AARP Online Retirement Livability Index

A new AARP Livability Index can tell you how your city or town (or the place you’re thinking about relocating) ranks as a place to live and grow older. The Livability Index, which can rate practically any neighborhood in the U.S., goes live this week, according to The Washington Post and a host of other mainstream media outlets. You can find it at (Interestingly, many MSM sources fail to give the url for the new AARP tool.)

AARP describes the new resource as follows:

“The Livability Index is a signature initiative of the Public Policy Institute to measure the quality of life in American communities across multiple dimensions: housing, transportation, neighborhood characteristics, environment, health, opportunity, and civic and social engagement.

An interactive, easily navigated website, the Livability Index allows users to compare communities, adjust scores based on personal preferences and learn how to take action to make their own communities move livable.”

I entered my Maryland zip code into the system and found out in about half a second that my Gaithersburg neighborhood rates 59 on a scale of zero to 100. I also received specific ratings on the following livability measures:

  • Housing (affordability and access)
  • Transportation (safe and convenient options)
  • Environment (clean air and water)
  • Health (prevention, access and quality)
  • Engagement (civic and social involvement)
  • Opportunity (inclusion and possibilities)

Housing in my neighborhood rates a measly 36. Not a surprise to me. I already know that generally speaking, you can’t buy or rent a home in Montgomery County, MD, unless you’re affluent. You need two middle-class incomes or one high income to support a family here. (That’s why I’m researching communities in Florida. The cost of living in many parts of Florida is quite reasonable, compared to the Maryland suburbs. Needless to say, the AARP Livability Index will be a great help in my search.)

On the positive side, my neighborhood rates high in Health (79), and gets pretty good scores of 64 on both Neighborhood and Engagement. (I’m doubtful about the high rating for Engagement. If AARP considered voter turnout in the last election, we would rank much lower.)

Transportation rates 56. Even if you own a car, that’s an optimistic number. The Washington, D.C. area is notorious for rush hour traffic. If you depend on public transportation, I dunno. My part of Montgomery County is past the end of the line for the Metro subway. And Metro overall? I don’t have to ride the subway every day, and I’m glad I don’t. MARC commuter trains are good if both your home and workplace are near a rail station.

The transportation score could go up or way down in the future, depending on whether our leaders and voters are willing to fund plans for the Purple Line in the southern parts of Montgomery and Prince Georges Counties, and Bus Rapid Transit in northern Montgomery.

Take a look at the AARP Livability Index. How does your hometown rate? Are your civic leaders going to be bragging, or running for cover?

— John Hayden

Geography of Frugal Living, According to AARP

“Where to Find the Simple Life” is a big feature story in the September/October issue of AARP Magazine. It provides some interesting information on five small cities that AARP touts as having “rich culture, great food, low stress.” I have a better title for the story: “Five Trendy Places to Live.”

“Who wouldn’t want to call these affordable cities home?” AARP asks. And I agree, all five of the small cities chosen for the AARP spotlight sound like charming places. Probably affordable too, but affordability is a relative thing. AARP’s demographic information is from Bert Sperling’s 

 AARP’s Five Best Places to Live the Simple Life:

  1. Tuczon, Ariz., population 525,500; median housing price, $155,500. “Buzz of downtown — with its plentiful restaurants, funky Fourth Avenue arts district, and world-renowned annual Mariachi Conference.”
  2. Greenville, S.C., population 59,000; median housing price, $151,080. “The Greenville area claims one of the highest international-investment-per-capita levels in the nation.”
  3. Montpelier, Vt., population 7,800; median housing price, 159,060. “Norman Rockwell, with a twist of politics.”
  4. Logan, Utah, population 48,000; median housing price, $143,860. “Travel writers call Logan’s Bear Lake the Caribbean of the Rockies, because of its bright turquoise color and white-sand beaches.”
  5. Ames, Iowa, population 55,000; median housing price, $159,270. “Broad lawns, leafy neighborhoods, pretty parks and ponds.”

Hmmm. Montpelier is the only one of these towns I’ve been too, and I agree. I’d like to live there. Burlington, Vt., is a nice city, too. Vermont is one of the most beautiful and charming states. If you’re looking to live frugally, as I am, Vermont might not be the best place. I could be wrong on that.

Tuczon and Greenville sound like up-and-coming sunbelt cities to me. Simple living and affordable lifestyle? I would need convincing.

Now, Utah seems to be a likely place for simple and affordable living. I’ve never been there, but I’d like to visit.  Never been to Ames, either. Iowa sounds promising, especially if you want to do some farming.

These five sound like wonderful small cities. I doubt any of them are as affordable as the places I’ve posted about in North Dakota and Maine. On the other hand, all five of AARP’s cities would have a decidedly more moderate climate than the northernmost reaches of the U.S.