Best cities for successful aging -- can you believe it?

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.

Best Cities for Successful Aging - IF money is no object

Laurie, you are a gem, and your ability to take apart rankings like this by refusing to sing along during the handholding kumbaya session is awesome. As someone who moved to Florida from NYC more than 20 years ago, it's laughable to me that they would find Manhattan a great place for average American elders. How can your kids come and pick you up for the doctor if they can't even double park long enough to help you our of your apartment building? And just see if a cab is going to wait long enough for you to retrieve your aged mother from a bench and slowly walk her to the waiting car while horns blare and someone else snatches the taxi. Right.

Now if you are an elderly person with a great deal of money, a private aide and driver to take you everywhere, and tons of friends already living in the immediate vicinity, NYC would be ideal. I'd plan to move there as an old lady in a minute - assuming, of course, that I win the lottery.

Cities for successful aging

I've lived in Manhattan most of my adult life and have to concur about the value of aging here. Of course, I've won "the real estate lottery" which means I own an apartment I bought 25 years ago, and therefore it would be hard to find a less expensive place to live. People tend to forget about one important value of apartment living...friends close by without having to leave the building. I play Scrabble with my neighbor, I watch TV with another neighbor. That close contact is VERY important.
Also being able to buy groceries and go to the movies without getting in a car is something I will value more and more the older I get.

best cities for successful aging

Thanks for a thoughtful and spot on blog. Move to Boston to retire - no way! Noisy, expensive and overcrowded
Many Americans have modest retirements and could ill afford living in a large metro area like NYC.
Perhaps someone should publish a list of the best cities to live in with an income of $3,000 per month.

Great post!

We are definitely excited to be in Louisville and part of their aging care revolution. It's an exciting time to be in both the home care and technology industries right now as they are ripe to come together to serve a big need.

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