Are the Suburbs a Good Place to Grow Old? Not So Much…

A very funny piece in the Huffington Post last week by Jane Gross got me thinking about the possibility of growing old in the suburbs.  She writes about how getting the flu, and then having to deal with an infestation of rats in her home, made her realize that the suburbs might not be the best place for an older, single female:

People our age who choose to live alone belong in cities, with plentiful take-out food options, friends close by, and apartment building superintendents to deal with rats in the basement.

It raises an interesting question: should older people live in the suburbs, or should they move to the city?

Take my experience.  I’ve lived in the suburbs at two points in my life: first, when I was growing up as a kid, from ages 0 to 18, and then as an adult anticipating HAVING kids, from ages 42 til 45 (now).

For the most part, I think that’s kind of worked out.  I had the pretty stereotypical suburban life growing up: walking to school, my best friends all lived on my block, backyard baseball games, sports leagues, etc.  And now that I’m a parent, I kind of see the advantages of raising kids in the burbs — the convenience of having a car, better public schools, all that stuff.

And like a lot of people, I lived in the city during the “young and single” part of my life — Washington DC for college and law school, then mostly New York City (and a little San Francisco) for my 20s and 30s.  And that worked out for me as well.  I got to spend almost 20 years living in the big city, drinking muddled drinks and playing pool and chatting up women with body tattoos and all that.  I loved that time in my life.

So I’ve had what I think is kind of the best of all worlds: suburbs as a kid, city as a young adult, back to the suburbs as a parent.  I think that’s the perfect cycle.

Now, I’m sure city people would disagree with me, telling me all about how much they loved growing up in the city around ALL THAT CULTURE, when really what they mean is easy access to buying pot in the Village.  But that’s okay.  If you grew up in the city, and loved it, that’s great.  And if you’re raising kids in the city, I don’t know how you survive, but more power to you.  Fight the good fight!

But for those of us who live in the suburbs for our parental years, we rarely stop to think about what’s next.  What do you do when the kids have grown?  Now, that’s a ludicrous question for a guy who has a two-year old and an infant at home, and won’t have time to think about his retirement until the (gulp!) 2030s.  But just as a thought experiment — would I want to stay in the suburbs once I’m getting ready to retire?

The answer?  Probably not.  In fact, almost certainly not.  I don’t see how that would make sense.  In fact, I don’t understand why retired people immediately flock down to Florida for their golden years, just because of the weather.  Have you been to Florida?   The food stinks, it’s hot, mosquitos everywhere, and it’s filled with other old people.  That’s a high price to pay for a little golf during the week.

Indeed, if cost is not an issue, I can’t imagine NOT wanting to spend my retirement living in a big city.  So if anyone reading this is thinking about retiring to Florida, or living out in the suburbs during their golden years, here are some reasons to buck the trend and move into the city instead:

  • You don’t have to drive. Old people shouldn’t be driving.  Seriously.  No offense, but I’ve seen elderly people try to operate remotes to the television, and it scares me to think that we you can pass a driving test at 16 and then hit the road for the rest of your life with impunity.  But if you live in the city, you don’t even have to own a car!  You get to walk around, get all that exercise that doctors tell you that you need, and you can take taxis or the subway anytime you need to go more than 20 blocks or so.
  • You can eat out.  When you’re young and living in the city, you can’t afford to eat out. When you have kids, you REALLY can’t afford to eat out.  But now that you’re retired, you can actually go to all those great restaurants you read about in the Times.  Even better, you can probably get a table, because even the fanciest, trendiest eateries are pretty empty at, say, 5:30, which I understand is the standard elderly-person meal time.
  • You can go do stuff.  I lived in the city for almost 20 years, and made it out to like four museums.  Too much stuff to do, what with earning a living and all, plus all the tattooed ladies who need chatting up.  But when you’re retired, you have nothing else to fill your day but go check out a new exhibition at the Met.  Even better, I’m sure there are all sorts of senior citizen discounts, so it’s cheap!  Not to mention all the movies, theater, etc. — all the stuff that people say they live in the city for, but never actually go.  But when you don’t have to work, you can!
  • Lots of eye candy.  You really want to live out in Florida, where the average age is about 97?  Or do you want to walk down the streets of Manhattan, teeming with young, attractive people with energy and drive and firm, supple limbs?  I mean, when you’re 85, I figure that anyone under the age of 35, no matter how homely, is pretty good eye candy. And when you’re 75 and harmless, it’s okay to stare, people will just assume you have cataracts and can’t see anything anyway.
  • No stairs.  I’m assuming you’ve learned enough in all those years of living to NOT buy a walkup.  So instead of staying in a suburban house, with all those stairs, you get an elevator.  And maybe a doorman to hold the door for you.  I think about how slothful I am now, and I can’t imagine the deep levels of lethargy that I will reach when I get older.  I’ll be one of those guys in a Rascal riding around the streets, not because I’m infirm, but just because I’m too lazy to walk.

Seriously, why would you want to live in Del Boca Vista Phase Four when you could be living on the upper west side surrounded by great food, public transportation, young people, and things to do?  And if you’re not going to Florida, why would you want to maintain a big house, with a lawn, and a second floor that you never actually visit, when you could get a sweet place in the city with takeout food and young people to leer at?

So are the suburbs a good place to grow old?  No.  They’re the place to be a kid, or raise a kid.  But if you don’t have kids, either because you’re young and single and having a good time living life, or because you’re old and retired and having a good time cheating death, you should live in a city.