We are a society that loves rankings. But sometimes they just seem plain silly. Not long ago, the World Health Organization published a guide to Age-Friendly Cities – and surprise, there was New York City! Services, public transportation, technology galore – despite the crushing crowds on the street, eye-popping apartment rents and tough-as-nails subway riders – if you live there and you're growing old, you can do fine, says the WHO. Okay. So now we have the Milken Institute (a West Coast think tank) study about the 10 best cities where we can age successfully, and it’s much-publicized and picked up in the media, for its, uh, surprising, result. Factoring in affordability (!), weather, convenient transportation systems, aging-centered technology, there it was again – New York City, and now -- Boston is # 4! For cities that are named on these lists, of course that means positive PR for city managers. Hear applause all around among the town marketers (see, there’s our town, Provo, Utah!!!). In the meantime, Louisville, KY, staking its future as a hub of age-related businesses and opportunity, ranked only 69 on the Milken scale.
Where’s Boston – why it’s the hub of the universe, of course. Part of the self-congratulatory nature of the study (including commentary from sponsor AARP to reinforce -- of course!) is that warm climate and weather don’t seem to be as important for successful aging as the historical Florida winter migration demonstrates, hence no Florida (or Arizona) towns are in the top 20. Pause for the sound of me choking. As someone who lived in the Boston area for most of my adult life – I found this rank position curious. The transportation system is a nightmare of inexplicable directions and connections (remember Charlie on the MTA?) that the tough and intrepid Bostonians grimly tolerate (I'm not kidding about grim), hence the commitment of commuters to their traffic-crawling, solo driver automobiles. Taxes are high and the cost of housing is high -- perfect. And Boston has a near-glut of senior-friendly colleges with day and evening courses, but amid the maze of roads in its frequent bad weather, good luck finding the car in a parking lot that is covered with sleet.
Despite the PR opportunity, will people move from Orlando to Boston to age? Provo is beyond my range-of-motion, so I will zero in on Boston. I do love the place, but it has a median age of 31! Will it rise as a result of this study and resulting in-migration? (Uh, no, turns out folks have been goin’ the other way). Is Florida a has-been as an age-related magnet? With a median age of 50, uh, no, in-migration is again pushing the population up. Is the sunset of life in Florida viable away from family (see new King’s Point documentary)? If we’re talking about rare medical conditions – okay, then just maybe there might be better outcomes in Beantown -- and any place where a family member is willing to care for an aging parent, of course that is the city for the parent to reside.
As with the now overused term – successful aging, your results may vary. The Milken site, thankfully, has a calculator for you to adjust the weighting of criteria. For the aging or near-aging, it all depends on what you mean by successful (or optimal) aging, which in real life is not a composite of the factors of Milken or WHO ranking, but rather a composite of real circumstances that drive decisions. There’s a 24% higher cost of living in Boston than Fort Lauderdale, for example. Thus income drives 'affordability' – which is the only way Boston can be on the list – Red Sox mania aside. Says the Milken report, it is especially appealing for medical professionals who need good fitness centers, can tolerate long commutes and don’t mind the fact that small businesses are struggling. Got it.