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Thread: Livability-Just another buzzword?

  1. #1

    Livability-Just another buzzword?

    I'm in the process of synthesizing some of the literature that is out there regarding the term/idea of "livability" and how it might relate to other terms such as quality of life, quality of place, sustainability, etc. The word livability is tossed around a lot these days and it is inherently subjective so besides delving into the academic quagmire I thought it would be interesting to get others opinions about:
    1) What the word livability means or encompasses-or how definitions may differ, i.e. would someone living in a middle-class neighborhood have a drastically different definition of a livable community than some in a lower-income area? would there be some commonalities?
    2) How useful it is to talk about the livability of a place, in particular as it relates to the planning and design field.
    3) Some measures/indicators of livability.

    thanks for your thoughts on this-they may help direct me in my research

  2. #2
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    Thanks for bringing up the livability phrase. I think the phrase has its roots in the way "quality of life" has been confused with "standard of living." I'd also argue that livability infers the quality of life of the average person in regards to his environment--and by environment, meaning the human created environment.

    An example: I was reading an article about Hawaiians moving to Las Vegas because the standard of living--size of houses, wages was higher, even though Las Vegas' "quality of life" was seen to be lower than what they had left behind. Livability tries to address quality of life in a "neutral" way, for example Hawaii's weather may improve "quality of life" but should not matter in regard to livability.

    Also, I believe that livability is a progressive/liberal way to address quality of life and standard of living
    issues that is often excluded from the debate. It is a holistic way of addressing quality of life issues, not for any particular individual, or even the sum of individuals. It is quality of life best in line with the "common good".

    Livability is quality of life of the social-enviro sort, quality of life within the public sphere, it is the quality of life for a person in within the public sphere. It doesnt matter if you travel on a newly paved super-highway if commuting time does not decline for the mean commuter.

    While livability is never really defined, the most livable cities are cities where the public i.e. common environment is of a high quality. Swiss and germanic cities, like Geneva often figure prominently. Big back yards dont improve livability, but access to parks do. If highway noise, i.e. the public sphere enters into the picture--if it disturbs your enjoyment of your backyard then your livability is reduced. And even then you cant really talk about any one person's livability.

  3. #3
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    I didnt quite answer your questions rnjh, so i'll do so now.

    Q: What the word livability means or encompasses-or how definitions may differ, i.e. would someone living in a middle-class neighborhood have a drastically different definition of a livable community than some in a lower-income area? would there be some commonalities?


    A: I dont think you can talk about livability for an individual. You can talk about the livability of a neighborhood. i.e. harlem is less livable than greenwich village. Or you can say the public good is defined differently for different publics, Beverly hills could be less livable if the needs of its citizens are served less well than the needs of the citizens of X-ville. Although, because livablility seems to be a meta kind of term I am not totally convinced about different standards of livability between communities.


    Q: How useful it is to talk about the livability of a place, in particular as it relates to the planning and design field.

    A: Livability of a place is useful in a planning or design sense only because it encourages professionals to consider the entire picture, to take a holistic view of the issues. And it allows those who willingly use the word to stress the importance of a quality public environment on quality of life/standard of living issues. L


    Q: How useful it is to talk about the livability of a place, in particular as it relates to the planning and design field.

    A: There are no objective measures of livability, precisely because livability tries to measure the net effect of a good quality of life. Livability is implied by typical smart growth markers--e.g mixed use, intermodal transportation, sustainable development because in these cases externalities are minimized, so that net effects are cumulative, rather than canceling each other out.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian
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    I would suggest that it is a word that means nothing. You are correct to say its another buzzword. RRK probably has a pretty good grasp on how those of us in the business might try to wrestle with it. Any attempts to measure it seems pointless as I think one would simply be heading down the path toward subjective arguements.

    "Livibility Index"...whatever.

    Interesting RRK that you have an initial response to talk about urban livibility (cities); I am not characterizing your response....just observing...

    Let me guess...other measures of livibility might be high density, small lots, transit-oriented, neo-traditional...

  5. #5
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    GKMO got it right. It's another buzzword without real meaning. As he suggests, it is a term bandied about by the same people who drool over new urban development and similar movements. "Livability," as a concept, has a very different meaning to everyone. You won't see me living in a new urbanist development - I would call that barely living.
    Anyone want to adopt a dog?

  6. #6
    Cyburbian Seabishop's avatar
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    I just take "liveable" to be an adjective for "having high quality of life." Anything else would be a stretch.

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