Best planning and implementation toolbox

Livable Centers:

Purpose of Tool:
Livable Centers are intended to connect homes, shops, and offices; enhance streetscapes and sidewalks; emphasize pedestrians rather than vehicles; improve access to transit options; and expand housing options. Local jurisdictions are encouraged to plan and implement strategies that link transportation improvements with land use development strategies, creating sustainable, livable communities. The primary goals of livable centers are to: encourage a diversity of mixed-income residential neighborhoods; provide employment, shopping and recreation choices at the activity center, town center, and corridor level; and provide access to a range of travel modes including transit, roadways, walking and biking.

Benefits of Using Tool:
The following are benefits of Livable Centers:
  • Foster a sense of community with inviting open spaces such as parks, plazas, and marketplaces
  • Reduce congestion on major thoroughfares by making walking, bicycling, and transit more convenient through the concentration of origins and destinations
  • Help to preserve the environment by consolidating surface parking
  • Reduce the amount of impervious surface within a region’s watershed
  • Create a unique, identifiable destination for investment and development

    Steps Involved to Use Tool:
    The primary elements of Livable Centers include:
  • Mixed-use development, which provides multiple types of land uses such as residential, commercial or institutional in a designated area
  • Integration of development, either vertically where uses are layered on top of one another, or horizontally where there is a mix of uses in close proximity to one another
  • Appropriate levels of density depending on the size and context of the Livable Center
  • Multimodal transportation options between destinations, such as walking, biking and mass transit
  • Adequate and condensed parking in convenient locations without creating an oversupply
  • Activities occurring at different times of the day and week, creating a balance of trips, including transit ridership throughout each day.

    Special Requirements to Use Tool:
    This tool is often implemented using federal transportation funding supplemented by local funding matches. Communities can use transportation improvements to revitalize town centers and key corridors. To receive funding, local plans must include intensive public involvement and fundamental Livable Centers goals must be identified, such as connectivity, enhanced streetscapes and sidewalks, emphasizing pedestrian mobility, improving transit access, and expanding housing options that respond to a wide range of socio-economic needs.

    Specials Resources Needed to Use Tool:
    As part of initiating a Livable Centers Initiative plan, the first step includes conducting an inventory of existing conditions. The existing conditions inventory requires an extensive data collection effort, including demographic data, housing data, land use data and information about the existing transportation system. It is also beneficial to keep this information in a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) database as it is easily and efficiently accessible. The Livable Center Initiative also includes the involvement of community stakeholders throughout the process. The public involvement process often includes the formation of steering committees, which usually include property owners, local merchants, residents and business owners. Planning and engineering professionals are involved to provide technical oversight during the planning process.

    Communities / Agencies that Have Used Tool:
  • Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC): The ARC created the Livable Centers Initiative to help the Atlanta region meet air quality goals by using federal transportation funds to help communities plan transportation improvements in concert with revitalization of existing centers and corridors. Since 2000, ARC has funded eighty-six (86) LCI studies that are now being implemented.  Contact:

    Atlanta Regional Commission
    Livable Centers Initiative
    40 Courtland St, NE
    Atlanta, GA 30303

  • Houston-Galveston Area Council (H-GAC): H-GAC has developed a Livable Centers program to help local areas create quality, mixed-use places where people can live, work, and play with less reliance on their cars. The Livable Centers Program funds both studies and implementation projects in the 8-County H-GAC region.  Contact:

    Houston-Galveston Area Council
    Livable Centers,
    P.O. Box 22777
    Houston, TX 77227

    Metrics to Use to Monitor Tool Effectiveness:
    To measure the progress and success of the Atlanta Regional Commission’s Livable Center Initiative (LCI) program, the ARC distributed a three-tiered survey to 68 LCI areas whose study plans were finalized before 2006. The first section of the survey measured the number of new developments since the completion of each LCI study. It was determined that only eleven LCIs (16%) did not have new development as a result of their respective LCI study, and the remaining 57 (84%) did have new development. The policies and regulations section of the survey included seven (7) questions focusing on amendments to each LCI recipient’s comprehensive plan, special zoning districts, development regulation amendments, housing considerations, and design standards. Sixty-three (63) percent of all LCI areas, with another twenty-nine (29) in the process, have made amendments to their local comprehensive plan to support and adopt their LCI Study Plan. Some forty-six (46) percent of the respondents have made changes to their development regulations in support of implementing their LCI Plan. In addition, sixty-three (63) percent stated that they are being proactive in creating design standards that comply with their LCI plan. Having the appropriate policies in place makes LCI Studies successful. The last section of the survey measured livability to determine if the efforts to implement projects and to amend policies have been successful in creating positive attitudes towards the perceived livability within the communities. The overall responses were positive; therefore, it can be assumed that there is a feeling of progress over the general affects of the LCI within the specific study area communities.

    List of Resources to Obtain Additional Info:
  • “LCI Implementation Report”. 2007. Atlanta Regional Commission.
  • Atlanta Regional Commission: Livable Centers Initiative
  • Houston-Galveston Area Council.
  • Federal Transit Administration: Planning Developing, and Implementing Community-Sensitive Transit

    A range of population and employment densities can be accommodated in various types of livable centers, as shown in this graphic from H-GAC.
    Source: H-GAC Livable Centers Program