City Living: The Perfect Lifestyle for the Retired?

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The following post is by MPFJ staff writer, Melissa Batai. Melissa is a freelance writer who covers topics ranging from personal finance to business to organics to food. She blogs at Mom’s Plans where she shares her family’s journey to healthier living and paying down debt.

Which is the better location?  The city or the suburbs?  It’s the age old question.

When you’re younger and have a family to consider, you may decide that the suburbs are better.  After all, the suburbs often have better schools, houses are cheaper, the kids have more room to play, and it’s quieter.  The list goes on and on.

But, is living in the suburbs always the better choice? 

What happens when those in their 30s and 40s, the ones who moved out to the suburbs for all of the benefits offered to young families, age?  What happens when they are now in their 70s and 80s and can no longer drive?  How do they get around?  Their kids may live far away and public transportation is nearly non-existent.

While we’re used to thinking the city is a good locale for those who are young and haven’t started families yet, it’s also a good place for seniors to consider living.

Benefits of Living In the City for Seniors

1.  Minimal lawn maintenance.  If you buy a house in the suburbs, you’ll likely get a decent size lawn that you may enjoy caring for as well as making more beautiful with flowers and other decorations.  However, as you age, the lawn may switch from a form of relaxation and entertainment to a chore that is increasingly difficult to do.  If you live in the city, you’ll likely have no lawn work to contend with.

2.  Clear roads and sidewalks.  Many areas of the country get hammered with snow and ice for several months of the year.  Ice covered roads and sidewalks can be treacherous for anyone, but for a senior who is at risk of serious injury from a fall, the danger is even greater.  Many cities do an excellent job removing snow and ice, making it easier for seniors to get around.

3.  Access to public transportation.  Some seniors are driving well into their 90s.  My great uncle Andy was delivering Meals on Wheels to people younger than him when he was 92.  However, he’s a rarity.  As people age, they may lose their ability to drive.  However, within the city, there is plenty of public transportation available from buses, trains, and taxis. 

Alan Entine, who retired to San Francisco to be near his grown daughters says, “‘Sure (big cities) are expensive in terms of housing, but the day-to-day living in San Francisco isn’t that much more expensive.’ And there are bargains, too.  ‘On the Muni (San Francisco Municipal Rail) system, as a senior I pay $10 a month for a pass and I can have unlimited bus and train rides for a month'” (Bankrate).

4.  Access to low cost entertainment.  There is so much to do in the city, and contrary to popular opinion, it doesn’t have to be expensive.  In a city with universities, you can enjoy free book readings, low cost theater performances, free music concerts.  These are the perfect events for those who want to mind their money or stretch their retirement dollars further.

5.  Opportunities to volunteer.  Many people once they retire like to keep busy and stay social.  Volunteering as my Uncle Andy did is often a great way to do this.  From volunteering at a museum to volunteering to give walking tours of the city, the possibilities are endless.  If you volunteer as an usher at a theater, you can watch the show for free, which is an extra bonus.

6.  Chance to take low cost classes.  Many colleges and universities offer low cost or free courses to seniors.  If you live in the city where universities are in close proximity, you can continue learning and even pursue a degree or interest that you were too busy to study before you retired.

We’re used to thinking of the city as a great place for young people to live before they get married and have children, but the city doesn’t offer benefits just for them.  Retired individuals can also benefit from the plentiful, low cost entertainment as well as the many opportunities to volunteer.  As they age, individuals can also benefit from the public transportation and low maintenance life style.

How about you all? Would you consider moving to the city when you retire?

Share your experiences by commenting below!

***Photo courtesy of


  1. I live in a philly suburb with my wife and I'm retired. We are considering moving into Philly for all the reasons that you describe. We always wanted to live downtown when we were younger, but once we started a family the suburbs made sense. My youngest son graduates from college in two years and then we may move.
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    • rjack–This sounds like the perfect time to move to the city. There are so many things to enjoy! I know living in the city isn't right for all empty nesters, but for many, it's the perfect place to live.

  2. Interesting take and not one I've heard before, but I like it. I think the advantages you list are all really good ones to consider. It would be interesting to compare the cost and benefits of city living vs. a community specifically designed for retired people. I have no idea what that comparison would look like and I'm sure each would have it's plusses and minuses.
    My recent post Some Tough College Love

    • Matt–In many ways the city would be more expensive, especially with housing, but there are so many free and low cost programs to take advantage of that for many the high cost of housing is worth paying.
      My recent post Debt Snowflake Challenge #2 for 2013

  3. myfijourney says:

    I agree that the lifestyle would be great for seniors or just about anyone. I'd move to a city right now if I could. For any city that has non-crappy public transportation (all 10 or so of them) the cost of living is crushingly high. Probably only something that the richest of retirees could afford.

    Once you need a car to get around, you're better off in the suburbs and just driving to the metro area when you need to.
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  4. myfijourney–I agree that you'd have to pick the city carefully. We visited San Francisco, and I absolutely loved their public transportation system.
    My recent post Debt Snowflake Challenge #2 for 2013

  5. It also depends on what your preferred activities are. If you're big into the outdoors and like bird- and animal-watching, the city isn't all that attractive to an active senior. It also depends on where your friends are.
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  6. I think there are definite trade-offs when it comes to city vs. suburbs. We currently live in a rural area, and while I love that our kids can play in the woods, it makes school activities very challenging. I can imagine a day in our old age when we might be tempted to move into town, but then again, there's something about the peacefulness of the country that just seems to breathe life into your soul.
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    • Christina–I'm not a big city person, but I can definitely see the benefits of moving there in retirement. I know my husband would like it much better than living in the country.

  7. Jenny–That's true. My mom would hate city living because she loves the country. Unfortunately, living in the country can get harder as you get older.

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