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Supporting Sustainable Rural Communities

Performance Measures for Success

Communities of all sizes are using performance measurement to better understand the impacts of their decisions. Performance measures document changes in human behavior, demographics, economic trends, or development patterns. By translating data and statistics into a succinct and consistent format, performance measures quantify the degree to which programs, policies, and investments achieve community goals. Performance measures allow decision-makers to quickly observe the expected effects of a proposed plan or project or to monitor trends in its performance over time.

Along with helping rural communities track progress toward their own sustainable communities goals, performance measurement can also aid the Partnership agencies in assessing the effectiveness of their investments in rural communities and small towns. Performance measures can help HUD, DOT, EPA, and USDA translate the Livability Principles into concrete outcomes, target their resources toward planning and capital programs that support sustainable communities, and evaluate federal initiatives.

Rural communities, given their distinctive characteristics, require customized performance measures. The measures provided here are suggestions for communities or regions interested in performance evaluation at the community or regional scale. Each measure can also be used or adapted to assess the performance of federal programs at a national scale. However, some measures may require local data that are not available in a nationally consistent format. For example, while the U.S. Census counts housing units every 10 years, more timely and geographically precise information on the location of new home construction would have to be acquired from each county building permitting office or tax assessor. As a result, it is difficult to accurately measure at a national scale the percentage of new housing units built on previously developed land or near rural town centers, or the average density of new residential development. Likewise there is no single consistent database describing land use or land value at a parcel level. As a consequence, it is impossible to assess how different places across the country arrange and balance residential, commercial, industrial, and agricultural uses, or how property values change over time.

The following framework for performance measurement is organized in terms of broad goals and specific strategies that can help attain each objective. Each rural community can choose a different set of strategies that best fits its opportunities and challenges. The implementation measures evaluate the effectiveness with which each strategy is pursued. Other indicators can be used to track a community's progress toward the broader goals. These measures reflect changes in behavior or outcomes on the ground that would be anticipated to result if strategies are implemented successfully. All the measures described here are examples that can be helpful to rural communities trying to become more environmentally and economically sustainable, but they are a starting point, not a definitive list.

Goal 1: Promote Rural Prosperity

Create an economic climate that enhances the viability of working lands, preserves natural resources, and increases economic opportunities for all residents in rural communities.


Implementation measures[12]

Other indicators

Pursue regional collaboration

  • Creation of a regional economic development plan based on a clear understanding of comparative economic advantages and existing or emerging economic clusters
  • Implementation of a regional economic development plan
  • Integration of regional economic development plan with transportation, housing, land use, natural resources, workforce development, and other regional or local plans

Cultivate economic development that promotes the sustained economic potential of working rural lands

  • Successful development of supplementary economic uses for rural lands and their byproducts (e.g., wind farms, biomass power generation)
  • Implementation of policies to promote sustained economic viability of agricultural and natural resource land uses
  • Rate of agricultural and natural resource land lost to development
  • Percentage of prime rural land lost to development
  • Percentage of prime agricultural land placed under permanent conservation easement

Cultivate economic development that sustains a high quality of life in rural communities

  • Creation of economic development plans or strategies that are based on unique assets and include measurable goals
  • Implementation of policies to promote natural resource conservation and environmental quality
  • Percentage of jobs at region's three largest employers[13]
  • Percentage of jobs in small- to medium-sized firms
  • Percentage of jobs in locally owned firms
  • Percentage of new jobs in high-wage occupations
  • Regional exports
  • Growth of sectors that are part of asset-based or cluster development

Goal 2: Support Vibrant and Thriving Rural Communities

Enhance the distinctive characteristics of rural communities by investing in rural town centers, Main Streets, and existing infrastructure to create places that are vibrant, healthy, safe, and walkable.


Implementation measures

Other indicators

Invest public funds in existing rural communities

  • Percentage of public investments[14] in rural areas spent on projects within ½ mile of rural town centers[15]
  • Common elements in transportation, land use, housing, economic development, natural resources, and water plans promoting public investment in existing communities

Encourage private-sector investment in existing rural communities

  • Percentage of new or rehabilitated housing units within ½ mile of rural town centers
  • Percentage of new commercial development (or major rehab) within ½ mile of rural town centers
  • Percentage of new housing units built on previously developed land
  • Percentage of new commercial development on previously developed land
  • Percentage of households within ½ mile of rural town centers
  • Percentage of employment within ½ mile of rural town centers
  • Number of jobs within ½ mile of rural town centers
  • Number of brownfields remediated for redevelopment

Make it easy to build compact, walkable, mixed-use places

  • Percentage of new homes built in mixed-use neighborhoods
  • Average density (units per acre) of new residential development
  • Percentage of households with walkable/convenient access to stores, services, parks, and/or schools[16]
  • Street network connectivity of new development (block length or number of three- or four-way intersections)

Goal 3: Expand Transportation Choices

Create communities where everyone-including elderly, disabled, and low-income residents-can conveniently, affordably, and safely access local and regional goods and services.


Implementation measures

Other indicators

Increase multimodal mobility and access for rural communities

  • Percentage of non-urbanized area population covered by demand-response service[17] at least three days per week[18]
  • Availability of fixed route transit service in key travel corridors, where appropriate[19]
  • Availability of scheduled intercity bus or rail service
  • Average number of daily scheduled intercity bus and rail departures from a rural town center to larger communities where health care, schools, jobs centers and other regional services are available
  • Transit trips per capita

Design roadways that support all modes of travel: transit, biking, walking, and automobile

  • Percentage of new or improved roadways (by mile) that include sidewalks and/or bicycle/pedestrian infrastructure
  • Adoption of "complete streets"[20] policy in the long-range/short-range transportation plan
  • Biking mode share for trips to work
  • Walking mode share for trips to work
  • Transit mode share for trips to work
  • Pedestrian and bicyclist fatality rate[21]

Goal 4: Expand Affordable Housing

Create communities where everyone-including elderly, disabled, and low-income residents-can afford housing and transportation expenses.


Implementation measures

Other indicators

Increase in affordable housing near rural town and employment centers

  • Number of affordable for-purchase and rental homes in or near rural town centers
  • Implementation of policies to ensure that housing is affordable to working families, the elderly, and low-income residents
  • Percentage of low-income households within a 30-minute commute of regional employment centers
  • Median household housing plus transportation costs
Updated: 4/3/2012
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