By Bev Bachel
For many of us, one of the freedoms that comes with retirement is getting to choose where we live now that we’re no longer tied to the specific city where we work. But how do we decide?
Matt Pittman and Kris Jennings keep track of the annual “best places to retire” lists put out by various publications.
Katherine and Barry Johnson spend weekend afternoons watching travel shows and visiting “retire here” websites.
Rob Kirby and his partner John, when traveling, play “Could We Retire Here?,” a game they created that uses an Excel spreadsheet to help them “home in” on what they want in their future hometown, including a co-op and proximity to a university.
Now there’s a new online tool that can help: The Livability Index—Great Neighborhoods for All Ages. Developed by AARP, the index makes it easy to compare and contrast neighborhoods across the United States based on different factors of livability.
Why is livability so important? “Because where we live as we age is a good indicator of how well and even how long we’ll live,” says Jay Haapala, AARP Minnesota Associate State Director, Community Engagement. “All places are not equal in this way, and there’s much more to livability than nice weather. Plus, when we plan for older adults, we plan for everyone.”
What makes a community livable?
According to AARP, a livable community is one in which people of all ages, abilities and income levels:
- Are safe, feel safe and are treated with respect
- Have access to appropriate and affordable housing, transportation, healthcare and recreation
- Have opportunities to be active, vital contributors to the economic, civic and social life of the community
- Receive appropriate support if they can no longer look after themselves
Assess a community’s livability
To use The Livability Index, all you have to do is enter an address, city, state or ZIP code, and you can see how a particular community scores (from 0 to 100) in seven key areas that affect quality of life:
- Housing. We spend more time in our homes than anywhere else, so housing costs, choices and accessibility are critical to livability.
- Neighborhood. Livable neighborhoods offer easy access to jobs, grocery stores, libraries, parks, movie theaters and more.
- Transportation. How easily and safely we’re able to get from Point A to Point B, on our own or via public transportation, has a major impact on quality of life, especially as we age.
- Environment. Clean air and water, plus policies that improve and protect the environment for generations to come, are key to quality of life.
- Health. Access to affordable healthcare is important as we age. So is access to healthy food, good jobs and continuing education.
- Engagement. Livable communities are connected communities; as such, they make it easy for people to interact both in person and online.
- Opportunity. The degree to which a community embraces diversity and offers people of all ages and backgrounds opportunities to both earn a living wage and continue to learn is also key to a livability.
The Livability Index enables you to compare up to three locations side by side and customize the results according to your preferences. “You can even see how the west side of a town differs from the east side,” says Haapala. “Plus, you can drill down into the specific criteria that are important to you.”
For instance, if you love to read and enjoy author readings, you can see how close the new condo you’re considering is to a public library. Or, if you no longer drive but enjoy outings with your grandkids, you can check out how stroller-friendly your city’s public transportation system is.
So, before you decide where you’re going to live in retirement, do yourself—and your preferred lifestyle—a favor by checking out the Livability Index. It’s a great way to virtually explore other communities, especially now when the pandemic is keeping most of us at home.
Bev Bachel is a freelance writer and AARP member who loves the livability of her Minneapolis neighborhood. She is also the author of What Do You Really Want? How to Set a Goal and Go for It: A Guide for Teens.
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