During the first ten years of our relationship, my husband and I moved fourteen times. This vagabond existence was only partly by choice: most of the time we worked on short-term contracts for non-profit organizations delivering environmental stewardship projects. Most of the time these contracts didn’t last very long, and it was time to find new needs and dream up new solutions.
Flip-flopping from one community to the next, we skipped around the West Coast, sampling life in many of our country’s smaller communities. We met a lot of people, weathered a lot of rentals, and eventually came up with a good idea of what our “forever” community would look like.
Apart from stable employment, we searched for many of the same things planning experts look for in “livable communities.” We also came up with a few of our own criteria.
1) Friendly Neighborhoods
A friendly neighborhood may seem like a given, but it’s not always easy to know what a place is like until you live there. Since we’d survived unfriendly neighbors once before, we made this criteria a top priority. Before purchasing our land, we called every neighbor on our street and talked to them. We asked questions like ‘how would you describe the neighborhood? What is the noise level like at different times of day? Why do you like (or dislike) living here?’
The day we moved in, our neighbor sauntered over and shared the names of everyone who lived on our street. We appreciated her welcome, and have found those connections helpful ever since.
2) Trails to Town and Other Important Places
Although we previously always lived rurally, we moved closer a town center to cut down on our driving habit. No matter how much we loved “the country,” we always found ourselves in the car, on the road to somewhere. This intensified when our children came along. Having trails that lead to our local shopping areas or connect our neighborhood to other places of interest (like our local artisan bakery, the ocean, and a stream) are important for us. When children are learning to ride bikes or walk, they can do so in a quiet space. These places of intersection also mean we repeatedly meet our neighbors and the other people who like to walk and bike around here.
3) A Progressive Community
Moving onto our present lot meant giving up our more remote rural history. Yes, we have acreage in a reserve designated for agricultural land, but we are located inside a town boundary. This comes with its advantages and disadvantages. However, we find the advantages reign supreme. Through urban containment boundaries and zoning, our town controls urban sprawl. These tools have also created a compact, walkable downtown that is heavenly for parents who dislike struggling with car seats at every stop. In addition, the town maintains design guidelines that contribute to its “village” character.
Our local building department is also willing to consider new and greener construction technologies. In fact, the town won an award this year for its sustainability plan from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. The challenge here is to attract and maintain jobs for young families that will retain vitality.
4) Fresh Local Foods
The year we took possession of our property, we had no garden. Apart from the withdrawal symptoms of having no fresh greens outside our door, we managed well because of the local farmer’s market. Community support for the market is very high—to the point where many foods are sold out before 11:00. For us, this is a sign of a thriving local food economy (and an indication that opportunities exist for those who wish to answer this demand). Oh, and those trails mentioned above? One of them leads to the farmer’s market.
5) Welcoming to All Ages
Given that one out of every two people in our town is over 65, it’s incredible that so many opportunities are offered for children. These include family-friendly festivals, summer reading clubs, and public play spaces. On holidays, volunteers work hard to create special events like pumpkin trails and Christmas fairs where children, adults, and seniors can enjoy the season together. Nearby there are kite-flying festivals, airport days, knitting clubs, and drop-in fiddle groups. We appreciate the diversity of these opportunities, but what we appreciate even more is that these things are open to all ages. Our children are growing up feeling like they belong, and that what happens in their community is relevant to them right now.
6) Educational Opportunities
As a homeschooling family, this criteria might look different for us on the outside, but like most other families we are looking for a good “school” experience for our children. That includes a learning space or opportunities close to home, friends with similar interests and availability, and support from a school district that can meet our needs. Public spaces or learning opportunities in the community are also important to us, because the real world is where our children must live and contribute eventually, so why not start right now?
Livability Into the Future
With today’s telecommuting on the rise and the increasing focus on livable communities, many towns like ours have an opportunity to attract workers who will develop the information, technology, entertainment, green, and ideas economies of the future. These economies rely less on consuming ever more of our earth’s resources.
With vision and planning, perhaps the livability and sustainability model of smaller communities will see a reversal of the trend of migrating to larger cities for work. Now wouldn’t that be nice?
What makes your community livable?
Livable community links:
Partners for Livable Communities (American)
Moneysense Guide for Best Places to Live (Canadian)
Creating Livable Communities (Huffington Post)