Downtown Crossing named one of country’s 'most livable' neighborhoods — but there’s a big caveat

By Catherine Carlock, Boston Business Journal | April 21, 2015

With abundant housing and transportation options, a relatively clean environment, access to health care and parks, Boston’s Downtown Crossing neighborhoods has been named one of the “most livable neighborhoods” in the U.S. — but there’s a caveat, according to an intensive AARP Public Policy Institute study on “The Most Livable Places at 50+” released this month.

The caveat? Income inequality and lack of opportunity.

The AARP Livability Index examined seven categories of livability — housing, neighborhood, transportation, environment, health, civic and social engagement and opportunity — using nationally available data to study every Census-defined neighborhood across the country, said Rodney Harrell, director of livable communities for the AARP Public Policy Institute. It’s the first study of its kind that crosses such wide category ranges and analyzes every U.S. neighborhood, he said.

The study considered the Downtown Crossing neighborhood as the eight blocks bordered by Essex Street, Washington Street, Chauncy Street and Milk Street. The neighborhood scored a perfect 100 on transportation access, a 98 on housing and a 91 on the neighborhood score, and also rated above average on environment (clean air and water) and social engagement.

But the one category where Downtown Crossing ranked below 50 on the 100-point scale is the “opportunity” category.

For that category, the study considered factors such as income inequality, jobs per person, high school graduation rates, and how multigenerational the neighborhood is.

“We’re trying to understand, through our metrics and policies, whether people of all types and needs are included,” Harrell said.

Downtown Crossing came in at below average for income inequality and jobs per worker. The high school graduation rate for the neighborhood was 64.5 percent, below the median U.S. rate of 81.3 percent, Harrell said. Another red flag was the crime rate for Suffolk County, which is 457 violent or property crimes per 10,000 people, while the U.S. median rate is 304 per 10,000, Harrell said.

“There’s a lot of great things, because it’s one of the best in the country,” Harrell said. “But even in this great neighborhood, that has all these great things and this great location, there are these red flags, that if you’re a policymaker and somebody who wants to make change in the community, you want to pay attention to these things. ... No place is perfect, but every community can try to be perfect.”