March 19, 2013 — We were pleasantly surprised by the high ranking our members gave to walkability in our retirement preferences poll of a few weeks ago (See full report in “Our Members Speak“). So that in turn gave us the idea of providing a list of 10 towns where walkability is excellent — but are also swell places to retire.
If you research “most walkable towns and cities” on the Internet you will find a number of results – but almost all of the lists have the same cities on them. Yes, New York (rated #1 most walkable large city by walkscore.com at 85), Washington, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, and San Francisco are great cities for walking. But, because they are expensive and congested, they will only appeal to a small segment of retirees. At the other extreme, most small towns are by definition quite walkable – if they have a viable downtown.
In this list we we confined our search to mid-size cities with populations between 500,000 and 100,000. Besides outstanding walkability, to be selected they had to have at least another feature attractive to retirees, such as: hospitable climate, ample recreation and parks, cultural opportunities, and affordability. For walkability we relied on the scores reported by walkscore.com, a website that provides walkability ratings on just about anywhere, including specific neighborhoods. All of the cities on our list have a Walk Score® rating of at least 60.
Surprise – California has a lot of walkable cities
The most surprising thing we found in our research was just how many medium size cities in California have above average walkability scores. In fact 9 of the 20 or so cities we looked at were from the Golden State – apparently the land of the freeway and drive-thru window also has plenty of well-planned cities (Note: we eliminated some of these CA towns in an attempt to provide some diversity, and because they tend to be expensive and highly taxed, although attractive in other ways).
Another surprising fact – most of the medium sized cities we found on other walkability lists had very low ratings from walkscore.com. Don’t know where their research came from, but some of those towns and their walkability ratings included Savannah, GA (47); Chattanooga, TN (37); and Naperville, IL (45). Note also that some cities have overall lousy scores (such as Austin, TX) but very high scores if you live in their downtown or other close-in neighborhoods.
1. Berkeley, California. This affluent city situated across the bay from San Francisco garnered the highest scores of the group – 81.6. The city has a main commercial district that stretches from the bay and up the hill to the beautiful UC Berkeley campus, with many shops and restaurants surrounding it. There is also an abundance of great neighborhoods to walk through.
2. Burbank, California. Located northeast of Los Angeles, Burbank is referred to as the media capital of the world because it is headquarters to so many production companies. With a very high Walk Score® rating of 73.6 it has a downtown, the Burbank Village shopping district, the downtown Burbank Mall, and many cultural institutions.
3. Miami, Florida. In another surprise, WalkScore reports Miami with a population of about 400,000, which kept it in our population range. Miami is a city of many neighborhoods, many of them eminently walkable. Certainly those near the beach such as the Art Deco District are, as are many established old neighborhoods. The city was awarded a 72.5 score.
4. Torrance, California. This southern California city is nearer the coast than Burbank, situated as it is between Los Angeles and Long Beach. The city has a score of 69.7. It has 90,000 street trees and 30 city parks. The city consistently ranks among the safest cities in Los Angeles County. The Torrance Cultural Arts Center hosts cultural events year-round.
5. Pasadena, California. This beautiful City of Roses set up against the hills has a score of 67.7. It also has parks, Cal Tech, Norton Simon museum, and the Huntington Library and Gardens.
6. Arlington, Virginia. The government’s strategy of concentrating much of its new development near transit facilities, such as Metrorail stations, has apparently paid off for walkability (67.1). There are also a number of mixed use and pedestrian oriented “urban villages”, such as Crystal City and Rosslyn.
7. Alexandria, Virginia. Alexandria (65.4) is a very old city, a fact which is quite obvious when you walk along its many brick buildings. The restored riverfront along the Potomac is one of the nicest walks you could have anywhere. You can walk to loads of great restaurants and shops.
8. Portland, ME. This city in southern Maine made it onto our list because it is such an interesting mid-sized city, and because of its excellent Walk Score® rating of 65. There are coffees shops, restaurants, brew pubs, and shops galore in the food-centric port city. Granted Maine isn’t particularly retirement-friendly and the winter climate is chilly, but it is still a neat place to retire.
9. Pittsburgh, PA. This is one city that’s a frequent best place to retire destination, and its Walk Score® rating of 64.1 is another reason why. It has multiple universities, high-tech businesses, and a compact center city set against the magnificent coming together of 3 rivers.
10. Hialeah, FL. We haven’t reviewed Hialeah (64) before because it hadn’t been our radar. However it is the 6th largest city in Florida. Hialeah is served by the Miami Metrorail at Okeechobee, Hialeah, and Tri-Rail/Metrorail Transfer stations. Many residents are Spanish speakers.
Cities we didn’t mention.
A few cities had very high Walk Scores but we didn’t rank them because they are in states not known to be great for retirement. Hartford (72) and New Haven (66.7) are 2 very walkable cities in Connecticut that missed out because of that consideration. Even higher rated is Cambridge, MA, (88.8) which we eliminated because it is retirement-unfriendly Mass. and because it seems more a part of the very large city of Boston. Tempe, Arizona (61.6) was a close contender.
Cities in California that we didn’t have room to include were Long Beach (66.4), East Los Angeles (69), Santa Clara (64), Costa Mesa (70.6), Glendale (68.8), and Garden Grove (63.6). We also note with some amusement how this week’s Huffington Post slideshow on the 10 Worst Places to Retire included Honolulu (63) as the #2 worst spot (yes, it is expensive and far away – but have you noticed the scenery or the weather!).
For further reference
America’s Walkable Cities from PBS (large and mid-size)
Prevention Magazine’s Best Cities for Walkers
Forbes Most Walkable Cities
10 Most Walkable Florida Cities
Consider Walkability in Your Best Place to Retire
11 Great Towns for Biking
How About a New Urban Community for Retirement
Comments Anyone? Would you disagree with any of these choices? What are your favorite retirement cities for walkability – please let us know in the Comments section below.