The Best Nontraditional Places to Retire

Forget everything you believe about the best places to retire. It’s not all about the weather, so put aside your dreams of Florida and Arizona.

Besides, who wants to retire completely? Today’s older adults want to stay healthy, active and engaged in life.

Consider this: In 2012, the Milken Institute funded a research study to identify the “Best Cities for Successful Aging.” It’s based on public data that utilizes 78 indicators to determine the overall quality of life for seniors. Ninety percent of seniors want to age in place, and this index looks directly at how 359 metropolitan areas are meeting these needs.

The institute defines successful aging as living in a safe, affordable, engaging and connected community that offers quality health care and an active lifestyle with ready access to transportation, education, employment and recreation.

Not the Usual Suspects

“Sunbelt” cities did not generally score high in the rankings. Weather is one of many factors that contribute to successful aging. This study looked at weather, but also at access to health care facilities, the number and specialty of doctors, and more than 70 other factors. Taken in totality, weather, while important, was not seen as an overriding factor to these other issues.

For large metropolitan areas, the top 10 include:

1. Provo-Orem, UT

2. Omaha-Council Bluffs, NE-IA

3. Madison, WI

4. Boston-Cambridge-Quincy, MA-NH

5. New York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island, NY-NJ-PA

6. Des Moines-West Des Moines, IA

7. Salt Lake City, UT

8. Toledo, OH

9. Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV

10. Pittsburgh, PA

The Chicago region ranked a lowly #64 in the study. Factors that contribute to our ranking include low wellness indicators, high tax burden, dearth of continuing care facilities, high unemployment and poor income distribution, among others.

The better news is that we rank #37 in healthcare and #5 in transportation. The rankings do not break out the North Shore, so temper your shock when you read the results.

Small Metros Ranked as Well

The study is comprehensive in that it also ranks small metropolitan areas. Coming in at #1 is Sioux Falls, ND, proving, without a doubt, that weather is not a big factor. Coming in at #6 is the only Sunbelt area, Gainesville, FL.

“There is no more important policy and economic challenge confronting America than our aging population,” says Paul Irving, senior managing director and chief operating officer of the Milken Institute. “There is also considerable opportunity. Innovation and bold approaches are driving change, and much of that is happening in America’s cities.”

Irving says the goal of the index is to encourage and promote best practices in how U.S. communities serve aging Americans. “We hope the findings spark national discussion, and, at the local level, generate virtuous competition among cities to galvanize improvement in the social structures that serve seniors,” he says.

Writer’s Note: The Milken Institute was founded in 1991 by former Drexel Burnham Lambert banker Michael Milken, who is known for his role in the development of the market for junk bonds during the 1970s and 1980s and his 1990 guilty plea to multiple felony charges that he violated U.S. securities laws.