By Dom Nozzi, AICP
What makes a city livable? It’s a commonly debated question — and an important one for cities striving to improve their
quality of life. What makes a community pleasant? What leads its citizens to feel a sense of pride in where they live? There are an enormous number of potential criteria for assessing the livability of a city.
Mostly, my assessment criteria ask: Does the city establish and honor a high-quality, human-scaled public realm — the public
streets, sidewalks, and parks? Are the streets and the spaces between buildings within the human “habitat” modest enough to make humans — not cars — feel comfortable? Do the streets and buildings create an enjoyable, human-scaled sense of enclosure, instead of leaving people feeling exposed and assaulted in an Anywhere USA parking lot moonscape?
Has public life blossomed? Is there a sense of place? Does a person often find oneself in an outdoor living room providing
ample opportunities for social interaction with neighbors and fellow citizens?
Has the community avoided the path so many contemporary American cities have taken, whereby the community turns its back
on, and neglects, the public realm — striving instead to single-mindedly make cars happy — and focusing its attention solely on improvements to the private realm (the insides of homes, offices, cars and stores)? A car-happy place, in
other words, where there is public squalor and private grandeur? Where “quality of life” can only be found inside a luxurious McMansion home or an expensive car?
Primarily, a livable city recognizes that the foundation for livability is to create a magnificent public realm that instills
civic pride. A place where residents are fiercely protective of the cherished features of their beloved community, and therefore always working to improve their streets, their sidewalks and parks — knowing that these are the
wellsprings of a high quality of life. Where the needs of people are the prime focus, instead of the downwardly spiraling path of providing for the “needs” of cars.
Here are the criteria I use when assessing the livability of a community.
1. A livable city has walkable, mixed use, higher-density, mixed-income neighborhoods where it is a pleasant, short walk to
a store, an office, a transit stop, a friends’ house, a school or a park.
2. A livable city has vibrant, exciting, sociable, charming, human-scaled pedestrian experiences.
3. A livable city has little or no wide, multi-lane, high-speed highway and road infrastructure within its central area.
And few, if any, one-way streets, strip commercial development or cul-de-sacs.
4. A livable city has modest, traffic-calmed, tree-lined streets with on-street parking. Few, if any, roads are larger than 3
lanes in size .
5. A livable city has high-quality public squares and public parks.
6. A livable city has quality, locally-owned cuisine — some of which feature outdoor cafes found on a vibrant
7. A livable city has quality transit. The service is frequent and easy to use.
8. A livable city has a quality nightlife. The city does not close down at 5 pm.
9. A livable city has quality bicycle and pedestrian facilities and a large number of bicyclists and pedestrians. Life
without a car is perfectly possible and enjoyable.
10. A livable city has little in the way of surface parking — particularly FREE off-street parking.
11. A livable city has a compact downtown full of higher-density housing and diverse retail.
12. A livable city has quality culture (entertainment, speeches, arts, etc.) and a quality
13. A livable city has a high degree of civic pride, and a tradition of working to protect their unique, treasured
14. A livable city has magnificent historic, traditional, classical architecture that induces civic pride.
15. A livable city has little in the way of excruciating, infuriating noise pollution (screaming emergency sirens, leaf
blowers, vacuum trucks, helicopters, etc., are under control).
Given these criteria, here is a list (in no particular order) of the best cities I have visited in the
New York City
Nantucket & Martha’s
St Augustine FL
Missoula and Bozeman MT