By Silvia Ascarelli
I’m almost 60, and my wife and I are looking to buy a townhouse or condo unit in which to retire (minimal maintenance!). We’d like to find a lakefront place in a city where it doesn’t usually get below freezing, has an urban feel with walkability to stores and restaurants, a university/college, good hospitals, museums, theaters and live music venues. Ideally, it would have a liberal mind-set with a sense of community. We’ve always thought Burlington, Vt., would be ideal — if it were just 700 miles further south.
Right now we are living in Washington, D.C., which could also be great, but gets colder than we’d like during the winter months and has a large transient population that comes and goes with political administrations or military tours of duty. When we sell our house of 30 years, we should have about $1 million to spend on housing (thank you, real estate boom of the early aughts!).
What do you think?
A warm-weather lakefront university town with an urban feel is a tall order. But either a home facing a lake or the college town with an urban feel? Doable.
Now, if you’re willing to live with a view of a river instead of a lake, you have far more options. Knoxville and Memphis, if Tennessee appeals, for example. If you want the lake but are willing to drive into the city for urban amenities, you could start with the many lake communities outside Charlotte, particularly Davidson, N.C., which is home to Davidson College. ( I’ve suggested all of these in other articles .)
If a small (manmade) lake is acceptable, pick your favorite cities and look in newer neighborhoods. You can also screen for “waterfront” in online listings, such as those on Realtor.com (which, like MarketWatch, is owned by News Corp).
A few tips from Jeff Speck , a city planner who advocates for more walkable cities and whose books include “ Walkable City: How downtown can save America, one step at a time ”: Cities built before the Great Depression generally provide the walkability you want. But we all know that they, too, have expanded since World War II, and the newer sections have lost some of that walkability. So the neighborhood is even more important than the city.
Use WalkScore numbers to help gauge walkability. WalkScore, owned by Redfin, calculates just how walkable a neighborhood or community is, though of course you always want to verify its findings.
If you are looking at newer neighborhoods, you may want to look for “new urbanism” developments . This is a philosophy of designing walkable neighborhoods, with housing and shopping in close proximity.
And there is this radical thought: downsize in D.C., which you seem to like aside from winters, and use January and February to escape the cold and explore the world. Let the condo association deal with snow shoveling. Washington’s WalkScore of 76 is hard to beat. Indeed, Miami is the only warmer big city that does, with a WalkScore of 78.
If your heart is set on somewhere warmer than D.C., the following are a few suggestions to get you started.
Urban, multicultural, walkable, water, college (Tulane University, notably). Lake Pontchartrain if the Mississippi River isn’t your thing. Music galore. Theater, too , including touring Broadway shows. More than 135 festivals every year, headlined of course by Mardi Gras. Foodie heaven. Museums — the National World War II Museum ranks first on Trip Advisor, and opening in 2021 is the Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience . Historic homes and neighborhoods. Medical care? University Medical Center–New Orleans is a Level 1 trauma center.
Need I say more?
New Orleans, with about 390,000 residents, has an overall WalkScore of 59, or the same as Burlington, Vt.; the only community in Louisiana that rates better is Gretna, on the west bank of the Mississippi and just east and across the river from uptown New Orleans, with 64. Nearly 18,000 people live there.
Yes, it gets humid. Extreme summer humidity is the tradeoff for no snow (though it’s a touch less humid than Miami). Yes, there is the risk of hurricanes, as is the case in Miami.