PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- There are a few unfortunate retirement stereotypes out there that can keep would-be retirees from pursuing that life they've always dreamed of. The idea that you have to be in some far-flung cluster of fellow non-workers puttering around in a golf cart, "island car" convertible or another generation's Cadillac is not only narrow-minded, but no way to approach your fixed income.
That finite amount of cash can transform car payments, auto insurance and weekly gas fill-ups from costly necessities to huge drains on the finances. It can also prevent you from living in places where all stores, medical services, entertainment and transit options are convenient. In some cases, your automobile and the associated costs can be the lead weight shackling you to some lame, bland storage facility for folks who've worked too hard for their taste of freedom.
Neighborhood ranking site
has kept track of neighborhood density and convenience for the past couple of years and helped real estate firms such as
pair retirees and other homebuyers with neighborhoods that make the most sense for their budget and lifestyle. Some of them are small and relatively inexpensive communities, others are larger areas with a reputation for expense but a surprisingly affordable appeal for retirees.
If you're not ready to have someone else tell you the dream you've worked so hard for is too expensive, get ready to downsize the empty nest, ditch the car and consider the following 10 cities as potential destinations. They scouted out locations within a five-minute walk of grocery stores, public transportation and
rentals and came up with some great places across the country to go car free:
By Walk Score's standards, this admittedly isn't great. We felt this required a mention,though, if only for one particularly outstanding perk: The fare-free and extensive
Chapel Hill Transit
system. If you live in Chapel Hill or Carrboro, you'll have access to it, and it gets you just about everywhere you'd need to be in this university town. Want to hit the restaurants, shops or Tar Heels games? They're yours, and for about a fraction of what you'd spend in cities just a bit up this list.
The near-ubiquity of buses everywhere but the fringe outer neighborhoods makes Portland a pretty easy place to move to without a car, but the rail-laden neighborhoods in the city's center are the strongest argument for ditching the wheels. Admittedly, this was a far bigger deal when neighborhoods such as the Pearl, Downtown and the Portland State University campus fell within the old "Fareless Square." Even with that gone, however, Portland's "Honored Citizens" get more than half off fares for the streetcars, buses and Max light rail line and, if they're fine just hanging out downtown, they pay only $10 to ride all they want for the year. That puts movies, restaurants, supermarkets and even
within striking distance for less than $1 a month.
You're going to see Pennsylvania cities on this list a couple of times for one big reason: All the state's cities let senior citizens ride public transportation
. In a town with a relatively low cost of living and great hospitals and attractions including the symphony, ballet, museums including the Andy Warhol Museum and reasonably priced tickets to Major League Baseball -- which the Pirates could still put the kibosh on by making the playoffs this year -- that's not such a small amenity. Thank Pennsylvania's state lottery, which pays for that transit perk and makes it extremely tempting for even jaded Northeasterners to bear the winters for a few more years.
There had to be a Florida city in here eventually, and none are as walkable or accessible as this one. This city was practically built around retirees, and about 1% of the population lives in car-dependent neighborhoods. That warm weather lets folks walk the city for the overwhelming majority of the year and the subway system and bus system that functions like light rail along the Miami-Dade busway help get folks from here to there pretty easily. Like Portland, Miami also has free transit thanks to its elevated Metromover. Retirees lucky enough to live in Downtown, Brickell, Park West and Omni can enjoy the free ride, but even folks in Overtown and Allahpattah don't need a set of car keys to get around.
The ferries make for some picturesque background, but it's the city's bulked-up light rail and buses that have made living in town a sweet dream. Already dense neighborhoods in Pioneer Square, Belltown, South Lake Union, Capital Hill and North Beacon Hill have benefited from added rail service, while Freemont, Ballard and the University district are eagerly awaiting their rail spurs. Sure, the rail will get you to Pike Place Market and down to the waterfront, but it's getting a lot more useful for mundane tasks such as grocery getting as well -- and it's only 75 cents for seniors.
The city's most walkable neighborhoods in Center City, the Old City and along the riverfront near Penn's Landing are pleasant enough, but the combination of easy transit access and building amenities such as markets, shops, bars and restaurant are bringing folks into Fishtown, Northern Liberties and South Philadelphia. Except for the extreme northeast, southwest and northwest corners of the city, about 95% of the city is easily accessible by means other than a car. Transit ridership still has a way to go before it catches up to other cities along the Northeast Corridor, but retirees are joining young newcomers in places such as Manayunk and Kensington for one big reason: Just like in Pittsburgh, all of the public transportation here
is free for seniors
The city can be tough on drivers, but D.C. residents in Dupont Circle, Logan Circle, Downtown, Foggy Bottom, Mount Vernon Square, Columbia Heights or the U Street Corridor have their entire world within walking distance. Thank the Metro's buses and subways, which take 410 million riders off the road a year. Also thank the city's designers, who made it easy for ensuing generations to cluster amenities around that system's stops by making the city's center the focus of all its transit needs.
San Francisco didn't even take cars into account when it was built and hasn't had much use for them since. Cars weren't around when it was incorporated in 1850 or rebuilt following the 1906 earthquake, and protesters didn't see why such a small and transit-heavy city needed freeways running through it during the 1950s. Is it hilly? Yes, but 17 of its neighborhoods still rank among the most walkable in the country. Most of those that aren't are accessible via Bay Area Rapid Transit or the San Francisco Municipal Railway, and the availability of basic needs seems built around that fact. San Francisco takes great pride in the fact that everything its residents need are in the neighborhoods around them. Retirees looking to kick it up a notch by hitting street fairs, gallery openings, shows, Giants games or even tourist spots on the wharf or Telegraph Hill won't have to expend a lot of energy doing so.
Yes, it costs a whole bunch to live here. That's the downside. The upside? You get to live in New York and, if you do it right, you can have that life in the city you always dreamed of but never got around to. You're retired and don't have kids to support anymore or a mortgage to keep up with. You could blow it all and live like Woody Allen or Yoko Ono in some centrally located flat, but it doesn't have to be that onerous. Neighborhoods in Queens and east Brooklyn have all the access to Manhattan you're looking for, without the stratospheric rent. If you want to live up at the tip of Manhattan island in Inwood, that still gives you a Manhattan subway line and views of the Hudson without cutting so far into your nest egg. The point is that the buses and subways will take you around for half price as you collect
s, become a member of the Met (pick one), walk the High Line, hit Chelsea gallery openings, sneak past the lines at MoMA or head to Knicks, Nets, Rangers, Yankees or Mets games with the money you're saving. Sure, you could hole up in a tiny little apartment in Nowheresville, USA, waiting for game time in the activities room, but why dream so small?
Sorry, Boston, but your neighbor across the Charles is just far easier to navigate. The T's buses and Red Line and Green Line trains are a whole lot more pleasant when you don't have to ride them during rush hour and when they cost $1 or less for senior citizens. Plus it's just so lovely when Memorial Drive closes on summer weekends, when Mount Auburn Cemetery is in bloom and when Harvard Square clears out for the winter holiday break and you get all the restaurants to yourself. Go to all the Sox games you'd like and take the train or ferry down to the Cape (or north to the less-appreciated Cape Ann). Cambridge keeps everything within close proximity without dropping you into the center of it.
-- Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore.
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Jason Notte is a reporter for TheStreet. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Esquire.com, Time Out New York, the Boston Herald, the Boston Phoenix, the Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent. He previously served as the political and global affairs editor for Metro U.S., layout editor for Boston Now, assistant news editor for the Herald News of West Paterson, N.J., editor of Go Out! Magazine in Hoboken, N.J., and copy editor and lifestyle editor at the Jersey Journal in Jersey City, N.J.