Below are answers to our most frequently asked questions.
The 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 Index by address, ZIP Code, city, or county and receive an overall score along with scores in each of seven livability categories.
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.
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.
While the 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. All measurement in the Index is relevant to people of any age; 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.
The 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 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.
To help community leaders and individuals learn about their communities and discover whether they have the features that people want and need. Then, stakeholders can use the Index to take steps to address gaps and improve livability.
AARP determined that nothing as comprehensive as the Livability Index existed to assess livability at the neighborhood level when we were assessing ways to strengthen our understanding of livable communities. This was echoed by our state office staff, who needed an on-the-ground picture of how to improve neighborhoods and communities within their states. The Livability Index was created to help fill this gap and promote ways to improve livability. The Livability Index is intended to prompt community conversations and action regarding livable communities.
No. The 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 allow users to customize their scores based on their individual preferences.
A fundamental goal of the Livability Index is to help improve livability in neighborhoods across the country. Therefore, we’ve posted numerous resources within each category that can help consumers and policymakers get started on improving aspects of their neighborhoods and communities. When looking at a particular category, you’ll see three tabs: “Metrics,” “Policies,” and “Resources.” Click the “Resources” tab for ideas.
The 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 though 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 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.
Higher levels of geography are based on the average of all neighborhoods within that geographic level. At the neighborhood level, scores range from 22 to 76, with many neighborhoods scoring 100 in at least one category of livability. At the city level, total scores range from 25 to 70.
The Index may display a 0.0 due to rounding, but your neighborhood will get a red circle if there is any amount of pollution in your neighborhood. For some metrics, any amount is bad for livability. This includes local industrial pollution, near roadway pollution, and health professional shortage areas. For these metrics, the U.S. median value is 0, so in cases where lower values are better, any community with a 0 gets a green dot by that metric, and any community with anything more than a 0 gets a red dot.
A few metrics could result in a green light for having a miniscule value that rounds down to 0. This includes access to grocery stores and farmers’ markets, parks, and libraries; as well as access to jobs by transit, frequency of local transit, health care professional shortage areas, and broadband costs and speed.
Data for these metrics comes from two different sources, each of which is at a different scale and covers different areas. There are three potential explanations for why this may occur. First, 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. Second, your community may 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. Finally, your community may be a rural area with no transit service. Rural areas do not report geographic data on ADA-accessible stations and vehicles, and there is no reliable data on which rural areas have transit service and which areas don't. We assign the average value for ADA-accessible stations and vehicles for all rural areas across the U.S.--81.7%--to rural areas that do not report ADA-accessibility data.
The Livability Index considers seven categories: housing, neighborhood, transportation, environment, health, engagement, and opportunity. For each category, the Index evaluates current conditions as well as policies and programs that can enhance community livability over time.
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.
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.
No. AARP Network of Age-Friendly States and Communities members get a single, additional policy point for each category of livability; however, in calculating the total score, only one point is awarded for membership. We list this particular program throughout the seven categories because of the cross-cutting nature of the work.
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 good and bad neighborhoods, scores for higher levels of geography tend toward the middle, and the range of scores is more narrow.
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.
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 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.
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. This is why for each metric we describe whether higher or lower values are better and provide a color indicator (a green, yellow, or red dot) to indicate the searched location’s performance. Green indicates that the neighborhood or community falls within the best-performing third of all neighborhoods or communities in the country. Yellow denotes that the neighborhood or community performs within the middle third; while red indicates that the community performs in the worst-performing third. 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.
The Livability Index includes 40 metrics and 20 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.
- Location search feature—Users can search the Index for any location in the United States, by address, town, city, county, state, or ZIP Code.
- Comparison feature—Users can compare the livability score and category scores for up to three locations.
- Customization feature—Users can customize their searches to specify categories that are more or less important to them.
- Map overlays—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.
- Resources tab—The score results page has a list of resources within each category that can help consumers and policymakers get started on improving aspects of their neighborhoods and communities. When looking at a particular category, you’ll see three tabs: “Metrics,” “Policies,” and “Resources.” Click the “Resources” tab for ideas.
- 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.
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.
Anyone, including policymakers looking to make their neighborhoods and communities more livable. It is also 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.
AARP hopes to update the Livability Index annually. Achieving this goal will depend on financial resources and data availability.
The 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 updated, AARP intends to update the Livability Index.
The Livability Index draws from more than 50 different sources of data. Data source(s) for each metric and policy are accessbile from score results and from the Livability Categories page.
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 Index. Data sources were chosen in part by whether they provided data for the entire United States.
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.