Some years ago my husband and I made a hiking tour along Glyndwr’s Way in the Cambrian mountains in Wales. In the Mid Wales Inn in Pant Y Dwr we met a couple of around 70 years old. The couple moved from Birmingham to this small village in a remote, idyllic rural area after their retirement: a typical example of retirement migration. We told them that we live in Amsterdam for more than 30 years, that we like to make hiking tours in remote rural areas, but love Amsterdam and couldn’t think of moving to another place. The man remarked: “Oh, yes, we loved to live in the city and before retirement we couldn’t imagine that we would leave the city and move to Pant Y Dwr. However, Birmingham is a city for young people and we felt more and more out of place.”
Cities have always been attractive for young people. Young people come to the city for higher education or to find a job or just to experience new things. They like to meet other young people, they like the busy life in the streets and they like the entertainment in the city. Cities are full of ‘youth places’, in the words of Lyn Lofland, public spaces that are privatized by means of informal codes, places where older people feel ‘out of place’.
Young people are over represented in cities, while older people are over represented in rural areas. This demographic pattern is caused by selective migration. The ageing of the population in rural areas is not so much the result of the migration of older people to these areas, but of the out-migration of young people to the city. Retirement migration to the rural areas is modest compared with the outmigration of young people to the cities.
In the last few years we see a growth of the 60+ population in the inner city of Amsterdam. This does not mean that large numbers of older people move to the inner city. The main reason is that people who came to live in the inner city when they were in their thirties stay in the inner city now they are 60 or 70 years old. The housing crisis might explain part of this trend, but life style factors seem to play a role as well. The urban addicts love the urban atmosphere and cultural life, although they complain about the noise of café terraces, tourists and the growing number of festivals. They might be successful in creating ‘places for retired people’ in the future.
A year before my retirement I cannot think of living in another place than Amsterdam. Does it mean that I become part of a new trend of ‘ageing cities – cities for the aged’ or is it just a few years before I move to a nice country house in an idyllic village? Who knows?
Joos Droogleever Fortuijn is associate professor and former Chair of the Department of Geography, Planning and International Development Studies of the University of Amsterdam. She is vice-president of the International Geographical Union. She published on urban geography, rural geography, gender and ageing. The main topics in her publications relate to the gendered aspects of activity involvement and networks of families with children and older women and men from an urban-rural and European comparative perspective. She teaches Qualitative Methods in the bachelor Human Geography and Planning, and Human Geography: Theory and Social Implications in the master Human Geography.