Sitting at my desk on a wintry morning in Pittsburgh, PA, I could look out and see five inches of newly fallen snow. It was beautiful, but does it bring to mind a place people would seek out for their retirement years?
That may be a stretch, but that’s the good word revealed in a resource book aimed at Baby Boomers and seniors who are contemplating the future. Pittsburgh is listed as one of the top places to retire, beating out seeming paradises like Sarasota, FL, Tucson, AZ and San Luis Obispo, CA.
Warren Bland,* author of “Retire in Style: 60 Outstanding Places Across the USA and Canada,” writes that “Pittsburgh has a lot of appeal.”
If you live here, you already know that. Positives include a low crime rate, beautiful tree-covered hills, friendly people and a sense of community, Primanti Brothers’ mile-high sandwiches and the World Champion Pittsburgh Steelers. I could go on, but these aren’t things people consider when you talk about the Steel City to those who live in other parts of the country. Unfortunately, our town still has the reputation of being only slightly less smoky than Hell’s Kitchen.
That’s why Bland, who didn’t even consider the Burgh in the first edition of his book (2001), came for a visit. And what he found impressed him enough to rank Pittsburgh above the previously mentioned sunny, WARM towns, in terms of transportation, retail services, health care, culture, education and recreation.
Still, it’s a hard concept to swallow until you take into account what may be Pittsburgh’s strongest selling point: The city’s low cost of living, a supremely attractive concept to those who are retiring, which could very well woo them away from other engaging towns.
For example, according to Sperling’s Best Places, the average cost of a home in Pittsburgh is $94,260; in San Luis Obispo, $252,670. That’s a serious consideration when thinking about retiring, especially on a fixed income.
Shelly Thompson who lived in San Luis Obispo -- or simply SLO to those who love it – for 15 years agrees with Bland’s findings about the importance of the cost of living when making a decision on where to retire. SLO is an intriguing paradise that offers scenic beauty, cultural and educational opportunities, she says, and will always hold a place in her heart. It’s a delightful place to visit, but unless you’re financially well-off, the city pulls up short in affordability, according to Shelly.
After she graduated from college, Shelly, who now makes her home in Bozeman, MT, says, “I soon learned that living in San Luis Obispo ‘comfortably’ was going to cost much more than I had bargained on. And the value of property has continued to climb to ridiculous heights.
“I think the Central Coast of California is a fabulous place to raise a family or retire, but I have watched it continue to grow and suffer growing pains and urban problems like traffic.”
Like Pittsburgh, SLO has also been ranked high on some “Great Places” lists but the slant is more on its beauty and quaintness. Pittsburgh’s appeal may lie in other areas – the comparable ease with which you can get around; maintaining an active lifestyle in a safe, friendly community; local in-place services for seniors as they grow older and want to remain in their own homes. No one would argue that Pittsburgh wouldn’t benefit from a shot of adrenalin into its economy, but things seem to be improving in that area.
And instead of looking for locales with high paying jobs to support a young family, retirees may be more interested in flexible service or retail jobs to supplement their income, and Pittsburgh definitely has its share of those.
Still undecided? One more bit of information to consider: Pittsburgh has more than ten Starbucks coffee houses, SLO about four.
* Bland is a geography professor at California State University, Northridge. His book was published in January, 2005, by Next Decade Inc and is available at local bookstores and over the Internet. To see a checklist of points to consider when shopping for a place to retire, visit http://www.timescommunity.com/site/tab1.cfm?newsid=13984010&BRD=2553&PAG=461&dept_id=535407&rfi=6.
By Teresa K. Flatley