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Top 10 U.S. Cities for Successful Aging

Madison, Wis., is one of the best large cities in the U.S. to age successfully, according to the Milken Institute. Photo courtesy of Flickr user Madison Guy.

Great hospitals! Good public transportation! Booming economy! The best small city for seniors looking to age well is … Sioux Falls, South Dakota?

Forget the palm trees and warm sea breezes, the health care facilities in this small western city “specialize in geriatric services, hospice and rehabilitation, and the metro has recreation and an active lifestyle.” It’s enough, at least, to make Sioux Falls No. 1 of 259 small cities in a recent study by the Milken Institute, a non-partisan think tank.

Looking for a more major metropolitan vibe? Set your gaze to Provo, Utah, where the pro-business environment, a focus on wellness and high community engagement make it No. 1 in the big cities list.

Not a single town in Arizona or Florida cracked the top 100 in the major metropolitan category and only the inland city of Gainesville, Fla., made the cut in the small metro category. Why? Probably because the notion of moving someplace in the desert or by the beach with “a nine-hole golf course, a shuffleboard court, a rec room and cafeteria” is outdated, said Paul Irving, president of the Milken Institute.

“That’s not what people are looking for these days. People want a safe, affordable, engaging and connected community,” he said. “They want to remain associated with former co-workers with and with their families. They want quality health care, active lifestyles, and access to education, transportation, employment, recreation and culture.”

Nearly 90 percent of Americans over the age of 65 say they would prefer to “age in place” in their own homes as long as possible, according to AARP. And four of five people in that age bracket believe their current home is where they will always live.

But to do that successfully in the long run, most seniors need support from their communities — especially easy access to health care and wellness programs, affordable living arrangements, convenient transportation options, and often, employment.

On many of these fronts, cities throughout the U.S. just weren’t cutting it, Irving said. That’s why the Milken Institute decided to rank 359 of them on their performances in “promoting and enabling successful aging.” Published every other year, the idea is not just to shed some light on what is — and isn’t — being done, but to fire up some healthy rivalries.

“Virtuous competition,” Irving calls it, between mayors and city councils and civic leaders. “We really wanted to cause them to question whether the policies and practices they adopt in their own metro areas are as advanced as they should be,” he said. “We also wanted them to consider whether they were taking full advantage and creating adequate opportunity to benefit from their aging populations.”

On Wednesday’s PBS NewsHour broadcast, correspondent Hari Sreenivasan reports from New York City — ranked No. 5 on the “major metro” category of the Milken list — on the little changes being implemented throughout the city to drastically improve the independence and mobility of the one million seniors who live there. In many parts of town, it’s been as easy as adding some benches. Tune in.

In the meantime, check out the top five cities in both the Large Metro and Small Metro categories from the think tank’s “Best Cities for Successful Aging”. The report was last published in July 2012, with an updated version expected in the summer of 2014. Read the full list and see how your city stacks up here.

All slides courtesy of the Milken Institute. Click each photo to enlarge.

Top 5 Large Metros for Successful Aging, According to the Milken Institute

Provo-Orem, Utah

Madison, Wis.

Omaha-Council Bluffs, Neb./Iowa

Boston-Cambridge-Quincy, Mass.-N.H.

New York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island, N.Y.-N.J.

Top 5 Small Metros for Successful Aging, According to the Milken Institute

Sioux Falls, S.D.

Iowa City, Iowa

Bismarck, N.D.

Columbia, Mo.

Rochester, Minn.

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