Life and politics from the Sunshine State's best city

Cool new web tool from AARP allows users to see how their neighborhood stacks up to others

in Apolitical/Top Headlines by

Two Florida cities were recognized in a new tool released this week called the Livability Index. Jacksonville and Tallahassee were identified as strong “livable communities based on a series of metrics.

It’s a web-based tool developed by AARP to measure overall community livability. The tool scores things like housing, neighborhood, transportation, environment, health, community engagement and opportunity.

Both Jacksonville and Tallahassee scored well on the index’s social engagement category earning a 70 and 80 respectively. As a state, Florida only scored a 55.

However Jacksonville didn’t fare so well in the opportunity category that demonstrates a city’s ability to not only provide opportunity for its residents, but also to continue to improve itself. The city scored just a 42 in that category based on the city’s lower-than-average graduation rates and wide income disparity.

Tallahassee and Jacksonville both only did slightly better than average in the housing category. Tallahassee scored a 55 while Jacksonville earned a 51.

Tampa and St. Petersburg fell well below average with scores of 38 and 35 in housing.

St. Petersburg earned an overall score of 53, which puts it slightly above average. The Sunshine City scored the highest on environment with an index of 64. St. Pete residents are also more civically involved than other areas earning the city a score of 63 in engagement.

Despite the failure last year of the Greenlight Pinellas transit initiative and a public transportation agency facing insolvency and drastic cuts to service, St. Pete did fairly well in transportation with an index of 60.

Tampa came in a little below St. Pete at a dead average score of 50. Tampa scored the highest in engagement with an index of 67. That city had the lowest scores – 38 – in housing and environment.

Some individual neighborhoods in St. Pete did better than others. Downtown earned a 59 while nearby Historic Kenwood got a 55. Some of the city’s richest neighborhoods surprisingly did not do well.

Tierra Verde only earned an overall index of 46. Venetian Isles got a 49 and Park Street North only earned a 47.

The tool allows users to search by address, ZIP Code or community and also gives the added benefit of being able to weight different community features in order to prioritize features most important to them.

The idea is to give users the information necessary to affect change in their communities. The scores are available nationwide.

The individual categories are defined within the tool. Housing includes a metric that looks at both affordability and access while the neighborhood category covers a resident’s access to life, work and play.

Other categories include transportation, environment and health which represent access to safe and convenient transit, clean air and water and access to quality healthcare and preventative services.

Engagement and opportunity include criteria like civil and social involvement and inclusion and various possibilities like employment.

Scores are determined by assigning each of those seven categories with a score from 0-100 with 100 being the best possible score. The scores are then averaged for an overall score.

Community scores are graded against one another so an average community has a score of 50 and those with scores higher or lower are considered better or worse.

There’s another layer beneath the simple explanation though. The scores are factored using more than 50 unique sources of data, 40 metrics and 20 policies. Coming up with a score could use any or all of information available highlighting the community in the past, present and future.

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email

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