amount of open space (Myers, 1988). Alternatively, the phrase might refer to less tangible qualities such as freedom of expression and social justice (Land, 1996). Character of place considers some of these same attributes as bundles of features linked to particular places (e.g., how a community’s health is affected by air quality or access to health services).
Together, the concepts of sustainability and livability help us to consider the quality of life for all members of a community or residents of a place, and how the activities and choices of these individuals will impact on the lives of future generations. A sustainable community would not be built on consumptive practices that cannot be maintained over two generations; one livable community cannot be maintained at the expense of its neighbors (a socially costly example of environmental injustice is the siting of waste facilities in economically disadvantaged areas). Using livability or sustainability as a key word, many good sources of information and examples of community-derived indicators of livability can be found on the Internet. Many communities post their choice of indicators, and these can serve as examples for other communities. (Information-rich sites include Sustainable Measures [http://sustainablemeasures.com] and the Smart Growth Network [http://smartgrowth.org].)
The idea of livability bridges many of the other concepts discussed in this section. It refers to the extent to which the attributes of a particular place can, as they interact with one another and with activities in other places, satisfy residents by meeting their economic, social, and cultural needs, promoting their health and well-being, and protecting natural resources and ecosystem functions. As a crosscutting concept, livability contributes to the assessment of the cumulative impacts of public and private actions and failures to act, and helps capture some of the externalities ignored or inaccurately valued by market mechanisms. These mechanisms include lending and investment policies, risk/reward assessments, and consumer, business, and government purchasing decisions.
As the interest in livability continues to grow, there is increasing concern about the influence of transportation systems on the environment, economic health, and social well-being at geographic scales ranging from the local to the national. The Internet has changed the way data are developed, packaged, integrated, and used in decision making. During the past decade, Americans have witnessed a proliferation of local, state, and even national livability plans and agendas. Examples at these scales include Miami-Dade, Florida’s, 79th Street Corridor revitalization; California’s Smart Investment plan; and the Clinton-Gore administration’s Livable Communities Initiative (U.S. White House Task Force on Livable Communities, 2000). Moreover, innovative public policy initiatives such as location-efficient mortgages, taxation schemes to constrain urban sprawl, and pollution credit trading rely on livability concepts and mea