aarp_indexThe AARP Public Policy Institute has launched a new Livability Index, rating more than 200,000 neighborhoods in the United States. The index looks at the wants and needs related to services, amenities, and infrastructure for those ages 50-plus.

A key purpose of the index is to shine a spotlight on where policy makers and community stakeholders can improve and better prepare their communities for the aging population. “We wanted to put a powerful tool in the hands of community leaders so that they can understand their community’s strengths and also potential threats to livability,” says Jana Lynott, senior strategic policy adviser for the AARP Public Policy Institute.

The 65-and-older population is poised to increase from 13 percent in 2010 to 20 percent by 2030, according to AARP, which was formerly known as the American Association of Retired Persons. Survey after survey has shown that nine out of ten individuals want to age in their existing communities, she says, suggesting that the aging population will want their communities to offer the services needed to stay in their homes.

“The time is now. We really can’t wait another ten years to make changes in our communities,” says Lynott. “We need to make sure that we are working today to put in place those policies and programs, as well as new land use patterns, transportation systems, housing programs, etc., to address the changing needs of our communities.”

The index scores neighborhoods and cities based on 60 factors ranging from air and water quality to affordable health care. Those factors are divided into seven categories related to housing, neighborhood, transportation, environment, health, engagement, and opportunity. Each category takes a deeper dive in valuing the related services, amenities, and infrastructure. For example, the transportation category includes metrics on the frequency of local transit service, traffic congestion, crashes, and household transportation costs.

Most Livable Neighborhoods

  1. Mifflin West, Madison, Wisconsin
  2. Upper West Side, Manhattan, New York City
  3. Downtown Crossing, Boston
  4. South of Market, San Francisco
  5. Washburn, La Crosse, Wisconsin
  6. Downtown, Sioux Falls, South Dakota
  7. Southside, Virginia, Minnesota
  8. Downtown, Bismarck, North Dakota
  9. Downtown, Seattle
  10. Downtown, Los Alamos, New Mexico

Livability means different things to different people. To that end, AARP also created a customization tool that allows individuals to weight the different categories of livability based on their own preferences. So, an individual could rate each of the seven categories as more or less important to create a more custom score.

All 60 of the indicators are relevant to people of any age. However, the index does use the AARP lens to select various indicators that are important to individuals ages 50 and older. For example, the index measures not only the frequency of transportation services, but also how accessible that transportation system is to older adults. Yet transportation that is available to seniors would also be relevant to people with disabilities or parents pushing strollers.

Ultimately, the intent of the index is to drive change to make communities better, says Lynott. Downtown Seattle, for example, ranks among the top ten most livable neighborhoods in the country. The neighborhood has a total index score of 72 out 100. However, each neighborhood receives an individual category score, which in this case ranges from a high of 95 for transportation to a low of 46 for the opportunity category. Opportunity refers to how a community embraces diversity and offers opportunities to residents of all ages and backgrounds. Downtown Seattle scored lowed in this category, in the bottom one-third of the country, for its high school graduation rate and also scored low for the age diversity within the community.

“The idea is to incentivize communities to take a long, hard look at what they are doing,” says Lynott. In every situation—even among the most livable communities—there is room for improvement, she adds.