Livability in rural and small town AmericaAugust 26, 2010
By Stephen Lee Davis
What does “livability” mean in a smaller town or city? Some would have us believe that livability is a foreign concept for our small towns or rural areas or that it’s exclusively an urban idea; a pernicious plot to eliminate car ownership.
The reality couldn’t be farther from the truth.
For the next two weeks, we’re going to publish one of a collection of 12 case studies each day that provides a different example of how small cities, towns and rural regions across the country are transforming themselves into more livable communities.
The exact definition may differ place to place, but there are core values that ring true in communities of all sizes. Livability is about providing people, including seniors and those who cannot afford to drive everywhere, better choices for traveling throughout their communities. It’s about encouraging growth in historic small town Main Streets across America and a high quality of life with ample green space, biking or walking paths, and shopping, restaurants or health care located nearby and easily accessible.
While some of these communities face formidable threats – from job losses and shrinking populations to disappearing farmland and strained resources – their leaders have forged collaborations and created plans that are growing economies, benefiting people and protecting the land and lifestyles treasured by residents and non-residents alike. And no matter what skeptics in Washington say, livability is a value that rings true in these communities.
Policymakers have taken significant steps to support coordination among transportation, housing, environmental and agricultural planning. Of particular importance is the Partnership for Sustainable Communities, a joint effort between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Transportation. In his 2011 budget, President Obama proposed $830 million for collaborative projects between these key agencies to improve quality of life in our communities and increase transportation options, affordable housing and economic opportunity – together.
Similarly, the Livable Communities Act, sponsored by Senator Chris Dodd, would build upon this concept by authorizing $4 billion in competitive grants to support communities with promising plans and projects — communities making efforts like those outlined in these case studies. Without this kind of funding assistance, many small towns and rural areas lack the financial resources, planning capacity, or authority to implement forward-looking solutions to deal with the challenges they face.
The intention of this partnership is to support investments in one area that promote goals in the other. For example, highway investments in a small town should strengthen the existing Main Street rather than undermine it — and we believe it takes a whole lot more than just a highway to keep our economies sustainable and our communities livable. Whether that highway helps or hurts is very much determined by where it goes, whether it is safe for older residents and children, whether it brings jobs or pushes them away, whether it protects or destroys agricultural land and whether it increases or denies access for those who cannot drive.
If any part of the country is in need of a comprehensive, cross-departmental approach, it is America’s small towns and rural areas. Many communities have already adopted these principles and seen great success, as demonstrated in these 12 case studies.
The Case Studies on Livability and Transit in Rural and Small Towns were written by Communications Associate Sean Barry.