Community Indicators, Genuine Progress, and the Golden Billion

Article excerpt

Community Indicators

Many communities throughout the United States use indicators to determine quality of life. These might include surface water quality, births to single mothers, educational attainment, home ownership rates, conversion of crop land, income distribution, poverty rates, or energy consumption per capita.(1) Often the decision about which indicators to use to measure quality of life by a given community is the result of neighborhood meetings or visioning processes that provide a consensus about important variables that contribute to that community's definition of well-being. While there are a number of sources that provide background on the use of community indicators, only a few recent projects are presented here to provide a starting point. The aim, of course, is to assess inclusion of library-related variables as key community indicators and to suggest strategies about the inclusion of libraries in community indicator projects.

The Livable Communities Initiative was created by the Clinton-Gore administration in 1999 to coordinate livable communities policies and activities across eighteen branches of the executive branch of the federal government. Four categories represent ways the federal government plays a supportive role in building livable communities:

1. expanding community choices by providing incentives;

2. expanding community choices by providing information;

3. being a good neighbor; and

4. building partnerships.(2)

Topics addressed by the Livable Communities Initiative include:

1. creating better homes and work places;

2. creating community schools and civic places;

3. encouraging smart growth;

4. enhancing our water resources;

5. empowering individuals and communities;

6. preserving open space and farmland;

7. preserving our cultural heritage;

8. promoting transportation choices;

9. reclaiming brownfields;

10. securing safe streets; and

11. strengthening local economies.

As part of the Livable Communities Initiative the role of community indicators is explored to enable communities to develop techniques and measures to track progress. Most importantly, "the development of indicators or measures is a critical means for achieving community livability, since indicators are necessary to track progress toward livability. Also, the involvement of local diverse stakeholders in the development of indicators is often a good mechanism for building local communication, consensus and commitment."(3)

The process of selecting indicators provides a communitywide opportunity for discussion and the opportunity to assess values. A green lawn, for instance, might be a positive value in a gated community with stringent rules for homogeneity and a negative one in an area of drought. Indicators selected are the manifestation of a community's shared values. Those who participate in the discussion of the selection of indicators will have a greater chance of their values being incorporated into measurements of quality of life. However, a search of the possible indicators on the Livable Communities Web site finds no matches for library output measures or any other library-related variable as an indicator, although indicators for literacy and education would seem likely categories for which library measurements might apply.

However, there has been some use of library-related variables in several community indicator projects linked to the Livable Communities Initiative. According to the Sustainable Measures database, six communities have used "public library items circulated per person" as a positive quality of life indicator. These are Jacksonville, Florida; the state of Minnesota; Pasadena, California; Pierce County, Washington; South Puget Sound Region, Washington; and Seattle, Washington. The guide Sustainable Community Indicators provides background on indicator development and ideas on how different indicators are selected for local and regional planning. …