Going Urban and Carless: A Healthy Approach to Aging-In-Place

by Bruce Montgomery Ph.D. November 16, 2016

Going Urban and Carless: A Healthy Approach to Aging-In-Place

Do you dream of retiring in a remote cabin in the middle of the woods or on a lake - far away from the maddening crowd? Or would you rather stay and age in place in the familiar suburban house where you raised your family?

According to John Wasik of the New York Times*, some seniors are going “carless” and retiring to an urban neighborhood where they can walk or take transit to just about everything they need.

Eighty percent of retirees still live in car-dependent suburbs and rural areas, according to a Brookings Institution study. Developments for independent retirees typically come in two flavors: isolated, gated subdivisions or large homes on golf courses, often in the same bland package of multiple cul-de-sacs. Both require driving everywhere, which is a problem for those who either don’t want to drive or can’t.

Enter a new paradigm: the walkable, urban space. It may range from existing neighborhoods in places like Brooklyn or San Francisco to newly built housing within city and suburban cores from coast to coast. Though not primarily for retirees, places like Reston, Va., and Seaside, Fla., were early examples of the new urbanism built from the ground up. Among senior housing projects, examples include Waterstone at Wellesley along the Charles River in the Boston area and The Lofts at McKinley in downtown Phoenix. The theme is simple: Get out and walk to basic services.

Walkability, though, is much more than a hip marketing pitch. It’s linked to better health, social engagement and higher property values.

Christopher Leinberger, a developer based in Washington and a professor at the George Washington University School of Business, found that the walkability factor added more than 72 percent in increased housing value compared with car-dominated developments, where he says prices will fall over time as America ages.

How do you rate a neighborhood’s walkability? You can start with the WalkScore rankings and sort cities based on affordability, location and amenities.

Keep in mind that walkable communities may need other services to fit your needs.

  • Do they have quality health care institutions nearby?
  • Is public transportation adequate?
  • Will you need barrier-free sidewalks and retail establishments?
  • How easy is it to leave and visit other parts of a city or its metropolitan region?
  • Will you need to rent or share a car?
  • What about local colleges for cultural amenities and lifelong learning programs?
  • If you want to be close to children and grandchildren, you should consider a place accessible to them as well.

As we age, our priorities and capabilities change. You and your loved ones may want to consider an urban walkable community, which can offer advantages over rural and suburban homes such as:

Convenience – to shopping and entertainment

Cost savings – no car, fuel, parking or insurance payments

Exercise – walking is one of the best forms of exercise for seniors

Social engagement – getting out of your house and your car to shop and explore


*Source: The Future of Retirement Communities: Walkable and Urban, By JOHN F. WASIK The New York Times. OCT. 14, 2016.

Bruce Montgomery Ph.D.
Bruce Montgomery Ph.D.


Dr. Bruce Montgomery is a licensed building contractor in Michigan and Florida. He is a Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist as designated by the National Association of Home Builders. He has also achieved an Executive Certificate in Home Modification from the University of Southern California. He has a wide ranging educational background, including a Master of Science degree in Entomology, with a Master of Science degree in Forestry and a Ph.D. in educational administration.