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Walkable Neighborhoods Aren’t Just for Millennials

Ben Hanowell
By Ben HanowellAugust 7, 2017
Elders with mobility issues enjoy parks

Many believe walkable neighborhoods are just a millennial generation fad. Our recent survey says otherwise. Most senior living consumers, even those looking for assisted living, factor a car-optional lifestyle into their decision about where to move. Our results have major implications for senior living providers, urban planners, land developers, and families searching for senior living.

This post is part of our 2017 Senior Living Preferences Survey. View a full report here.

Why Walkable Neighborhoods Should Matter to Seniors

It would make sense if seniors wanted to live where they are close to everything. Walkable neighborhoods might be good for their health. A recent World Health Organization report reviews evidence that simply living near a public park is good for cardiovascular and mental health, especially for older adults. Researchers at Duke University showed that seniors with mobility issues are more independent in neighborhoods with a greater diversity of services.

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These are reasons walkable neighborhoods should matter to seniors, but how much does it actually influence their decision about where to live?

Walkable Neighborhoods Matter to Seniors

Between 80 and 90% of independent living and senior apartments consumers prefer walkable neighborhoods. 66% of assisted living consumers do, too.

We’ve actually known for a while that older adults in general want walkable neighborhoods. Portland State University and the National Association of Realtors showed that 30% of baby boomers find a car-optional community very important. The AARP found that 60% of Americans 50 and older want to live within a mile of daily goods and services. What we haven’t known until now is whether senior housing and care consumers, including those with mobility issues, want to live in walkable neighborhoods, too.

To find out, we surveyed 948 families who were actively searching for senior living and were good matches to one of three types of community:

  • Assisted living is for older adults who need daily assistance with personal care, and includes meals as well as light housekeeping
  • Independent living is for independent older adults and includes meals and housekeeping but no daily assistance
  • Senior apartments are apartments for independent 55+ adults and do not typically include meals or housekeeping

We asked about how important various aspects of their prospective neighborhood and senior living community are to them.

We found that between 80 and 90% of independent living and senior apartments consumers found it at least somewhat important to be within walking distance of at least one major neighborhood amenity. More surprising: 66% of assisted living consumers do, too, and over a quarter of them find a walkable neighborhood very important or mandatory to their decision.

Some Providers Already Focus on Walkable Neighborhoods

Senior living provider Merrill Gardens is a leader in developing walkable communities. That strategy pays off both for residents and the company. Their communities reach nearly full occupancy shortly after opening and stay that way.

“This survey confirms one of our core development strategies,” says Bill Pettit, president of R.D. Merrill Co., “Our residents deserve freedom and flexibility to do everything that they enjoy in life. Walkability and access to good public transportation lets them live life on their terms, which is more fulfilling and fun.”

Walkable Neighborhoods Aren’t Just for Rich City Slickers

While it’s true urban dwellers are more likely to strongly prefer walkable neighborhoods, large shares of suburban and small town dwellers want to walk to the store, too. Across care types, about as many consumers with a self-reported senior living budget under $2,000 want to live in a walkable neighborhood as those with a budget $6,000 or over.

Walkable Neighborhoods Aren’t the Only Thing Consumers Care About

We also asked families how important low crime rate, proximity to family, and proximity to a hospital are to them. Unsurprisingly, these neighborhood factors are very important or mandatory to a larger portion of consumers than living within walking distance to any particular neighborhood amenity.

For Most Families, Community Quality and Affordability Take Top Priority

Between 60 and 70% of independent and assisted living consumers rank the quality of the senior living community as their top priority.

Location isn’t everything. When you’re looking for a senior living community, just like with any other move, you probably care more than anything about getting the most living space, the best senior living amenities, and the best care for the best price. Our survey shows you’re not alone.

Between 60 and 70% of independent and assisted living consumers rank the quality of community itself as their top priority. For those consumers, affordability comes in second place followed by the community’s neighborhood. For senior apartments consumers, however, affordability is most often the top priority, which makes sense given the shorter list of amenities and community services included in the rent.

Why This Matters

Many senior living consumers and millennials share a preference for walkable neighborhoods. Yet like anyone, senior living consumers want the best neighborhood for the best price. The high cost of living in dense urban areas is pushing millennials back to the suburbs, especially as they start families. Many of these millennials bring their preference for walkable neighborhoods with them.

Living in those same suburbs are the majority of older adults. As baby boomers age into retirement, that means the two largest age groups in the nation will converge on the same neighborhoods. That convergence presents a huge challenge, but also an opportunity, to build walkable, multi-generational communities.

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Ben Hanowell
Ben Hanowell

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