Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Sarasota - A Great Place to Re-Invent Your Life!

The 15 Best Places to Reinvent Your Life

"Baby boomers are redefining retirement-and leading the move to a new generation of dream towns"

By Grace Lichtenstein, Elaine Robbins, and Michael Dupuis

Once again, baby boomers are breaking the rules. This influential group has bumped traditional retirement off its list of priorities. While "their parents were off fleeing to Leisure Worlds," says historian William Strauss, boomers are contemplating what to do in the next stage-and where.

A recent AARP study estimated that 70 percent of those 45 and older plan to continue working in their "retirement" years, and a Roper Starch Worldwide survey found that the number may be as high as 80 percent. Financial stability isn't the only reason; the Roper study notes that pure enjoyment of work (35 percent of those questioned) or just a desire to try something new (5 percent) will also keep people on the job.

The choices boomers make-in everything from jobs to zip codes-will alter the country's future physical and financial landscape in substantial ways. "Fully situated in middle-age, boomers have become a serious economic as well as social force with which to be reckoned," says William H. Frey, a University of Michigan demographer and a leading researcher of age-migration trends. "And, as usual, all eyes are on them." Already, it's possible to discern certain trends.

Among those ages 45 to 54, only 4.7 percent-fewer than one out of 20-move across county lines each year, while even fewer move across state lines, according to Frey. So it's likely that the largest portion of this demographic will stay put. Why? Boomers "see their homes as legacies," explains Strauss. And since they tend to get along with their kids, they have no plans to get away from them.

How We Picked the Cities

Our research team looked at 10 criteria reflecting the needs, interests, and tastes of Americans age 50 and older. Not all of the towns excel in every category, but each ranked high in several, and many scored high in most. You'll see some surprises here-we made a genuine attempt to spotlight sleepers-vibrant towns and cities that may not have occurred to you.

Availability of jobs, since many in this group will work beyond age 65.

Affordable housing-many cities have costs on par with or below the national median price of $161,600.

Culture and entertainment (from museums and opera to shopping and sports events).

Access to outdoor recreation, from skiing and biking to walking and hiking.

Safety-personal and property safety, and a generally secure feeling.

Colleges or universities (for continuing education and a multigenerational vibe).

Sense of community (often places with a vital and walkable downtown).

Proximity to comprehensive, well-regarded health care facilities.

Good public high schools, since many boomers still have teens at home.

Ease of getting around (public transportation, traffic, access to an airport).

For those who will move, sometimes the pull of the familiar is key. Many will move to be near family. One of the differences between baby boomers and the older "silent generation," says Strauss, is that this younger group is not rebelling against family ties. In fact, remaining close to loved ones is a priority. College towns, too, offer a familiar feel. The experience for those who "were in college from the middle 1960s into the early '70s," says Strauss, "was something that set the whole generation on a life-cycle trajectory. College communities were the closest thing boomers had to the beaches of Normandy."

In addition to the community aspect, universities generate jobs and lend a youthful vibe. And they often come with arts centers, medical facilities, and sophisticated restaurants.

Another trend: choosing a new locale first-opting for one with appealing cultural and recreational lifestyles-and only afterward looking for ways to earn a living there. Strauss calls this the "aesthetic choice." Some who make this jump wind up telecommuting, starting a small business, or working part-time.

This is particularly true of the region Frey calls "the New West." Colorado, Washington, Idaho, Wyoming, and other states have recently lured long-time Californians (others are coming along, too) who loved the Golden State lifestyle but became fed up with high taxes and crowds. Flush from cashing out their equity in houses whose value mushroomed, these California migrants are transplanting themselves to attractive neighborhoods in nearby states.

Also a popular choice: purchasing vacation homes with a view to spending more time there in the future. Again, the New West-particularly Colorado-is seeing much of this activity. Other hot spots? West Virginia, Tennessee, and Arkansas-all quieter, less crowded destinations that come with lower prices.

Since "boomers and middle age are now synonymous," says Frey, "the whole country will become more middle-aged-but some places more than others." Where might those places be? We've compiled a list of 15 highly livable towns by looking at a range of criteria-from affordability to community life to job growth. Ultimately, of course, choices are as varied as the people making them. But this is a good place to start dreaming.


Sarasota, a small, civilized city on Florida's Gulf Coast, has it all-35 miles of beaches, a temperate climate, golf courses and tennis courts aplenty, and good boating in the Gulf and Sarasota Bay. Fine dining has rendered the early-bird special an endangered species-you'll have no trouble finding first-rate food at places like Pattigeorge's on Longboat Key or late-night burgers at Patrick's downtown. The local economy is robust (unemployment is a mere 2.8 percent), and there is a mix of jobs in tourism, the financial and health fields, and information technology.

But, apart from the sun, what residents love most is the range of cultural opportunities. What other small Florida city has an opera, a symphony, a film society, a theater scene (from Broadway classics like Porgy and Bess to a cabaret where you can dine while watching original productions), lots of art galleries-and The Ringling Museum of Art (with paintings by Rubens as well as circus props). "If you can't find something to do around here," says Regina Kelley, a local teacher, "you'd better check your pulse."

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