportunity, neighborhood, and transportation categories. But if these characteristics make the community so desirable that it drives up housing costs, then the community’s housing category score will decrease, lowering its overall score. It is even more challenging for a city, county, or state to get a high score, since higher levels of geography in the AARP Livabity Index often contain a mix of high- and low-scoring neighborhoods. For a community to get a high score, neighborhoods throughout that community need to score well.
Which is better: higher or lower metric values?
For some metrics, such as access to stores or parks, higher values are better. For others, like local industrial pollution or housing costs, lower values are better. We note in each metric description whether higher or lower values are better. Livability scores themselves (including for each of the seven categories) are always on a scale of 0 to 100, with higher scores being better.
What does the AARP Livability Index measure?
The AARP Livability Index includes 40 metrics and 21 policies across seven categories: housing, neighborhood, transportation, environment, health, engagement, and opportunity. Each category has four to nine metrics and two to five policies. Metrics and policies are related to issues such as housing affordability, access to convenient transportation, or commitment to age-friendly communities. View all.
What are the key functions of the AARP Livability Index?
Location Search — Users can search the AARP Livability Index for any location in the United States, by address, town, city, county, state, or ZIP Code.
Comparison Tool — Users can compare the livability score and category scores for up to three locations.
Customize Your Score — Users can customize their searches to specify categories that are more or less important to them.
Map Tool — The results map has a link to map overlays that provide more geographic analysis of the searched location. Users will find demographic information such as race/ethnicity and age, which are not factored into the livability scores, and a visual display of the indicators that are factored into the livability scores.
Printable PDF profiles of community — Users can print the AARP livability score, as well as the scores and related indicators and policies for each category.
Why are some metrics not comparable across years (as indicated by the blank space in year 2015)?
For some metrics, we replaced the original data source with an improved data source or used an improved methodology to calculate performance. For these indicators it is not possible to accurately show a change in performance.
What are some key terms I should know?
When learning about the AARP Livability Index, you’re likely to come across words that may be unfamiliar. We’ve provided basic definitions to important terms that will help you get to know what livability is and how we measure livability. For more information on each of these, please also visit our About and Scoring pages.
Will AARP be updating the AARP Livability Index in the future?
AARP last updated the AARP Livability Index in fall 2021 and anticipates annual updates moving forward, contingent on data availability.
Why aren’t the newest community features, elements, or policies in my neighborhood reflected in the AARP Livability Index?
The AARP Livability Index represents a snapshot of current conditions within a community or neighborhood, based on datasets that are available for the entire country. As new data become available and existing datasets are updated, AARP intends to update the AARP Livability Index.
What data sources are used in the AARP Livability Index?
The AARP Livability Index draws from more than 50 different sources of data. Data source(s) for each metric and policy are accessible from score results and from the Sources page.
Where do you get your data?
For metrics, we primarily rely on publicly available data provided by federal agencies or research institutions. In some cases, we use data from private sources to measure characteristics that are not captured by publicly available data. A host of organizations working on issues central to livability contributed the policy data used in the AARP Livability Index. Data sources were chosen in part by whether they provided data for the entire United States.
Why am I having technical difficulties searching for an address?
Why does the location I search for return a different place?
AARP Livability Index search results are provided by Google Geocoding API. The API identifies a point and its geography (city, county, ZIP, etc.) from the search term entered or selected. If the API cannot accurately match a search term with a location and its geography it will return the next-higher geography (e.g. county instead of ZIP), which may result in a different result than intended.
What is imputed data?
Imputed data is an estimated value where actual data for that location is unavailable.
AARP imputes missing data by assigning estimated values in two ways:
- We may use the national average, which results in a neutral performance on an indicator.
- We may assign the state or rural average if that appears to be more accurate than the national average.
Still Have Questions?
Contact our team to learn more and provide feedback.