Reconnecting America People * Places * Possibility

Resource Center

Case Studies on Transit and Livable Communities in Rural and Small Town America

Offers a dozen examples of small towns and rural regions working to make their communities more livabl

Livability in Small Towns and Rural Areas

What does “livability” mean in a smaller town or city? Some would have us believe that livability is a foreign concept for our small towns and rural areas. The reality couldn’t be farther from the truth.

This collection of 12 case studies provides examples of how small cities, towns and rural regions across the country are transforming themselves into more livable communities. While some of these commu­nities face formidable threats – from job losses and shrinking populations to disappearing farmland and strained resources – their leaders have forged collabo­rations and created plans that are growing economies, bene.ting people and protecting the land and life­styles treasured by residents and non-residents alike.

The exact de.nition may place to place, but these case studies reveal some core values and needs that exist in these communities across America. It is about providing people, including seniors and those who cannot a.ord to drive everywhere, better choices about how to travel throughout their regions. It is about encouraging growth in historic small town Main Streets across America and a high quality of life with ample green space, biking or walking paths, and shopping, restaurants or health care located nearby and easily accessible.

Policymakers have taken signi.cant steps to support coordination among transportation, housing, envi­ronmental and agricultural planning. Of particular importance is the Partnership for Sustainable Com­munities, a joint e.ort between the U.S. Environ­mental Protection Agency, the Department of Hous­ing and Urban Development and the Department of Transportation. In his 2011 budget, President Obama proposed $830 million for collaborative proj­ects between these key agencies to improve quality of life in our communities and increase transportation options, a.ordable housing and economic opportu­nity – together.

Similarly, the Livable Communities Act, sponsored by Senator Chris Dodd, would build upon this con­cept by authorizing $4 billion in competitive grants for communities with promising plans and projects. Without this kind of funding assistance, many small towns and rural areas lack the .nancial resources, planning capacity, or authority to implement for­ward-looking solutions.

The intention of this partnership is to support invest­ments in one area that promote goals in others. For example, highway investments in a small town should strengthen the existing Main Street rather than un­dermine it – and we believe it takes a whole lot more than a highway to keep our economies sustainable and our communities livable. Whether that highway helps or hurts is very much determined by where it goes, whether it is safe for older residents and chil­dren, whether it brings jobs or pushes them away, whether it protects or destroys agricultural land and whether it increases or denies access for those who cannot drive.

If any part of the country is in need of a comprehen­sive, cross- departmental approach, it is America’s small towns and rural areas. Many communities have already adopted these principles and seen great suc­cess, as demonstrated in these case studies.