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Baby Boomers like me grew up restless and ready to be on our way. So when our chance finally came, we moved.
Ours was a generation that learned at the knee of Jack Kerouac's On the Road and Ken Kesey's hippie band of Merry Pranksters who were on a cross-country bus trip to see the 1964 World's Fair. When Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon in 1969, the faraway reaches of the unknown stole our hearts from the familiar environs of home.
We set out likewise to journey, not to stay in place. The breaking curl of the baby boomer wave in the early 1980s saw leading boomers (or midlifers, as many of us prefer to be called) in their mid-thirties and all of us old enough to drive. It was the moment when, at last, we were all on our own. The "Me Generation" was in charge, giving full expression to our self-indulgent extravagance, and on the move in order to do so.
Census data tracking the moves people have made each year since the end of the Second World War show a sudden and dramatic spike in the early 1980s as we came of age. Inevitably, though, with time and experience, this changed. Moves ebbed as we learned how much place matters, and now it matters more than ever. Looking ahead to retirement or second careers, place is foremost in the planning of midlifers.
The BEST ranking and the 3 P's of Place
To dig deeper into the ways in which midlifers are thinking about place, LifeGoesStrong.com – the premier network of information and content sites for 48- to 67-year old mid-lifers – completed a study to determine the "Best Places for Boomers to Live." Specifically, Life Goes Strong looked at how midlifers feel about ten city characteristics, covering a gamut of things important to us when it comes to a place to live. The metro areas with the highest concentrations of midlifers were scored on these factors, yielding the top five Boomer 'Extra Special' Towns, or the BEST ranking.
Our 10 most Important Criteria in Choosing a Place to Live
Based on an extensive online survey of midlifers, the ten characteristics in our BEST ranking stacked up this way:
This ranking belies the midlifers stereotype of spendthrift hedonists. Prudence tops the list; high living and highbrow fill out the bottom.
In fact, this ranking reveals three underlying things that matter most to us about place: Pocketbook first. Peace of mind next. And only then, proximity to indulgences and amenities.
Three of the top five characteristics on our criteria list are related to money – cost of living, average home price and unemployment rate. Above all, we midlifers value affordability. Even if it wasn't always so, profligacy is not part of place.
Peace of Mind
The other two characteristics in our top five are about security – from crime to pollution, while the factors related to money could also be thought of as security-minded — that is, financial security. Which makes everything at the top of the list about peace of mind. These top five are the basics that put the foundation under the place we chose. All the extras come next.
The mistake I made, along with many of my fellow travelers, was putting the proximity of where we could get to ahead of the place where we were. We thought that getting there was the same as being there. What many of us learned the hard way is that home is a matter of where you are not where you are near. Home is the place you live everyday, not the destinations you visit occasionally.
Walkability and driving distance are nice; nearby parks and universities are, too. But these are extras. Even having many hospitals is not a top priority. So these characteristics, while important, are secondary. They break ties, but never come before the basics.
TOP 5 BEST PLACES FOR BOOMERS TO LIVE — AND THE WINNERS ARE…
Thus, without further ado, here is our LifeGoesStrong.com BEST ranking of the Best Places to Live:
1) PITTSBUGRH, PENNSYLVANIA: Pittsburgh has it all: Affordability, security, and nearby-access to many attractive amenities. This very livable city at the confluence of the Alleghany, Monongahela, and Ohio rivers also offers midlifers a good cost of living and reasonable housing prices.
On the LifeGoesStrong.com BEST ranking, Pittsburgh does as well on the basics as every other city evaluated, with one notable exception: It has the poorest air quality. But with a solid foundation in basics, the extras push Pittsburgh to the top, making it today's number one city for midlifers.
2) PORTLAND, MAINE: The Portland-South Portland-Biddeford, Maine region is much more than a portal to backcountry adventures and tucked-away holidays. It stands out as a place to be for midlifers, especially in terms of security and peace of mind. On the LifeGoesStrong.com BEST ranking, Portland gets high marks relative to other cities for the lowest rates of crime and unemployment.
Not unexpectedly, though, given its location, Portland's cost of living is pricey. And the city does not score well when it comes to walkability. But it is a transportation gateway to other attractions, which, when added to a solid foundation, makes it today's number two city for midlifers.
3) KINGSPORT, TENNESSEE: The Kingsport-Bristol-Bristol, Tennessee-Virginia metro area is a great home for midlifers, especially in terms of affordability. It boasts a good cost of living compared to other cities popular with the over-50 set, along with very affordable housing. Plus, its crime rate and unemployment are relatively low. The city's one downside is a poor mark for air quality.
On the LifeGoesStrong.com BEST ranking, Kingsport scores less well than other cities when it comes to proximity to other things. While this is a disadvantage, the city delivers well on the basics, making it today's number three city for midlifers.
4) YOUNGSTOWN, OHIO: Among the areas included in the LifeGoesStrong.com BEST ranking, the Youngstown-Warren-Boardman, Ohio/Pennsylvania region offers midlifers the best combination of basics essential to a good place to live. It scores above average on all of them and has the lowest average home price. In short, Youngstown leaves nothing to be desired when it comes to the basics.
Youngstown is not as highly rated on extra amenities as other cities on our list, particularly walkability and proximity to state and national parks. However, these drawbacks don't diminish Youngtown's appeal because it scores strongly on the fundamentals, making it today's number four city for midlifers.
5) ROCHESTER, NEW YORK: Across the board, the Great Lakes city of Rochester measures up well, with the exception of cost of living. The city is a fundamentally-appealing place to be and offers above-average proximity to both hospitals and state and national parks. It is also one of only two cities in the top five of the LifeGoesStrong.com BEST ranking that is not below average on walkability.
The combination of good fundamentals and great accessibility make Rochester today's number five city for midlifers.