“Livability” has become a popular term in planning, design, and engineering circles, yet there continues to be a lack of clear consensus about what livability actually means, let alone how to measure it and how to achieve it. Our work suggests that livability is best understood as the equitable access to opportunities for individuals to improve, or just simply maintain, their desired quality of life. However, one person’s pursuit or defense of quality of life can actually detract from the livability of another. This concept is particularly true in transportation and housing, as one’s pursuits of these opportunities inherently touch on the lives of others, often leading to conflicts and opposition such as NIMBY exclusion of the creation of affordable housing in highly accessible neighborhoods that can meet important sustainability, livability, and social equity goals. As wealth and social status often play a key role in determining whose pursuit of quality of life wins, a moral and ethical framework must be at the heart of the achievement of livability. Therefore, livability in a just society requires that all individuals be ensured equal access to such opportunities. Rather than one monolithic definition of livability, a need exists for a theoretical moral basis to measure, understand, and judge activities toward livability achievement through a set of clear, concise, and easily applicable livability ethics.
Our Livability Ethics article attempts to help elevate our dialogue around these issues so we can all work together to create livable, sustainable, and equitable communities.