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AFBAmerican Foundation®
for the Blind

Expanding possibilities for people with vision loss

Livable Communities: Most Livable Community Profiles

(Note: Some of the costs cited in these profiles are 2003 data. Changes may have occurred in the interim.)

And the Winners Are...

  1. Charlotte, North Carolina
  2. Berkeley, California
  3. Kalamazoo, Michigan
  4. New York, New York
  5. La Crosse, Wisconsin and Louisville, Kentucky (tied)

#1: Charlotte, North Carolina

Key Features

Getting Around

  • Commitment to public transportation: affordable services and convenient bus routes to shopping districts, work, and doctors' offices
  • Some audible and vibro-tactile traffic signals installed (with braille labels, and locator tones); detectable warnings at roundabouts; standardization of bus stops; talking buses
  • All paratransit drivers receive "sensitivity training" from local blindness agency; increased service in volume of rides and range (to include county); expansive eligibility requirements; uniform fleet
  • The "walkability" of the city: several walking communities within the city, with grocery and drug stores, coffee shops, bus routes, various shopping and eating establishments, and daycare facilities all within walking distance
  • Inter-city transit available; hub airport accessible in 15 minutes

Cost of Living/Housing

  • Affordable / low cost of living
  • Median house price is $165,000; median rent for a 2-bedroom apartment is $700

Employment

  • A record of hiring people with sensory disabilities: of people, ages 16-64, with a sensory disability, 56% are employed
  • Some employers possess positive track record for accommodating blind employees

Access to Services/Necessities of Daily Living

  • Ability to be independent

Education/Arts/Recreation

  • Live theater with audio description
  • Touch tours at the Met Museums

Miscellaneous

  • Temperate climate (i.e., little or no snow)
  • Mid-size community
  • Excellent advocacy track record for successes in transportation & communication access; cooperative city government

Quote from resident:

"I am 33 and it took me over ten years to find a place in the world where I can do anything I need without asking for a ride! ... Charlotte is a great place to live when a big city is a little too daunting and a small town is a bit too oppressive! ... It has literally everything you could imagine...walking distance to the grocery store, drug store, coffee shop, bus stop, various shopping, eating establishments, convenient bus route to mall, work, and doctors' visits. The mixed pricing of homes to allow all socio-economic ranges. I have access to downtown, without making me feel like I am dependent on anyone! I even live near a daycare if I should have children someday. I don't have to have someone else pick them up!"
   —Erin, Communications Department, Bank of America

Think twice: Charlotte's crime rate is particularly high for a city of this size. Not all neighborhoods are fabulous for getting around; travel in a few areas is difficult, due to lack of sidewalks, skewed intersections, and poor drivers.

City Web Site: www.charmeck.nc.us

#2: Berkeley, California

Key Features

Getting Around

  • Excellent public transit system: 33% of the general population commutes to work by public transportation or walking (compared to 7.6% for the nation as a whole).
  • Excellent inter-city transit available
  • Walking community: downtown includes dozens of shops and with entrances onto sidewalks, and some restaurants with Braille menus

Employment

  • A record of hiring people with sensory disabilities: of people, ages 16-64, with a sensory disability, 50% are employed

Safety

  • Low crime (i.e., able to walk home after midnight)

Education/Arts/Recreation

  • Presence of university, campus events within walking distance
  • Entertainment, live music

Access to Services/Necessities of Daily Living

  • Walking access, public transit, and sidewalks, which enable independence
  • Benefits of a large city with a more "small town" feel

Community Integration/General Sense of Acceptance

  • High community integration of disabled residents, general sense of acceptance
  • Public is accustomed to seeing blind and visually impaired people, people with disabilities
  • Known by name, familiarity with shopkeepers

Quote from resident:

"I need to be in a place that has a heart and a soul, a reason to exist. I want to be able to walk to cafes, greet passersby on the street, feel a part of the community. Besides, the more diverse the population, the less a blind person is likely to feel they stick out. Berkeley...is very cosmopolitan."

Think twice: cost of living and presence of affordable housing may make it difficult to live here. Median house price is $471,000 (Alameda County); median rent for a 2-bedroom apartment is $1325.

City Web Site: www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/

#3: Kalamazoo, Michigan

Key Features

Community Integration/General Sense of Acceptance

  • Friendly city
  • Citizens are aware of blindness and blind people. Because of the university degree/certification programs in blindness located at Western Michigan University and the Commission for the Blind Training Center, people are accustomed to seeing blind or visually impaired people in the streets and in the community.

Cost of Living/Housing

  • Affordable/low cost of living: median house price is $141,000; median rent for a 2-bedroom apartment is $660
  • Affordable retirement communities within the city are accessible by public transit

Employment

  • A record of hiring people with sensory disabilities: of people, ages 16-64, with a sensory disability, 49% are employed

Education/Arts/Recreation

  • Many activities, many free
  • Concerts in the park in summer; book discussion groups at the library; university auditorium brings in outstanding musicians, dance, and theater
  • Many facilities and services located along convenient bus routes
  • Research is being conducted on safer and easier mobility for blind people (e.g., audible signals; automated bus announcements)

Quote from resident:

"If you ask for help, you get plenty of it....The whole place just seems really kind....I can't get over how much people go out of their way to help blind people. They see them being trained, walking around downtown, and I think they are acclimated to blind people....I came here for work and was accepted. I made a lot of friends -- sighted and not. I think it's the kind of place that someone who is outgoing can do very well, and make a lot of friends."

Think twice: Although there is a commitment to public transit, getting around can still be difficult. Bus drivers do not always announce stops and the bus system doesn't run on Sundays; sidewalks don't exist in some parts of town.

City Web Site: www.ci.kalamazoo.mi.us

#4: New York, New York

Key Features

Getting Around

  • Transportation is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and there are many options available - bus, train, ferry, taxi, paratransit, walking. You can get you anywhere you need to go, independently.
  • Half price train and bus fares for people with disabilities.
  • Manhattan layout is extremely organized: street configuration is a grid, with addresses that correspond, and one way streets are generally consistent (e.g., even number streets go east.)
  • Sidewalks are abundant.
  • 63% of the population commutes to work by public transportation or walking (compared to 7.6% for the nation as a whole).

Access to Services/Necessities of Daily Living

  • Access to full array of services available in the city due to transit system and "walkability"
  • Just about anything can be delivered

Education/Arts/Recreation

  • Access to full array of cultural activities available in the city due to transit system and walkability
  • Audio description and reduced price admission to select Broadway shows
  • Many education institutions offer low cost cultural events; there is a range of costs for entertainment, dining, etc.
  • Home to the only professional theater company of blind and visually impaired artists in the nation (Theater By The Blind).

Community Integration/General Sense of Acceptance

  • Very diverse population—survey respondents explained that people generally were more tolerant of differences, including of people with disabilities; in places with a lot of diversity, they felt more accepted.
  • "Neighborhood feel" in many parts of the city; familiarity and recognition in the smaller neighborhoods.
  • Despite the reputation, people generally are helpful and respectful.

Miscellaneous:

  • "What's in the papers?": a local news channel reads the headlines and articles in the daily papers

Quotes from residents:

"Public transportation. That's a big thing. That's the best thing about New York. It's great—you can go anywhere and do anything."
"I like living where you can just go to a store and just walk out down the street or have whatever you need delivered. NYC is a good place -- if you have a lot of money, you can go to a restaurant or if you don't have a lot of money, you can just go to a hot dog stand. I love NY. There's always something going on."
   —Valerie, 56 years old, retired
"Every year that I lived here, the community has been more responsive, more caring, and more friendly and neighborly....It's just beautiful, the type of humanity, or expression of humanity and caring, in this particular community."
   —James, 74 years old, retired

Think twice: Housing costs in Manhattan are extremely high, although some less expensive alternatives do exist (e.g., living in other boroughs on train or ferry lines). Median house price is $375,000; median rent for a 2-bedroom apartment is $1170. Employment for people, ages 16-64, with sensory disabilities is also low (33%).

City Web Site: www.ci.nyc.ny.us

#5: La Crosse, Wisconsin

Key Features

Cost of Living/Housing

  • Affordability, low cost of living
  • Beautiful homes can be had for under $45,000 (median price $136,600); median rent for a 2-bedroom apartment is $655.

Employment

  • A record of hiring people with sensory disabilities: of people, ages 16-64, with a sensory disability, 52% are employed

Safety

  • Significantly lower than the national average for crime

Education/Arts/Recreation

  • Community theater (including blind/visually impaired actors) with audio description, braille programs, and tours
  • Several colleges (State College, Catholic college, and vocational school)
  • Entertainment includes two excursion boats on the Mississippi River, and big name concerts
  • There are two large medical facilities present; the city is 90 miles from Mayo clinic and 150 miles from the Twin Cities and Madison, both of which have excellent eye departments and conduct eye research

Getting Around

  • Bus service runs 7 days a week, with stops every two blocks. There are 8 routes, and bus drivers "know us."
  • Access to Amtrak, Greyhound, and other inter-city transit
  • Local airport serves 3 airlines
  • Sidewalks exist in most parts of the city
  • Ability to access grocery stores and other facilities (such as nursing homes and retirement residences) by bus and walking

Miscellaneous

  • Active blindness advocacy has successfully lobbied for improvements in bus service
  • Being a smaller town means the "ability to get things done," safety (rated as 20th best in the nation), knowing your neighbors

Quotes from residents:

"I'm out to convince you that LaCrosse is a terrific place to live....The city is big enough and yet small enough. As a blind person you are not invisible here, everybody knows you. If you want anonymity, you'll have to move to New York."
   —Kathleen, working age adult

Think twice: Long winters and the isolation of the Midwest may also be seen as downsides.

City Web Site: www.lacrossechamber.com

#5: Louisville, Kentucky

Key Features

Getting Around

  • Sidewalks in many parts of the city; bus system with stops announced; quality paratransit (scheduling available, on time pick up and delivery); a few audible signals and truncated domes in certain neighborhoods (Clifton and University/downtown areas)

Community Integration/General Sense of Acceptance

  • Citizens are aware of blindness and blind people. The American Printing House (APH) is located here, and there is a strong blindness presence in the city; residents are accustomed to seeing people who are blind or visually impaired in the streets and out in the community.

Access to Services/Necessities of Daily Living

  • Some restaurants have Braille, large print, or audio taped menus
  • Groceries are available within walking distance
  • Grocery and retail stores in certain neighborhoods familiar with blindness accommodations
  • Safe, affordable housing within 3 or 4 blocks to groceries and buses

Cost of Living/Housing

  • Affordable, low cost of living
  • Median house price is $124,000; median rent for a 2-bedroom apartment is $635

Education/Arts/Recreation

  • Audio described theater; large print programs
  • Free admission to art museum for public transit riders
  • APH Marie and Eugene Callahan Museum; Hall of Fame

Miscellaneous

  • Active advocacy councils; responsive city government
  • Accessible voting

Quote from resident:

"I've lived in various cities over the years, and it's always interesting for me to compare them....I want to be in a situation where I can get to where I need to go and that means have shopping and public transportation and information from the media available to me."

Think twice: employment is still difficult (of people, ages 16-64, with a sensory disability only 42% are employed).

City Web Site: www.louky.org

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