Best city for geezers? NY lays claim

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New York City seems to be all aglow in being named by the World Health Organization to its Global Network of Age-friendly cities. As Clyde Haberman reported about the event in the July 1 New York Times,

“It makes us members of a club of people who are struggling, in their own and perhaps much different ways, with learning about and thinking about and approaching this issue,” said Linda I. Gibbs, the deputy mayor for health and human services. “It’s really a lovely recognition.”

One reason for the acknowledgment was a plan that city officials and the New York Academy of Medicine announced last year to improve life for older New Yorkers. All sorts of ideas were put forth, on matters like transportation, housing, health care, job training, nutrition and cultural activities. To a large degree, it was more a wish list than a concrete program. But at least it showed that the city was thinking about issues that will only become more dominant.

Like other cities, New York has a population that is aging, if you will forgive a somewhat meaningless word that we are stuck with. After all, everyone is aging. It’s called living. The only people not aging are dead.

WHO says, of its Global Nework of Age-friendly Cities, that the problem lies with the fact that too many of us are aging and not dying.

Populations in almost every corner of the world are growing older. The greatest changes are occurring in less-developed countries. By 2050, it is estimated that 80% of the expected 2 billion people aged 60 years or over will live in low or middle income countries. The Network aims to help cities create urban environments that allow older people to remain active and healthy participants in society.

To that end, the Network got off the ground a few years ago, and now lists a few cities across the globe as having been accepted for membership. This week’s bulletin (excerpted above and below) lists the Big Apple as the first U.S. member, although the PDF of member cities also lists Portland, and one has to wonder how Portland’s going to feel about all of New York’s hoopla.

The WHO Age-friendly Cities initiative began in 2006 by identifying the key elements of the urban environment that support active and healthy ageing. Research from 33 cities, confirmed the importance for older people of access to public transport, outdoor spaces and buildings, as well as the need for appropriate housing, community support and health services. But it also highlighted the need to foster the connections that allow older people to be active participants in society, to overcome ageism and to provide greater opportunities for civic participation and employment.

The Global Network builds on these principles but takes them a significant step further by requiring participating cities to commence an ongoing process of assessment and implementation. Network members are committed to taking active steps to creating a better environment for their older residents.

A few years ago (2006) the Sperling’s Best Places people came out with a “Best Cities” list about which do the best job of caring for their aging folks. The “Best Cities for Seniors” study examined the state of senior care in the 50 largest metropolitan areas in the United States.

“This is different from the usual studies of retirement living,” said Bert Sperling, the study’s primary author. “When we first retire, we have the energy for traveling and sightseeing. At some point, we will all need specialized resources and facilities to help us cope with aging. That’s what this study examines.”

This unique new study, produced in partnership with Bankers Life and Casualty Company, identifies cities that offer the best resources for less active seniors. The study analyzed nearly 50 categories such as various senior living facilities, comprehensive medical care, specialized transportation services, and a significant senior population.

Top Ten Cities for Seniors

  1. Portland, OR
  2. Seattle, WA
  3. San Francisco, CA
  4. Pittsburgh, PA
  5. Milwaukee, WI
  6. Philadelphia, PA
  7. New York, NY
  8. Boston, MA
  9. Cincinnati, OH
  10. Chicago, IL

Haberman takes issue with that ‘Senior’ word along with the ‘aging’ word. “What does that make the rest of the populace — juniors?” This space (an unabashed fan of Sperling’s #3 city — sorry, #7; but you’re my #2) concurs. But Great Geezer Towns probably wouldn’t cut it with WHO.


  1. I love this paragraph: Like other cities, New York has a population that is aging, if you will forgive a somewhat meaningless word that we are stuck with. After all, everyone is aging. It’s called living. The only people not aging are dead.

    Well, Fran, every widowed, divorced, or single woman I know over 60, is calling up her friends, trying to figure out where we all should live, and how to set up some kind of communal housing (see this week’s article in The Boston Globe for a snapshot of this same conversation.) Bay Area housing rates as higher than they’ve ever been, which keeps women in a kind of real estate purdah. Better to hang on to what you’ve got than try to rejigger your situation to accommodate a few of your best friends.

    For two years, I’ve been trying to move back, but can’t do so, and still support my creative projects. Last year, I made a commitment to myself, to scale back my lifestyle and upgrade my writing. So it’s not just age-friendly cities, but pocketbook-friendly cities, that appeal.

    NY and SF are each places where I’ve spent twenty good years. Yet Northampton, Mass is affordable. True, it is mostly academics with tenure–who have no concept of the freelance life. Still, it has been welcoming. And I am ever on the alert, thinking about Portland, Oregon, and other user-friendly cities for “the maturing artist.”

    So I read the comments above with interest. We are all still recovering, I think, from the tsunami that began in 2008,and the recession that, according to your friend Paul Krugman, is something a little more serious. I’ve enjoyed tapping into you blog.

  2. I love NYC and would live there if I could afford it.

    Think Buffalo!! Great art, great theatre, great food, great bars.

    My 2600 square foot Victorian (1901) in a very nice neighborhood–about $200,000. A very aging population, so the area is aware of the problems coming up.

  3. I know what you mean. Affordability is the bottom line for retirement geezerdom. I’m still hoping to leave San Francisco feet first, except for periodic visits to NYC, but the pensionless nature of lifelong free-lancing plus 1% current return on investments does make such urban dreams chancy.

  4. Interesting that SF is so high on the list because mass transit here, in a word, sucks. It’s nothing like the transit systems in the Northeast corridor. That said, after living in the SF suburbs for the past 11 years, we’ll probably sell the house and move into the downtown because the city life there is pretty vibrant, and beautiful, too.

  5. I’m a little surprised. I think it’s a great geezer town if, and it’s a big if, you have managed to hold onto a paid-off home with a very low tax rate (unlikely) or low apartment maintenance or a rent-controlled or stabilized apartment.

    I’m thinking of where to live in retirement/geezerdom and not sure whether NYC will make the cut. I can see many of its advantages, but the prices are high and if you are on a fixed income — let alone one destroyed (as it is now) by interest rates of 0-1% on capital — then what?

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