November 27, 2012 — There are plenty of the Best Places to Retire lists (including the ones we publish) for this or that. But what does make a town a great place to retire? Weather, location, taxes – those are some of the essential factors. But just as key are the amenities that a town offers to its residents. If done right, even a town with a crummy location or climate can make itself attractive to retirees. This article launches a two part series on what the most innovative and forward-thinking towns are doing to make themselves more attractive to baby boomers. This installment lists our Top 10 Municipal Retirement Amenities; Part 2 provides our list of the 10 Best Retirement Towns for Amenities. We are hoping that our readers will provide suggestions for both articles – let us know in the Comments section below!
Starting with Infrastructure
Several states have retirement community certification programs – notably Texas, Mississippi, and Tennessee. These programs usually require that the town or city apply and meet minimum criteria for healthcare, recreation, transportation, public safety, housing, etc. These programs are reassuring to prospective retirees in that some minimum infrastructure standards await them. Another benefit is that these “certified” towns usually go out of their way to attract and welcome new residents.
Top Amenities for Retirement Towns
Everyone probably has their own favorite amenities that they would like to see in their dream retirement town. This is our list of our top amenities. We recommend you use it, along with your own ideas, as an evaluation tool when you start looking for your best place to retire. If you have different ideas for amenities we would love to see them in the Comments section below.
– Aquatic Centers. We think communities with welcoming aquatic centers make great places to retire. The best ones are open at convenient hours. They also tend to have warm therapeutic pools for seniors, designated lanes for different swimming speeds, and aquatic exercise classes (water aerobics is a great, low-impact way to stay fit). While outdoor centers are great in the summer or in the extreme south, indoor facilities that permit year round swimming are even better (Photo of Pullen Aquatic Center in Raleigh, NC).
– Community Centers. While some towns have Senior Centers, we prefer towns where the Seniors are served within a Community Center. That type of facility insures a more diverse crowd, and encourages younger boomers, who can get nervous about being called seniors, to attend. Community and Senior centers offer a wide variety of services including hot lunches, exercise classes, lectures, card games, community meeting centers, and billiards. Some even include swimming pools or fitness centers. Some towns have additional resources designed to assist the elderly who have trouble coping.
– Cultural Centers. Those towns that can offer a cultural center have a big plus in their column when it comes to making life more interesting for retirees. Many times the cultural center is provided by an existing museum. Other times it is a surplus school, historic building, or municipal building that gets enough support to offer cultural programs and classes. Arts Centers typically have exhibits, artists in residence, and classes. They can add so much to a town; the Studios of Key West is a good example.
– Libraries. We wouldn’t want to live in a town without a good library. While there are those that say libraries are irrelevant in the Internet Age, library usage statistics disagree. The good ones are packed with people coming to lectures, book talks, meetings, reading magazines, downloading eBooks – or using the library’s computers or WiFi. Be sure to check out the library before you decide on a place to retire – does it get good support, and is at open at convenient times? (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia and Rem Koolhaas: Main reading room in the new Seattle Public Library).
– Fitness Centers. While a good for-profit gym is a nice thing to have in a town, a modern YMCA or municipal fitness center is even better. The price will be lower and the facilities are often quite impressive. The importance of staying fit as we age cannot be overstated.
– Recreational Facilities. The list of different recreational facilities that towns can offer is long and varied. Public golf courses are popular with many folks. Good public tennis courts with a system or staff person that facilitates play is also great. In many towns in Florida you can show up at the tennis courts any morning and know that you’ll have a game. Likewise courts for bocce, shuffleboard, and pickleball attract residents. Public parks, picnic areas,beaches, marinas, nature reserves, and trails for walking and biking definitely enhance the quality of life.
– College or Adult Education. Towns that already have a college or university have a built in advantage. Colleges offer cultural and educational opportunities of course, but they are also make communities more vibrant as well as usually offering more interesting shops and restaurants. Community colleges offer the chance to learn a new skill or take a class. The Osher Life Long Learning Institutes have 116 programs across the U.S. that greatly enhance retirement for thousands of retirees. Look for something like this in your retirement town if culture or education are important to you.
– Walkable Downtowns. The idea of having to get in our car and drive somewhere for the smallest of errands drives us crazy. So towns that have invested in pedestrian friendly centers, sidewalks, and bike paths are much more attractive to us. We much prefer the idea of strolling from shop to shop on foot and then enjoying lunch at a sidewalk cafe to death zone pedestrian crossings, endless freeways, and strip malls. Before you move anywhere, take a test run to see how you will buy a quart of milk or enjoy a cup of joe.
– Good Transportation. Here in the Northeast as well as in Southeast Florida we are lucky to have commuter rail lines that make getting to the big city a snap. Many towns elsewhere have invested in convenient bus lines, “Dial a Ride”, or at least can offer reliable taxi service. As we continue to age the day that we can’t drive draws nearer, so towns with good public transportation have a big advantage. Likewise being near an airport with hub service or a discount airline like Southwest or Jet Blue makes travel for vacations or visiting the grandchildren so much easier.
– Healthcare. Many small towns can’t support a full blown hospital these days, but they might have an acute care facility or satellite location of a big hospital. Or, the town is so close to a big city hospital you could get there in a short time. What you don’t want is to be too far from a quality hospital, where most of the medical specialists will be congregated. Also check out ambulance service – who offers it and what kind of response time/service do they provide?
For further reading:
100 Best Places to Retire for 2012
Worst States for Retirement
Part 2: 10 Best Retirement Towns for Amenities
Comments. Please use the Comments section below to tell us about the amenities you would like to see in your dream retirement town. Also, we are looking for nominations for our “Top 10 Best Places to Retire for Amenities” list.