Community livability is of increasing concern to many Californians as growth-related problems mount. This paper addresses key threats to the livability of the state’s communities and outlines potential policy responses. A "livable" neighborhood can be defined as one that is "pleasant, safe, affordable, and supportive of human community." Key elements of community livability often include an attractive, pedestrian-oriented public realm; low traffic speed, volume, and congestion; decent, affordable, and well-located housing; convenient schools, shops, and services; accessible parks and open space; a clean natural environment; places that feel safe and accepting to a diverse range of users; the presence of meaningful cultural, historical, and ecological features; and friendly, community-oriented social environments.
California faces many threats to the future livability of its communities. Particular problem areas include the following: rapid population growth; rising traffic congestion; loss of farmland, open space, and ecological habitats; real or perceived problems of safety within communities; growing inequities within metropolitan areas; loss of community identity and a "sense of place;" deficiencies of affordable housing; a lack of locally-oriented businesses, shops, and jobs in many communities; threats to environmental quality; the lack of adequate governmental institutions which can effectively manage growth.
Success at preserving or enhancing community livability in California will come only through an integrated, mutually-reinforcing set of policies and incentives at different levels of government. State leadership is essential. Both regulatory and incentive-based approaches -- "carrots and sticks" -- will be necessary. Perhaps most important is that livability-oriented planning processes be inclusive and participatory, developing "buy-in" from different constituencies over time and promoting public education and coalition-building which can help achieve long-term results.