Phoenix that has air conditioners rises? Until recently, assumptions about unlimited energy supplies might have made this an unambiguous positive at the city or regional level, but growth in air conditioners does not portend positively for any efforts aimed at regional energy conservation or minimizing urban heat island effects.

Data Availability and Reliability Constraints

In practice, only the more readily obtainable, publicly accessible data are typically utilized (e.g., variables from the U.S. Census). Although they are reliable and often available at multiple geographic scales, such sets of indicators are predictably characterized by important gaps. There is no one standard source that measures all relevant features of a place’s economy, society, or environment over time. Increasingly, proprietary data (from private sources) on livability have emerged to fill these gaps, but although such sources can provide a host of useful data, they come with attendant problems of cost and access, especially reliability and ensured availability over time. Government administrative data, such as those derived from program caseload information or unemployment insurance information collected by states, are rarely used. Although these data could be extraordinarily useful especially when linked to other place-based data, they have often been collected at the level of the individual; confidentiality restrictions require these data to be aggregated appropriately, necessitating considerable time and effort. This means that these useful data are often bypassed in efforts to develop indicators.

Reliance on standardized public data sources leads to several unsatisfactory outcomes. One is the dependence on partial sets of indicators that fail to capture important aspects of livability. Another is the use of weak proxies: the use of crime statistics, for example, to measure a very broad feature of social life such as the degree of social disorganization. Third, standard sources typically include measurements of various aspects of livability, but seldom refer to perceptions of livability—which may be equally or even more important. Lastly, the use of locally specific data in combination with readily available indicators associated with standardized measures means that indicators will necessarily vary from place to place, precluding comparisons and hindering policies designed to help lagging areas. A related weakness of publicly available data is the infrequency with which they are collected.

Indicator Interpretation

Can indicators be interpreted in the same way and are they similarly relevant over varied times, places, and scales (Franke, 2000)? Hart (1999)



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