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Editorial - Places to live forever

September 15, 1997

Isn't it every community's dream to become a place so nice that people never want to leave, even after they retire? Morgantown, W.Va. officials are betting that if they build a better town, people who've never lived and worked there will find it a nice place to retire. It sounds like a strategy many Tri-State area towns might copy.

Morgantown already has an edge because it's a college town, and retirees from metropolitan areas usually like the idea of the cultural amenities and opportunities for life-long learning available in such places. But it takes more than that to lure the groups the town is seeking, according to David Morgan.

Morgan, the head of the Community Living Initiative Corp., told The Associated Press the effort began with a state Center of Aging study that took two years. It concluded that a campaign shouldn't focus only on seniors with high retirement incomes.

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Instead, the state is encouraging communities to concentrate on current residents who are considering leaving, former residents who'd like to return and seniors who haven't made up their minds where they'd like to go.

Communities must first decide whether they can meet the needs of a larger population of 50-plus residents. If so, then specific issues need to be looked at, including health care, recreation, public transportation and safe, affordable housing. The state will spend this year recruiting communities, the next year assisting with needed changes and the third year assessing how well the campaign worked.

The big plus, in addition to the fact that most retirees will have sufficient incomes is that they won't require nearly as many services - schools, for example - that families do.

Morgantown's plan will begin with a city/county effort to improve the bus system and create an on-demand van system for the disabled and elderly who can no longer drive. Better consumer programs, including an anti-scam initiative, are also in the works. The program's best feature, however, is the idea that a better community need not be designed only for seniors to get them to choose it as a retirement spot.

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