Plans for Urban Aging


Just when I figured out I’d prefer to be old in NYC than in the suburbs, I read this article: Broadway actress Elaine Stritch moved to a suburb of Detroit. A pretty shocking decision for such a NYC icon – to leave her longtime life full of Broadway and nightclubs, pretty clearly, to die.  I get it — her family is there. But yikes.

The way I see it, there are worse fates than to be an oldster shuffling across the avenue long after the light has changed. (what’s with that timing, NY?) In the no-longer very distant future, I can envision returning to live in noisy, nasty New York. Of course, as my dear sister reminds me, there is plenty of peace to be had there. I can see myself  in Riverside Park, sitting on a bench overlooking the Hudson River – a mere stone’s throw from the heaving hordes on Broadway. Maybe I’ll even feed the very squirrels I now have no affection for. I might become one of those old ladies I used to worry about.

Perhaps, on a good day, I’d make the hike or take a bus or hop (okay: creep) onto the subway to catch a concert at Lincoln Center or an exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum.  Certainly any of this sounds better than withering away on a couch hidden behind  doors in suburbia. Much better to be around teeming life – the lovely and less so buzz of humanity always on – than in front of a screen all day.

This change in thinking is notable because, although I was born and spent most of my childhood as a city kid, I  always wanted to get away from it. I didn’t like the crowds, the noise, the dirt. I longed for country life with space, woods, a garden.  And I do love all that – it’s my alternate fantasy in fact. But I wonder about my future ability to maintain said garden, house, car, etc.. It all takes money and so much work — work that gets harder to do as the bones grow brittle.

And most importantly, you need to drive. Where I live now there is no neighborhood coffee shop to hobble over to meet friends to discuss politics, art and okay – the grandkids. I have to drive to get anywhere here – and this in a relatively urban suburb. It seems to me, unless your lucky or overlooked, eventually your right to drive will be taken away.  And with that, you lose your power, your independence. Reliant on others to get out into the world, it’s harder to stay interested in it. What’s the point? And from there, it’s all downhill. That’s what I’ve seen.

In America, the elderly get farmed out to ‘places’  with other geezers, maybe to Florida where they have compounds of fellow geezers. In other countries I have lived in like Japan, Italy, former Yugoslav countries, old folks are included in life.  Generations live together in one house or nearby. Evenings on any square in Europe, all ages gather to drink coffee and wine, little kids run around, grandparents watch. On the market streets in Japan you’ll see all ages doing the daily shopping, together. Everyone’s part of the whole. Families, communities. You can still see that in some neighborhoods in NYC.

My daughter sweetly envisions R and I living in the little place she’ll have next to her own big house full of kids. Well, okay.  But meanwhile, there’s this lovely brewing plan that as the years catch up to us, we will move to Manhattan where we can be artsy old folk. And lucky me, unlike Elaine Stritch, that’s exactly where my family is. (It’ll be fun, A!)

6 thoughts on “Plans for Urban Aging”

  1. Great piece….hard questions…truth re. car reliance (must have a walk-to-everything life once we slow down), but the city? Maybe if the city is Rome? Yes!

  2. This is the main reason I moved from my huge suburban home to a small cottage downtown, 7 minutes walk from the station, shops, library etc. Thinking ahead!
    One thing that strikes me about the other countries you’ve mentioned is that they all have very good urban transit systems (and NYC’s isn’t bad) which is how people can get around. In London, public transport is free for the over 62 -year-olds. Something to think about…

  3. Yes! It’s absolutely where we come up short – in transportation that really works. London would be nice too. Or any town Italy… but it comes back to family also. To avoid isolation.

  4. Interesting post. It’s a question I sometimes pose as well. The car thing is definitely a pain…although I absolutely love the scenery and the quietness in the country (and the cows of course 🙂 ) and how it makes one slow down altogether, sometimes I yearn for cultural stuff on the doorstep. Land usually means work…you have to think hard about what you want your main focus to be before you embark on a rural idyll…not so much time for writing!

  5. Beware moving anywhere that’s car dependent. And this means most places in America. One cannot be assured of driving till the day one drops. We are shopping for a more liveable, walkable town in France.

    Over the five short years I’ve been visiting France, the hearts of many towns are dying and the old folks are getting shifted into new “old folks” housing.

    Rather than start a whole new series of rants (car dependence, destruction of family, thehorrible truth of “individualism” etc!) here in your comment zone, know that I agree with your well-thought essay.

    How nice to read good sense and truth. I shall follow your writing. keep it up.


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