Consider these facts. According to AARP’s latest research, one in three Americans is now over age 50. However, only 59% of our demographic intends to age in place in our current community. The rest of us are considering relocation driven by factors like cost of living, climate, traffic, proximity to family, medical care, and housing. That’s a potential migration of over 44 million seniors in search of what author and gerontologist, Stephen Golant calls, “aging in the right place.”
Earlier in our lives, the factors that drove our where-to-live decisions could have included proximity to job. Now that we’re endowed with longer, healthier lives than previous generations, we want a community offering amenities that meet our current and future lifestyle. It should be a place to pursue favorite pastimes and that bucket list we put on hold. It’s a quandary, though. Is the answer moving to a less expensive part of the country? Bidding adieu to a quiet suburban life for a vibrant urban setting or escaping city traffic congestion for rural tranquility? Or is it a rebooted attitude about our current locale and its ability to meet the needs of our new life chapter?
So how does one decide whether to stay, go, or where to land next? A growing body of research has identified common factors on the 50-plus wish list for a next chapter place to call home:
- Recreational opportunities and fitness amenities
- Educational and cultural activities
- Opportunities for continued work
- Community participation and volunteer possibilities
- Networking opportunities
- Public transportation
- High speed internet access
- A downtown with a sense of community (public library, coffee shops, restaurants)
- Airport access for travel and visitors
- A community with an openness to newcomers
- Proximity to friends and family
Begin by consciously creating your own checklist. Depending on health and financial circumstances, you may have additional items. Creating the list requires a mind shift because activities that filled your time and served your needs as a working, family-raising, middle-aged adult have shifted. It’s important to evaluate your best place to retire through that lens. Identify needs vs wants. Prioritize and be realistic. You may want family proximity to spend more time with your teenage grandchildren, while they prefer spending it with friends. If so, high speed internet for grandkid FaceTime chats might be more practical.
Then do the research. Whether it’s relocating to another neighborhood or a major move elsewhere, check the community’s website, tourism materials, and local newspaper for civic organizations, schools, fitness amenities and arts organizations—all possible opportunities to network, volunteer, or socialize. Dig deeper by signing up for newsletters and joining Facebook and Meetup groups where neighborhood and community interest groups hang out like art groups, book clubs, and senior volleyball leagues. If retiring in place is your preference, consciously consider if it meets the needs on your list.
Spend a chunk of time in possible communities during ideal and inclement weather. And while there, really try it on for size. Stay in a vacation rental with a kitchen so you’re living in a neighborhood and shopping at the local grocery store. Attend a meeting of the arts or civic group that interests you, check out the library, use its public transportation system, bike its pathways, take a class, hang out in its coffeeshops, and meander its downtown core. Experience the community as a potential resident, not just a visitor.
Policymakers are beginning to realize our generation isn’t interested in a one-size-fits-all retirement. The Milkin Institute’s report, “Age Forward Cities for 2030,” advises communities to be nimble in addressing a 50+ population “that is vast not only in number but also in age range, and diverse in all the ways younger adults are—in interests, needs, motivations, and physical and cognitive abilities.”
There are residents in several Washington towns who’ve realized their lower cost of living isn’t enough to attract the AARP generation. Though they haven’t marketed the towns as retirement locations, they’ve reinvented them by adding senior-appealing new amenities and opportunities, expanded public transportation and high-speed internet access.
Once you’ve done an assessment of what you want and need, it’s much easier to research what makes them an attractive relocation option. Here are three examples using the above wish list:
No longer a remote Olympic Peninsula logging town, reinvigorated Port Angeles is home to the Juan de Fuca Festival of Arts with its year-round season of nationally renowned music, theater, and dance performances. Additional cultural opportunities include the Port Angeles Symphony Orchestra, the Forest Storytelling Festival, Port Angeles Fine Arts Center, and the Art Mural Trail. After an evening of culture, the Olympic Culinary Loop offers up an eclectic choice of eateries and wineries.
The town boasts 35 family, community, and civic organizations ranging from Habitat for Humanity to the Peninsula Trails Association. For new arrivals, the North Olympic Newcomers Club offers meetups, interest groups, and social events to get oriented.
Port Angeles is home to Peninsula College offering two-year degrees, community education courses and its own cultural programs, including several at the House of Learning, the first Native American longhouse in the nation built on a community college campus.
For outdoor lovers there are one million acres of surrounding Olympic National Park hiking trails and fishing rivers, 147 miles of Olympic Discovery Trail, and two golf courses. And for sports spectators, a collegiate summer baseball team called the Port Angeles Lefties.
The Clallam Transit and the Dungeness Line bus services provide local and regional transportation, but also service to the Seattle ferries, Seattle hospitals, and SeaTac Airport. And for anyone wanting an easy international trip, the Blackball Ferry line makes the 90- minute trip daily between Port Angeles and Victoria, Canada.
It’s hard to resist a town whose motto (like our generation’s) is “Always Fresh, Always Growing.”
Lining Wenatchee’s walkable downtown core, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, are plenty of eateries, coffeeshops, and stores selling products from nearby wineries, craft cideries, and brewpubs. Pybus Public Market—a repurposed steel mill–is a popular community gathering place, and market of local produce and artisan products with music scheduled in the summer.
If outdoor recreation is your priority, there’s Mission Ridge Ski Resort; Ohme Garden’s nine acres of walking paths; the 26-mile Apple Capital Loop Trail; 14 nearby golf courses and, a short drive away, North Cascades National Park.
Home to two acclaimed performance venues—the Music Theatre of Wenatchee and the Numerica Performing Arts Center–Wenatchee’s theater scene produced the Tony-nominated actress and playwright Heidi Schreck. The town’s galleries sponsor monthly First Friday Art Walks and summer concerts.
Wenatchee Valley Community College offers an extensive catalogue of personal enrichment continuing education opportunities in fine and maker arts, languages, gardening, outdoor recreation, and cooking and baking.
Link Transit is the community public bus system serving the city, college, Mission Ridge, and surrounding communities. Don’t want to drive to Seattle? It’s a 4.5-hour scenic train ride from Wenatchee’s Amtrak Station to Seattle’s King Street Station. Alaska Airlines flies daily from Wenatchee’s Pangborn Memorial Airport to SeaTac.
Located in the Olympic Rain Shadow, a 90-minute drive from the urban amenities of both Seattle and Vancouver, British Columbia, Anacortes gets a full foot less annual rain than Seattle. Big city accessibility and weather make it an option for seniors wanting a drier western Washington place to “re-home.” With a higher than state average of residents 50+ (31% of the town’s adult population qualify as seniors), it’s already been discovered.
This community loves a good festival. Almost once a month, there’s a celebration showcasing its art, beer, oysters, maritime history, wine, and salmon. All those festivals need volunteers, providing plenty of opportunities for involvement, while getting a dose of local arts and culture.
The Fidalgo Pool and Fitness Center advertises a variety of classes and workout opportunities, many that are free or low cost through senior health insurance plans. Fifty miles of trails, including the Anacortes Community Forest Lands are available for walking and biking.
The unique Anacortes Senior College offers a no stress learning and social environment of courses geared to the 50+ community. Its 70 volunteer instructors have taught over 4,000 students in engaging classes such as the Politics of Climate Change, Artists of Skagit, and Understanding Worldwide Religions.
For history and architecture buffs, Anacortes has nine buildings on the National Historic Register, including its public library with its own schedule of events and classes like its Wednesday Adult Programs.
The Skagit Transit bus routes include the town and county, as well as Bellingham and Everett. Nearby Mt Vernon has Amtrak access to Seattle and Vancouver, British Columbia.
Research says aging in a healthy way is closely linked to the physical, social, and economic environments of older adults. Where we age is a key determinant of how long we’ll live. Whether that’s aging in place or in the right place, it’s a decision that deserves age-forward decision-making.
Ann Randall is an independent traveler and writer who loves venturing to out-of-the-way locales from Azerbaijan to Zimbabwe. A former educator, she now observes international elections and does volunteer work in India. Her articles have appeared in online and print publications, and she blogs at PeregrineWoman.com.