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Boomer Bytes #72: Livable Communities

Editor’s Note: Below is another column in Steve Canipe’s series called Boomer Bytes. The column, as the title suggests, will focus on a variety of topics that may be of interest to baby boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964. But Canipe also hopes to start a conversation with younger generations, too. Check out an introduction and Canipe’s (first self-titled) column here.

Livable Communities for Boomers

By Steve Canipe

OK Boomers, we are getting older. Where will we be living when we turn 70, 80, or even 90? Have you given this question much thought? As the oldest of the Boomers reach the magic seven decades (2016), it is time to begin thinking seriously about this question.

In recent years this has been brought to my attention in several ways – once when my mother reached the time in her life when she could no longer stay in her home. This is the same one where I grew up; we moved when I was 2.5 years old. My dad built the house with some help from a neighbor. Much of the lumber came from trees on the property. There was a very strong connection to this “home place” for Mom and for me and my siblings.

For a while, Mom lived with us but when she began falling without an observable reason, we thought it best to relocate her to an assisted facility here in Boone. The place was fine as far as it went – she was cared for, given meals, had physical therapy, was “safe” but it was confining. We visited her every day and they even allowed pets to come visit trying to be more like home. But it most definitely was not home. There was a “smell” associated with the place. It was not a dirty smell but an institutional one. If you’ve ever visited or had a loved one in such a facility, you know exactly the smell I am talking about.

We were in Charlotte last week visiting longtime friends—been friends for 40 plus years!! In two cases folks that were older than me (not Boomers), have left their longtime homes and are now living in adult care, retirement homes, assisted living; there are myriad names for these places. In all cases, they are a form of institutional living and to be there some degree of independence is lost. Some living arrangements are more independent than others and some are almost like regular apartments.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not picking on these facilities and many of them are quite nice and some even posh! But it is not the same as being in control of your entire daily life. In almost all cases, living in one of these facilities means that you are under watch to ensure your safety and well-being. Again, I am not saying this is a bad thing as we get older and less able to take care of ourselves…but it does entail a loss of independence and that can be hard to take for some folks who have been used to being independent.

Some entrepreneurs, notably in Arizona but elsewhere also, have created entire retirement communities for active (and not so active) older folks. The first of these that I was familiar with was called Sun City and it was near Phoenix. Wikipedia notes that the “city” opened in 1960 with five homes and a shopping center. In the 2010 census there were nearly 40 thousand people living in this unincorporated town in metro Phoenix. The median age of the community was 75. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sun_City,_Arizona)

There are now similar place all over the country including in the Carolinas at Sun City Carolina Lakes. This one is located in Fort Mill, South Carolina. Since my wife and I would certainly qualify for these “active adult” places, I often get asked if I would consider one. My response is not now. I believe it is prudent to almost never to say never!! If my health or my wife’s were to deteriorate, then maybe this type living community would be a possibility.

An article that appeared in the Arizona Daily Star (Tucson) entitled “Making Communities Livable for Residents of all Ages” was interesting as it talked about multiple age communities. (http://goo.gl/bJYPCS) The thrust of the article was that the multiple age communities were considered more livable. There were several criteria that caused this conclusion. 1) Citizens were able to thrive throughout their lives; 2) Social supports existed to allow people to age in the community; 3) Housing choices were appropriate across multiple ages; 4) Transportation options were varied and there were accessible public spaces; 5) Amenities such as grocers and drug stores were available without the need of a car; and 6) Social interactions across age spans was encouraged. The last one might be one of the most important for many people.

We boomers are likely to have a very different aging experience than our parents. We already are showing that we don’t fit a model of what went on before. We tend to be more active and involved in social, cultural, and political life. Our work lives are also more spread out as we seem to not retire at a “normal” time or, if we retire or quit one job, we move to something else – maybe a volunteer gig or a career shift. (This was discussed in earlier columns).

Boone is lucky, maybe luckier than most in that it is a vibrant community with myriad young people (read that college-age people) who do all the sorts of crazy things that college students often do. Maybe they drink a lot more than we did at their age or maybe they are just not as adept at hiding it – or not caring to hide it!!

In a website (http://k6educators.about.com/od/becomingateacher/tp/whyteach.htm) devoted mostly to teaching, there was a notation that “…the innocent enthusiasm of your students will keep you young as they remind you to smile through even the most frustrating moments.” This may well be true but I would opine that living in a multigenerational environment helps you stay young.

Some of my regular readers will know that I have left Boone for the warmer climate of Tucson in Arizona. I do live in a town home community for the active 55+ crowd. However it is a small community – only 84 condos. While there is a community pool on site, there is not a golf course, grocery or pharmacies, coffee shops or restaurants connected to the community. It is necessary to leave the property to get to these things. This means that you have to leave the neighborhood to live!! These leavings mean that you interact with people of all ages, from tots to college students, to work-a-day folks of all ages, and retirees. These interactions are exciting and refreshing.

I suppose you could drive a golf cart through the neighborhood but there are not many streets and walking or biking is much easier than a golf cart. In the huge communities, like Sun City, where there are nearly 28 thousand housing units, using a cart might make sense – it is even legal to drive them on the streets in Sun City!!

Have you done any consideration of where you want to live as you get older? Maybe you will be lucky and be able to live and die in your current house. In likelihood, you will not be able to do that. It is important to consider where you will be – whether that is with an adult child or other relative; in some type of assisted living arrangement.

There are hard questions that need to be considered and we are not even talking about expenses of living in assisted living. Costs can be quite high according to an article posted on website called A Place for Mom (http://goo.gl/g4CtHo). The highest median monthly cost for a one bedroom apartment is $6 thousand per month in Alaska and the least expensive is Missouri at just under $2,300. North Carolina has an average cost of about $3 thousand per month. But just like any real estate, there is a wide variation in costs even in Boone.

Let me hear from you concerning your planning for those “golden” years when you may no longer be able to live in your home – where will you go? – relative, home, or where. Think about it if you haven’t. Let me hear your planning thoughts either in the space below or send me an email at boomerbytes@yahoo.com.