Atlantic Cities

The Ingredients of 'Complete Communities'

The Ingredients of 'Complete Communities'
Susan Leggett / Shutterstock.com

Figure courtesy of study.

More than eight in 10 Americans live in metro areas, according to a comprehensive report from the 2010 U.S. Census [PDF] released last week, and the downtowns of the largest metros posted double-digit growth over the decade. Yet, cities and metro areas continue to be vexed with serious economic and social problems, from poverty and inequality to housing affordability and sprawl.

How do we gauge our progress toward more equitable, affordable, sustainable, and walkable communities? 

A new study, "Are We There Yet? Creating Complete Communities for 21st Century America," released today by the nonprofit Reconnecting America, seeks to do just this, identifying a series of metrics and rankings to measure America's progress toward creating more "complete communities."

Our communities need basic elements to support economic opportunity and health for all people, regardless of income level, cultural background or political persuasion. ... These elements include a quality education, access to good jobs, an affordable roof over our heads, access to affordable healthy food and health services, the ability to enjoy artistic, spiritual and cultural amenities, access to recreation and parks, meaningful civic engagement, and affordable transportation choices that get us where we need to go.

Complete communities are inclusive, measured by how residents and workers benefit and not necessarily the shape or form they take, and may likely require other supportive assets we have not covered in this report.

The report also identifies "opportunity areas," which it defines as places most primed for movement toward becoming more complete communities.

The study evaluates metros across four key dimensions — living, working, moving, and thriving. Providing detailed data and rankings for 33 specific indicators, it grades all 366 metro areas on each of the four dimensions (see page 88 of the study for complete listings).  

The table below shows the grades for America's largest metros (those with more than 3 million people). The last column adds the overall score we calculated for these 17 metros by assigning a simple numerical value to each letter grade (A=4, B=3, C=2, D=1).

 
Grades for Metros Regions with over Over 3 Million People
Rank Metro Living Working Moving Thriving Score
1 New York, NY A A A A 16
1 San Francisco, CA A A A A 16
3 Boston, MA A A B C 13
3 Los Angeles, CA B B B A 13
3 Washington, D.C. B A B B 13
6 Chicago, IL B B B B 12
7 Philadelphia, PA B B B C 11
7 Seattle, WA C B B B 11
9 Miami, FL B C B C 10
9 Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN C B C B 10
11 San Diego, CA C C C B 9
12 Detroit, MI C C D C 7
12 Phoenix, AZ D C C C 7
14 Houston, TX D C C D 6
15 Atlanta, GA C D D D 5
15 Dallas-Ft. Worth, TX D D D C 5
17 Riverside, CA D D D D 4

Table data courtesy of study

New York and San Francisco tie for first place with A's across all four categories. Honolulu, San Jose, Denver, Portland, Oregon; Trenton-Ewing, New Jersey; Lincoln, Nebraska; Missoula, Montana; and Spokane, Washington, are among the smaller metros (those with populations under 3 million and so don't appear in the above chart) that scored straight A's in all four categories. (Again, see page 88 of the study for complete listings).

Stories of Urban Reinvention. See full coverage

One can quibble with the specific metrics — and the report notes its metrics are merely a start and much more needs to be done — but what is important about the study, and what I especially like about it, is that it seeks to systematically measure several key dimensions of more prosperous, inclusive, resilient, and livable communities, beyond just economic performance. In doing so, it underscores the need for ongoing, larger-scale efforts to develop shared open data that can track the key dimensions of community performance and help inform more effective strategies, policies and practices to strengthen and enhance our cities and communities. Count me in.

Top image: Susan Leggett / Shutterstock.com

Richard Florida is Co-Founder and Editor at Large at The Atlantic Cities. He's also a Senior Editor at The Atlantic, Director of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management, and Global Research Professor at New York University. He is a frequent speaker to communities, business and professional organizations, and founder of the Creative Class Group, whose current client list can be found here. All posts »

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