Over the last couple years, the definition of livability created by the HUD-DOT-EPA’s Partnership for Sustainable Communities has become well known to those of us in the “city business.” The Partnership’s website outlines the six principles of livability: value communities and neighborhoods; promote equitable, affordable housing; provide more transportation choices; support existing communities; coordinate and leverage federal policies and investment and enhance economic competitiveness.
The site describes what a livable community looks like. When I close my eyes to picture it based on this description, I see multi-modal transportation systems and a variety of housing types. I see tree-lined streets and open space. What I don’t see in my mind’s eye are people in these spaces. Where are the people?
Actually, they’re hard at work in cities like Durham, N.C., building livable communities from the bottom up, with support from the Partnership, of course. The Northeast Central Durham (NECD) Livability Initiative is adding value to the livability discussion by placing citizens right where they belong—at the foundation of the community’s livability planning efforts. In doing so, the initiative is using livability planning as a vehicle with which to establish a more engaged citizenry and a more inclusive community.
According to a presentation about the initiative, livability is all about the citizens, especially in a low-wealth, majority minority community like NECD that has suffered from disinvestment since it was dissected by urban renewal in the 1970s. With livability planning, “We can restore the lost sense of commitment and belonging; we can counteract the phenomenon of alienation, isolation and loneliness and achieve a sense of identification and participation.”
The initiative has been assembling citizens, local leaders, federal and state agencies, non-profits and students since May 2010 to translate the six livability principles into five citizen-supported livability schemes that fill gaps in the community’s planning efforts.
The community’s citizens are its spokespeople, and according to Wanona Satcher, an urban designer and resident involved in the initiative, they are learning to speak the language needed to make positive changes in their community. They know what questions to ask and have more knowledge of local opportunities that enable them to engage in hands on efforts to support economic and workforce development, environmental responsibility and a healthy community.
One of the initiative’s most successful accomplishments to date is the creation of the Bull City Urban Market. The market, which provides the community with access to fresh, healthy and affordable food, also supports job creation, economic opportunity, walkability and community cohesiveness in NECD and throughout the city and county of Durham.
More info: The NECD Livability Initiative was highlighted as part of the NLC City Showcase at the Congress of Cities and Exposition last month in Phoenix. Learn more about the initiative on CityLife, where the initiative was profiled in August 2011. And join in the discussion about this and other efforts that support a culture of inclusiveness with the NLC-supported Partnership for Working Toward Inclusive Communities on Facebook.