The Most Age-Friendly Places to Live

A festival in Madison, Wis.

What are the best places to live if you’re age 65 or older? Of the 100 most populous American cities, these lead the list:

  • Madison, Wis.
  • Omaha-Council Bluffs, Neb.-Iowa
  • Provo-Orem, Utah
  • Boston-Cambridge-Newton, Mass.-N.H.
  • Salt Lake City

Of small towns, these are on top:

  • Iowa City, Iowa
  • Sioux Falls, S.D.
  • Columbia, Mo.
  • Bismarck, N.D.
  • Rapid City, S.D.

All of this is according to the Best Cities for Successful Aging report released Nov. 18 by the Milken Institute, a nonprofit, nonpartisan, California-based think tank. This is the institute’s second list, with a revised methodology from its 2012 rankings.

>> Sign up for the AARP Livable Communities Newsletter

With winter coming on, you may be thinking that Madison and Iowa City are already pretty cold, and it might be more inviting to live in the Sun Belt. But climate is only one indicator among many. Here’s some of what the top-ranked cities are getting right for older residents.

They are:

  • becoming centers for health care.
  • building safe, affordable homes.
  • providing transportation options.
  • improving opportunities for work, entrepreneurship and volunteering.
  • providing ways to stay intellectually engaged (museums, libraries) and physically fit (gyms, parks).


Wichita Kansas Park

Although there’s good news about progress in communities across the country, there is still much work to be done, says Nancy LeaMondexecutive vice president of the AARP State and National Group and member of the advisory committee for the Milken index. “We did a survey with Governing magazine a few years ago that found only 16 percent of community leaders felt very or extremely prepared for the future,” she says.

With that in mind, AARP has created a program to help communities do a better job of improving services for older residents. The AARP Network of Age-Friendly Communities — part of a broader effort from the World Health Organization — encourages “well-designed, livable communities [that] promote health and sustain economic growth.”

>> Boulder, Colo. — and Other Great Quirky Places to Retire

The AARP Livable Communities team has published a slideshow to highlight ongoing work in communities in the AARP network that are also places where mayors have signed a pledge developed by the Milken Institute to consider age-related issues in every area of city life.  For example, in Wichita, Kan., which joined the AARP network in March 2013, the mayor, AARP Kansas and other groups teamed up to create a grandparents park that has become a focus of intergenerational activity.

Nancy LeaMond is not moving to Madison or Iowa City. “I live and work in the Washington, D.C., metro area [No. 20 in the Milken index] already,” she says. “And, as AARP’s research shows, a vast majority of people want to remain in their communities as they age. So count me in that group.”

 Photos — Madison, Wis.: Flickr/John Benson; Grandparents Park: Jacque White

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