Where would you like to grow older? If you’re open to suggestion, I recommend reviewing the new Best Cities for Successful Aging rankings from the Milken Institute Center for the Future of Aging. (Spoiler alert: This year’s No. 1 big and small cities are the college “towns” of Provo-Orem, Utah and Iowa City, Iowa.)
As the winning cities suggest, the 2017 Milken index is actually two lists: One ranking the 100 largest U.S. metro areas (the Big Cities list) and one ranking 281 small metros (the Small Cities). Combined, they include all U.S. Metropolitan Statistical Areas except Enid, Okla. (insufficient data — get on it, Enidites!).
Unlike anecdotal, subjective “best places to retire lists,” this one is all about the data, as were the 2012 and 2014 versions. “Our notion is: facts are stubborn things,” says Paul Irving, chairman of the Milken Institute Center for the Future of Aging.
For the 2017 rankings, the research team spent six months crunching numbers for 83 indicators in nine categories: General Livability, Health Care, Wellness, Financial Security, Education, Transportation and Convenience, Employment, Living Arrangements and Community Engagement.
The Top 10 Big Cities: Provo-Orem; Madison, Wisc.; Durham-Chapel Hill, N.C.; Salt Lake City; Des Moines-West Des Moines, Iowa; Austin-Round Rock, Texas; Omaha, Neb.-Council Bluffs, Iowa; Jackson, Miss.; Boston-Cambridge-Newton, Mass. (which includes some N.H. towns) and San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, Calif.
The Top 10 Small Cities: Iowa City; Manhattan, Kansas; Ames, Iowa; Columbia, Mo.; Sioux Falls, S.D.; Ann Arbor, Mich.; Ithaca, N.Y.; Lawrence, Kansas; Logan, Utah (which includes some Idaho towns) and Fairbanks, Alaska.
As you may have noticed, just over half of this year’s winners are college towns. “They’ve had a good amount of successful economic development recently,” says Liana Soll, associate director for the Center. Adds Irving: “College towns tend to be vital centers of employment and have a strong health infrastructure, with university hospitals, strong transit systems connected to universities and, in some cases, innovative housing options. So they touch many of the bases.”
None, you may have also noticed, are in sunny retirement havens in Florida or Arizona. “Weather is just one of many factors that could contribute to successful aging,” says Soll.
A good place for “successful aging,” Irving believes, “is a good place for all people.” That’s why the 2017 rankings report says the rankings offer “a broad focus on livability across the life course. And it’s why the Center’s “Mayor’s Pledge,” signed by more than 140 U.S. mayors from Akron, Ohio to York, Pa., is about trying to make their cities “work better for older residents and young people as well.”
Irving believes America’s cities have made progress since his 2014 rankings. But “on the other hand, I feel we are not moving quickly enough,” he adds. “It’s a challenge for all of us.”