Though opinions differ on what makes a community appealing, livable communities tend to share some common traits. They are healthy, safe, and walkable. They offer choices for timely transportation to schools, jobs, services, and basic needs. They are more cost-effective for individuals and local governments. They make the region more economically competitive.
Whether we choose to live and work in a newer community or one that has been around for decades, a community's unique "sense of place" draws people and makes us feel at home and welcome there. Though that sense may seem intangible, livability is seldom an accident. Livable communities are created through effective planning and decisions by local officials, developers, and individual residents.
Livability's Barriers and Benefits
Our region faces significant obstacles to achieving livable communities now and for future generations. At present, many of us have no choice but to drive because our communities were designed primarily for car travel. Often residents live long distances from where they work because jobs and housing in our region are far apart. Too many communities lack access to parks and healthy food. And rapid consumption of land and other natural resources contributes to environmental problems across the region.
But working together as a region, we can make our communities more livable. When residents are able to live near their jobs, it helps to reduce travel costs, pollution, and congestion. Efficient use of land that supports walking, bicycling, and access to transit also reduces energy consumption — saving money for individuals, communities, and the region. When energy is conserved, it reduces greenhouse gas emissions and their negative effects on our economy and lifestyles. By improving water and energy efficiency, we can help avoid potential shortages and the impacts of climate change.
A century ago, Daniel Burnham understood that parks and open space are central to the region's quality of life and environment, which led to the network of parks, forest preserves, and lakefront areas that we now enjoy. Today, that network must grow along with our region through planned investments in a regional network of "green" infrastructure corridors that connect our parks and open spaces.
Local Autonomy…and Responsibility
The cumulative choices of 284 municipalities and seven counties determine quality of life and economic prosperity across our region. With local autonomy over land use comes the responsibility to consider how those decisions shape a community's livability, including how they affect neighboring communities and the region as a whole. As a region, we need to implement policies and investments that make livability the highest priority.