A just-released article in the venerable New York Times shines the spotlight on a new trend in senior living. According to this article published just a few days ago, more and more active seniors these days are looking for someplace they can enjoy life without having to drive. This means walkability is now one of the things seniors are looking for.
It hasn’t always been this way. “Developments for independent retirees typically come in two flavors,” writes the Times: “isolated, gated subdivisions or large homes on golf courses, often in the same bland package of multiple cul-de-sacs. Both require driving everywhere, which is a problem for those who either don’t want to drive or can’t.” The solution? “Enter a new paradigm: the walkable, urban space.”
As an example, the New York Times feature profiles a couple who retired to a small town in North Carolina. But after a few years there they came to realize that, as charming as the area was, there was something missing. They weren’t conveniently close to the things they wanted and needed – restaurants, grocery stores, coffee shops and entertainment. So they moved to another nearby town that offered a much more vibrant environment, with excellent walkability and ready access to transit that would take them into an adjacent larger city when needed. This blend, says the Times, appears to be what an increasing number of active retirees want. As the couple in the article put it, it’s about more than simply aging in place. “We began thinking more about ‘aging in community,’” they said. “That means an urban neighborhood where you can walk or take transit to just about everything you need.”
Ironically, according to a study from the Brookings Institution, 80 percent of retirees still live in car-dependent suburbs and rural areas far from in-town amenities. For decades, says the Times, senior housing developments ignored the idea of being truly pedestrian-friendly with each access on foot to cafes, libraries and other services. Gated communities and golf course developments may offer foot paths and walking trails but not the kind of mixed-use urbanism that today’s retirees are looking for. Besides the obvious benefits of convenience, the denser urban developments for seniors are generally heathier, promoting better physical fitness and a greater sense of community involvement and connection with neighbors. These days there’s also a financial benefit to seniors who live in walkable communities: higher property values.
The challenge, however, is to create senior-friendly housing in cities that are already heavily built up. As the Times writes, “Age-friendly communities within cities may require extensive infrastructure improvements, including wider sidewalks, bike lanes, more public transportation options and longer pedestrian signal walk times. Local officials may not want to rezone or invest in the improvements or even permit them.” There’s also the problem of skyrocketing property values and a lack of land available to build on. Even if senior developments can be built in trendy places like Seattle and Portland, development costs could put home prices out of reach for most retirees.
One caution in the Times article: seniors should not rate a potential retirement community on walkability alone. As you age, they’re going to need other services, too. The Times asks, “Do [these towns] have quality health care institutions nearby? Is public transportation adequate? Will you need barrier-free sidewalks and retail establishments? How easy is it to leave and visit other parts of a city or its metropolitan region? Will you need to rent or share a car? What about local colleges for cultural amenities and lifelong learning programs?” These are all excellent questions. Finally, we strongly agree with the final point from the article that emphasizes the importance of family considerations. “Picking the right community also should involve your family. If you want to be close to children and grandchildren, you should consider a place accessible to them as well.”
Here at AgingOptions we always remind our clients and radio listeners that aging is a family affair. It’s also true that retirement planning involves much more than deciding where to live. Your retirement plan also needs to encompass your legal affairs, your financial strategy, and your medical needs along with housing choices and family communications. That’s why we call our approach to retirement planning “LifePlanning.” Your LifePlan becomes your comprehensive blueprint, allowing you to enjoy the kind of retirement that you’ve always wanted. We’ll help you get there! You can find out more about this retirement planning breakthrough, quickly and easily – and without obligation – by attending a free LifePlanning Seminar. Bring your retirement questions and spend a few hours with us, and we assure you, you’ll discover how rewarding and reassuring LifePlanning will be. For seminar dates and times and online registration, click on the Upcoming Events tab on this website – or contact us during the week and we’ll gladly assist you.
(originally reported at www.nytimes.com)