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Goin for golden 

Editorial by Kyle Shaw

As if Vancouver needs any more ego boosting, early this month The Economist magazine’s research arm named it the world’s best place to live. The city has been at the top of the “Liveability Ranking” before, consistently scoring well in terms of stability, healthcare, education, infrastructure, culture and environment to be the planet’s “most attractive destination.” Halifax didn’t make The Economist’s list, which looks at over 130 big cities like Toronto, Geneva, Kuala Lumpur and one of the worst destinations, Algiers. But another magazine is aware. Consumer Reports picked Halifax as one of the six best places for people to retire. This is bad news, made worse by an accident of timing: A Consumer Reports deputy editor unveiled the list on CBS’s Early Show the day after Vancouver’s good news was released.

Becoming a retirement community—even a great retirement community—is not a proper ambition for any self-respecting city. Cities are where things happen. Retirement communities are designed so that nothing happens except bridge, shuffleboard and 4:30 suppers. The extreme example is a gated subdivision, with fences and security guards providing insulation for the property owners. But a town overly devoted to retirees doesn’t need gates to announce the outside world isn’t welcome. Tidy lawns, monotonous architecture and ubiquitous golf courses do the job. And the people who live in the town can simply pass their time as residents, not citizens.

Halifax is already too old. The condo construction boom is fueled by retirees coming from other parts of the province. And our massive student population is facing increasing pressure to behave more like everyone else—quietly and with fewer porch couches—in shared residential neighbourhoods. The city could use ways to make visiting students—not geezers—feel so welcome that they stay after graduation and add life to the place. What was Consumer Reports thinking?

“It’s not meant to be definitive,” says Consumer Reports finance editor Marlys Harris of the list. The magazine was doing a story about retirement, and came across geography prof Warren Bland, author of Retire in Style. Bland offered his predictions of what places will make for choice retirement locations in about 10 years, naming Lexington, Virginia; Thomasville, Georgia; Tallahassee, Florida; Carson City, Nevada; Vernon, BC, and Halifax. “We thought it would be good to amplify it a little,” says Harris in a phone call from her office just outside New York City. The idea of an American picking Canada over sunny Arizona or Florida isn’t outlandish, Harris says, given factors including “the inclement political climate here.”

Although the relevant issue of the magazine isn’t on newsstands yet, the CBS News website article “Perfect Places to Retire” further explains the selection criteria. Apparently college towns and retirement generally go together because there are lots of cheap food and entertainment options—the curse of a fixed income knows no age discrimination—and the town often has a big teaching hospital. Environmental factors are also at work. “One thing these cities have in common is their beautiful surroundings. Carson City is next to Lake Tahoe. Halifax has a large beach and Lexington is near the Blue Ridge Mountains.”

On second thought, this retirement haven thing might be alright. Somebody who’d decide to spend their golden years here based on CBS promising a large beach is a risk-taking dreamer, and the city can always use more of those. Of course we’ll need zoning restrictions to make sure the retirees live among other citizens, limiting the sterile “retirement community” feeling. And the influx of new old blood is bound to cause some distrust at first. But when city council has to bite the bullet and provide sidewalk snow removal across Metro, both young and old will cheer.

Liquid paper: In last week’s DJ Olympics Sure Thing we accidentally forgot the photo credit. Photographer Kelly Clark took the shot.

What’s scarier than Halifax becoming a retirement community? Send ideas to me by email: editor@thecoast.ca.

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