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Provo tops nation as best large metro area for 'successful aging'

Published July 31, 2012 11:46 pm

'Successful aging' • SLC 6th in U.S. in ranking of 78 factors affecting seniors' quality of life.
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A new index says that the best large metro areas in the nation for "successful aging" include many of the usual suspects: New York, Boston and Washington, D.C. But at tip top of the list, unexpectedly, is Provo — the metro area with the lowest percentage of senior citizens nationally.

Also, Salt Lake City is No. 6 on the list, making Utah — home of the nation's lowest median age because of its many children — the only state to have two metro areas in the Top 10 in rankings released Tuesday by the Milken Institute, a California-based think tank that says it helps business, philanthropy and policy leaders with ideas to create prosperity.

"Provo is an excellent location for seniors who are relocating or hoping to age in place, with safety, security, high community engagement, quality health care, a healthy lifestyle, and opportunities for second careers and entrepreneurship," the new index says.

It adds, "The presence of Brigham Young University, one of the largest private universities in the U.S., and a pro-business environment make Provo the No. 1 city on our list. It also boasts a low incidence of chronic disease, thanks to healthy lifestyles and a focus on wellness."

Provo Mayor John Curtis says that honor is a bit unusual, coming on the heels of another study that recently proclaimed Provo as the "youngest" among the nation's larger cities. "So we mentally have a paradigm that this is a place for youth and kids. But it's nice to have validation that we also have a great place to live for the grandparents of those kids."

Curtis adds, "We have a saying down here that visitors consider Provo to be their home. It's just a comfortable place. It's a place people like to be. The quality of life, the recreational opportunities and the educational opportunities are very attractive."

The index looked at 78 individual factors, grouped into eight main areas, that authors say most affect seniors' quality of life. They range from health care to crime rates, weather, economic and job conditions, housing and transportation. Milken said a vast majority of seniors want to age in place, so it chose measurements it feels reflects their needs.

The index praised Provo's healthy lifestyle, including "the fewest fast-food outlets per capita, so unhealthy choices are less available" — and low rates for smoking and diabetes. It adds that three of the seven medical centers there are magnet hospitals.

But the index lists a few areas where Provo may need some work. It said Provo "has the highest unemployment rate for those 65 and older of the 100 largest cities. Provo-Orem is an expensive place to live."

Meanwhile, Salt Lake City finished in a tie for No. 6 on the list with Des Moines, Iowa.

"Salt Lake City has a strong economy with solid financial infrastructure and a well-educated population," said the index. "It's a perfect place for someone looking to engage in a second career or start a business, given the atmosphere and ready access to education and retraining. However, safety is a big concern."

It also said, "The cost of living is steep."

Of note, the Ogden-Clearfield metro area finished No. 50 among the nation's 100 largest metro areas.

Paul Irving, senior managing director and chief operating officer of the Milken Institute, said the goal of the index is to promote best practices in how communities serve aging Americans.

"We hope the findings spark national discussion and, at the local level, generate virtuous competition among cities to galvanize improvement in the social structures that serve seniors," he said.

ldavidson@sltrib.com

Best large metro areas for "successful aging"

1. Provo, Utah

2. Madison, Wis.

3. Omaha, Neb.

4. Boston

5. New York

6. Salt Lake City (tie)

6. Des Moines, Iowa (tie)

8. Toledo, Ohio

9. Washington, D.C.

10. Pittsburgh

Source: Milken Institute index of "Best Cities for Successful Aging."