Saturday, August 29, 2015

Seniors are not embracing downtown living en masse

How truthiness is spread by the media. Image edited in Photoshop.

There is a myth, almost an urban legend, that aging baby boomers in high rise apartment filling numbers are forsaking their suburban homes to relocate in city centres. My local paper tells me the move to downtown is "typical of what's happening in other cities." But is it typical?

Joel Kotkin wrote in Forbes / Business a couple of years ago:

Perhaps no urban legend has played as long and loudly as the notion that “empty nesters” are abandoning their dull lives in the suburbs for the excitement of inner city living.

But there’s a problem here: a look at Census data shows . . . that rather than flocking into cities, there were roughly a million fewer boomers in 2010 within a five-mile radius of the centers of the nation’s (U.S.) 51 largest metro areas compared to a decade earlier.

If boomers change residences, they tend to move further from the core, and particularly to less dense places outside metropolitan areas.

It must be admitted that Joel Kotkin is not a promoter of downtown living at the expense of the suburbs. Kotkin has an agenda but, with all that out in the open, one must acknowledge that Kotkin may be right. Now, Kotkin is American but the figures in Canada tell a similar story. Using Stats Canada numbers only made available to researchers, a Concordia University study found "seniors prefer the suburbs."

Lookout Crt. view the equal of those from many apartments.
Capital preservation is a big goal of many retirees, if not most. It is not a fear of death that occupies the minds of many seniors but a fear of living -- a fear of living so long that they out live their wealth.

My home in Byron has three bedrooms, three full bathrooms, and a lovely view of the city from the side of the glacial moraine on which it is built. My property taxes, heating and cooling plus water and electricity costs amount to about $8610 a year ($717.50 per month). This is small change in comparison to the $25,200 a two bedroom, two bath apartment in a new luxury downtown London high rise might run.

This was a bad year for us financially. Our furnace failed last Christmas and we had to cough up some $8700 come March. We replaced both the furnace and the central air. This summer we had to have some extensive remedial brick work done. This cost about $1650. Still, even an expensive year in our home only set us back $18,960. We saved $6340 over living in a beautiful new apartment in the core.

From my Byron home I can walk to a couple of grocery stores, to three drug stores, an LCBO and more but I admit I often drive. I burn 17-cents of diesel fuel when I drive to the nearby No Frills and back. Am I an aberration? Not according to Stats Canada which reported:

Seniors do not use public transit more often as their main form of transportation as they get older. Nor does occasional use increase with age. Rather, the proportion who had used public transit at least once in the previous month declined with increasing age . . . 

I opened with one urban legend (seniors are moving downtown en masse) and I'm closing with another (many seniors choose to use public transit over the car.) Sadly, urban legends which feel true are all too often spread by an unquestioning media. Stephen Colbert had a word for this: "Truthiness."

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