7/17/2013 7:00 PM ET|
Why seniors are returning to cities
As baby boomers settle into their golden years, cities are working hard to lure them with improvements in transportation, services and more.
For Lila Sanger, 88, the sound of retirement isn’t the quiet countryside but the roar of traffic. She lives in the dense Ballston neighborhood of Arlington, Va., right over the line from Washington, D.C., and says she likes the hustle of the city and her ability to get around without a car. She moved to Ballston from a D.C. exurb that she says did little to cater to older adults. “Compared to that, this is heaven,” she says.
City leaders and planners around the country are hoping to convince future retirees to think more like Sanger. In this decade, the U.S. population age 65 and older will grow by 36% to almost 55 million, according to Census Bureau projections. It’s not just that older Americans make up a greater proportion of the population; people are also living longer. In 2011, the 65-74 age group was about 10 times larger than in 1900, but the 85-and-older group was 40 times larger. As baby boomers retire in droves, cities big and small are doing what they can to lure them, or keep those they have, by redesigning services and infrastructure.
That’s partly because retiring boomers wield enormous economic clout. By 2017, the U.S. adult population age 50 and older will control 70% of the country’s disposable income.
Even before boomers started retiring, studies in several states showed that retirees can help lift local economies. A 2006 study in Georgia, for example, estimated that if the state had held onto just 10% of its migrating retirees in 2007, it would have experienced significant growth in jobs, personal and disposable income, and net state revenues. And a 2011 study in South Carolina found that an influx in retirees in two counties was associated with wage growth, a rise in home values, job growth and higher rents.
With that in mind, the competition among cities for retiree dollars is heating up. States like Mississippi, Texas and North Carolina have set up programs to designate cities and towns that meet certain criteria -- such as offering quality medical care and recreational opportunities for seniors -- as “certified retirement communities.” Ten cities are making changes required to qualify for AARP’s list of “age-friendly communities.” Bloomington, Ind., is designing a “lifetime community district” that has retiree-friendly features such as access to transportation, basic and preventive health care, and other services. Other jurisdictions are launching their own marketing campaigns; Lawrence, Kan., for example, is budgeting $60,000 to $80,000 a year for an advertising blitz to convince retirees to settle there.
One focus of planners’ efforts is helping older adults get out and make connections, which is especially important for retirees who have moved away from family and friends. The Chamber of Commerce in Oxford, Miss., one of the state’s certified retirement cities, came up with a “newcomer’s club” that holds monthly events for relocated retirees and others, says Margaret Wylde of ProMatura, a market research firm specializing in consumers age 50 and older. In Auburn Hills, Mich., the city’s recreation and senior-services departments are collaborating to get older adults out and about with concerts, potlucks and fishing competitions, says Karen Adcock, the city's director of senior services.
Cities also are redesigning transportation systems to meet the needs of older adults who have hung up their car keys or want to. In a 2010 AARP survey, about half of respondents age 45 and older said living in a place where it’s easy to walk or living near church or social organizations was important to them. In Maryland's Rockville Pike corridor outside Washington, D.C., for example, planners are clustering housing units around transit hubs, tearing down large retail spaces in malls, and rebuilding the stores closer to the street to make them pedestrian friendly, says AARP’s Amy Levner.
In Philadelphia and elsewhere, it also means planners are covering basics such as making sure buses are handicap-accessible and putting roofs on bus stops so riders can get out of the rain. Other cities are creating districts with wider sidewalks and where traffic signals cycle more slowly to allow older adults additional time to cross. Many merchants have also agreed to widen aisles and put out benches, says John McIlwain of the Urban Land Institute. New York City and Charlotte, N.C., are using school buses to transport older people to shopping destinations after the buses have finished taking children to school.
Other cities are focusing on better services. In Auburn Hills, the city set up a senior home-repair assistance program that uses volunteers to do home repairs and provide services for older adults such as yard maintenance, painting and fixing faucets. Recipients have to pay for supplies but not the services, and the program has no income restrictions.
With more older adults wanting to keep working, city and county agencies and nonprofits in Miami are holding workshops for employers to encourage them to hire older adults. Planners there are also exploring how to use city parks to offer senior-targeted fitness programs. Some cities are ditching the old model of senior center services by turning the centers into hubs for skills development, putting in broadband and offering computer training and entrepreneurship programs, says McIlwain.
Jurisdictions also are preparing for the coming retiree wave by changing their building codes. For some new construction, Atlanta and Tucson, Ariz., are requiring wider doorways and hallways, no-step entrances and reinforced walls so grab bars can be added. Cities also are changing their zoning codes to allow homeowners to add small apartments where their parents might live, says McIlwain.
While the most popular urban magnets for retirees still lie in the country’s warmer latitudes, cities such as New York and Philadelphia hope their efforts will help them better compete as retiring boomers decide where to live. Along the way, better transportation hubs, increased walkability and other improvements will benefit not just those 65 and up, but everyone, says Levner.
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Why would anyone want to move to any city if they did not have to?
money makes you attractive tor just about anyone or thing.... if you have it you can live anywhere,
if you don't have IT live in a small town. cheaper.
I THINK SMALL TOWNS ARE SO MUCH EASIER TO LIVE IN, WHEN YOU GET OLDER!
I have two elderly relatives that live in the city and they don't not go anywhere any more. The crime is bad and they don't feel safe. they still have neighborhoods and street that look awesome and are well kept however, gangs hang around and other uncomfortable elements. So I do not know why you all think this age group of people would move back.
I really think you should be targeting the 25-55 group. They are looking to change it up!
But now that I think it about, I might not want to try and put a dent in the negative city hype that way more people won't move in.
Maybe larger cities should plan for small community type housing, in suburbs, close to the larger cities. These communities could have: an activity center, a small medical facility for non-life threatening problems, a grocery store, a park for exercise, and perhaps, a transportation in place to take folks into the city, in groups, to go to special entertainment, church, etc. I am 68 years old. I would like this kind of a setup.
In doing so, they would feel safer in their homes but still have the convenience of going into the city for extended activities .
I don't know if all states are running buses for the elderly, but the state my sister lives in does.
The elderly are picked up at home and they are taken to various places like shopping centers and to doctor's offices.
They can even go to antique malls etc. They get to eat at restaurants and fast food places.
There are usually 20 or more who take the bus. Where they go and the days they go vary.
There is a small charge, but in this area it is cheaper and safer than driving. Even my tightwad sister thinks it is a good deal.
That gives rural people something that only people who live in cities have always had...convenient, safe and easy access to shopping and dining and medical care.
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