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Best Places to Live and Retire NOW

# 1 in USA
CEDAR FALLS IOWA

Planning for Retirement
 

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KATHRYN GAMBLE

Downtown Cedar Falls, Iowa

BEST Places to Live

Cedar Falls, Iowa

Midwest nice in a high-tech town

 

Small-town charm hides a cutting-edge secret in Cedar Falls. Every home and business is connected to fiber broadband. These lightning-fast connections are possible because internet service is provided by community-owned Cedar Falls Utilities. The combination of old and new makes the city an attractive place.

“We have a nice mix of respecting and preserving our historical buildings and remembering our history, but I think we’re also still pretty progressive,” says retiree Kim Manning.

The city is bike-friendly and walkable, with shops and restaurants filling the downtown district. Festivals, farmers markets and activities in local parks take place throughout the year. And the crown jewel is the Sturgis Falls Celebration, a free festival in June that spans four parks, with parades, concerts, stage shows and food vendors.

Cedar Falls is also the home of the University of Northern Iowa, which injects arts, athletics and educational programs into the community. “There’s a vibrant feel with all the young people around because of the university,” says Manning, 63.

Despite development, Cedar Falls has not lost its connection to nature. More than 100 miles of paved, multi-use trails pass through bucolic areas and connect to the bustling downtown. Many are groomed for cross-country skiing or fat-tire biking in winter.

“If a person wants to go for a 4-mile walk, there’s a loop for that,” retiree Bob Manning says. “If they want to go for a 25-mile bike ride, there’s a loop for that. You can design it as you go.” 

Water routes on the Cedar River and local lakes, as well as expanded riverfront access, extend the outdoor options to kayaking, canoeing and water skiing. 

“The community is apple pie and Americana,” says Kris Hansen, CEO of Western Home Communities, which provides continuing care. “It’s a city, but we’ve done a good job of hanging onto the culture of a small town.”

— Kathleen Armentrout

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KATHRYN GAMBLE

Barn Happy on University Ave. All food is made locally, and a great selection of fine arts and crafts are also sold here.

Population

40,713

Median housing costs

$1,238 per month

Median housing cost burden

24.2 percent of income spent on housing

Access to exercise

80 percent live near parks and recreational facilities. (Those who live within a half-mile of a park and within a mile of a recreation facility.)

Vibe

Old meets new

Call it the Great Reassessment. Nearly two years of pandemic living have given Americans so much time to reconsider what makes a house a home and a zip code a neighborhood worth living in.

What many of us have concluded is that our criteria are changing. Amid months of social distancing, we learned that space matters. According to a University of Vermont survey, 59 percent said the pandemic taught them that nature is integral to their well-being. At the same time, our reliance on technology and the internet has surged, and so broadband access has become even more important to daily life. More generally, trends show we want larger and more flexible homes, calmer environments, a palpable sense of community, but also 21st-century infrastructure.

Over the years, AARP The Magazine has regularly reported on great places to live on a modest income. But in our first assessment since the pandemic began, we knew we had to amend the criteria. AARP’s Livable Communities team — which provides support to local leaders to help make cities and towns best-suited for people of all ages — and the AARP Public Policy Institute — which publishes the popular Livability Index used by real estate agents and home shoppers nationwide — worked with our editors to come up with 14 objective points of data by which to assess American communities in this new reality. From them, a set of communities emerged. It was full of surprises: a few big cities you might not expect to be retirement-friendly, and smaller towns that are hardly known outside their region. 

Of course, numbers don’t reveal the intangibles that make communities special. So we gathered input from AARP’s state offices as well as from regional journalists. Ultimately, this process yielded a handful of communities that represent much of what we all look for in a place to call home: a comparatively low cost of living, great access to nature and recreation, relative ease of getting around, quality health care systems, and a strong sense of community. These are draws even if you aren’t nearing retirement; all of the featured communities have strong job markets or are good candidates for remote work. 

“We know that older adults and younger generations want similar things in the places they live,” says Mike Watson, director of AARP Livable Communities.

Consider these a sample of what the good life could be in America, now and far beyond the pandemic. 

To review the entire article and other cities: 

Click This AARP Link

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