Come on baby, let's go downtown

One of the questions on our Strong Towns Strength Test is, "In your town, are there neighborhoods where three generations of a family could reasonably find a place to live, all within walking distance of each other?" For most of us, that answer is, unfortunately, no. But some seniors are turning that around.

Source: Johnny Sanphillippo

Source: Johnny Sanphillippo

A recent article on the AARP website explains:

Gone are the days when the golden years meant playing bridge in Boca Raton. Instead, these boomers are moving into neighborhoods that have been revitalized with a different demographic in mind: millennials. [...] Data from TenantCloud, a property management software service, show that nearly one-third of all urban applications are for renters over age 60.

It's no surprise that many of the same aspects of downtown living that appeal to millennials are attracting seniors, too; the cost of owning or renting a smaller space is less than a larger single-family home, home maintenance and yard work needs practically disappear, and a downtown home means easy access to a myriad of amenities, all without needing a car. Here's just one example of why some families are making this move, from the article:

Consider Christopher Grenzer, 55, a dentist, and Joanne Botti, 55, who works in marketing. When they decided to give up their 3,500-square-foot home in the Portland suburb of Tigard, they considered buying a smaller house in another residential area. But they were drawn to the new buildings downtown. "Downtown sounded more exciting, more action, more to do," Grenzer said. So, in 2012, they sold the house where they had raised their son and bought a two-bedroom apartment on the eighth floor of a new condo in Portland’s Pearl District.

I have multiple friends in their 60s who are choosing this route, too. Between not having to worry about shoveling, raking or any number of other household issues, and getting to live close to restaurants and entertainment, it's a no-brainer. Interestingly, in two of the condo-dwelling boomer couples I know, one person works from home. By living downtown, they can easily cut back to one car for their household, saving a considerable amount of money (and hassle) in the process.

The AARP article does mention one big challenge for those who want to move to a smaller, more centrally located residence: downsizing. When you've spent decades surrounded by rooms full of furniture, basement or attic storage and, inevitably, cast-offs from your children who have left home, it can be quite a large task to condense your possessions down for a smaller abode. This is a good warning for all of us though. Whether we're 22 or 72, whether we plan to live in a larger home or a small apartment, we could probably all stand to do a little Swedish Death Cleaning — the goal of which is to get rid of unnecessary clutter for an easier life, and an easier job for your relatives who must sort through your possessions after you pass away. It may take a while, but if it leads to a more affordable, healthy and happy life over the long haul, many seniors are deciding it's worth it.

The benefits of a smaller, more centrally located home just make sense — for both seniors and millennials. And in reality, these are assets that people of any generation might appreciate.

With many cities just now recognizing the demand for and benefit of having any sort of housing downtown, the next step will be expanding options to include not just one- and two-bedroom units but housing for larger families, families with older children and other sorts of living arrangements. In addition, our towns need to consider other amenities that appeal to people of different ages, not just bars and trendy shops for young people. Things like schools and parks must also be a priority

The more opportunities we can provide for residents to live in walkable areas with businesses and employment nearby, the more our cities can move toward financial resilience and not have to pay for costly maintenance on wide suburban roads, overextended sewer systems and the other trappings of the Growth Ponzi Scheme — not to mention offer more affordable living for residents. It's one big step in the direction of stronger towns.

(Top photo source: Hector A Parayuelos)