What do we mean when we talk about livable cities?

People have different definitions. The lifestyle magazine Monocle publishes its “The Most Livable Cities Index.” Each year they list the 25 top locations for quality of life. Zurich’s been number 1 for two years running.  Then there’s The Economist’s Global Liveability Report, which has Melbourne on top along with three other Australian cities ranking in the first 10 (no Zurich however).  In the Mercer Quality of Living Survey, Vienna is in the top spot, Zurich appears at no. 2 but there’s no Australian city that makes the first 10.

Clearly there’s room for interpretation. For example, we think Providence deserves some recognition. There is a vibrant community of arts and culture stoked by thousands of academics from Brown Univ., R.I. School of Design, Johnson & Wales and Providence College. People here come from different backgrounds and places that gives our city its nickname: The Creative Capital.

But what makes cities so important is that they may well be our planet’s biggest systemic change in centuries. Populations are expanding. In the next seven decades our urban living space will double. It’s important that we build them better.

We must think differently about how and where we live. Decades of unchecked sprawl have created a car culture that is the largest single contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. By contrast, well planned cities and towns are more efficient. They are compact and easy to get around by foot or bicycle. They have vibrant town centers with retail, commercial, and community services in close proximity and easy access to transit. Because they are densely developed, they require less energy to move people and goods and to heat and cool buildings.

Livable communities are also more satisfying to most people than sprawl. When people walk and bike places, they are more likely to see their neighbors and interact with them, fostering a real sense of community. Exercise becomes a natural extension of daily life. These features appeal to human psychology and improve quality of life.

These are the things we think about when we talk about livable cities. That’s the impetus for our Cleverhood.