I’ll admit it here in the first paragraph: I’m a fool for places-rated lists. I pore over them to confirm my biases, to root for my home state and to argue with whatever algorithm and points-system its creators employ.

So naturally, news on Tuesday that the U.S. News & World Report ranking of best places to retire placed the Daytona Beach metropolitan area in third place caught my attention. Only third-best?

Asterisk: When the ranking says “Daytona Beach,” it really means all Volusia and Flagler counties. That’s our metropolitan statistical area as defined by the Office of Management and Budget and used by the Census Bureau. It includes a cluster of places as different as Bunnell and New Smyrna Beach, Pierson and Ormond Beach.


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Still, third place on average in the whole country. It’s the bronze, but we still get a medal. We’re No. 3! We’re No. 3!

We are right behind two other Florida areas, Sarasota and Naples. Places that are more expensive to live in, hotter in the summer, and kind of boring although that latter problem is not easily factored into a metric. We came in one step ahead of Melbourne despite its more happening economy. But hey, this is the places to retire list, not the places to find work list.

a man wearing a suit and tie: Mark Lane Mark Lane

In past lists, Daytona Beach and the area in general had been graded off for its low average income and high crime rate.

The low-income problem is inarguable. Volusia’s median income is $49,494, Flagler’s is $54,514 and both are below Florida’s $55,660. This gets offset somewhat in most ratings by the area’s affordability.  

As far as crime, this area tends to have a high crime rate for an area its size because we have more people walking around here than most areas this size. That comes with a tourism economy where a lot of people show up in waves. But last year was different. 2020 was a pandemic year, so there were fewer visitors. Bars and other public places closed in early summer last year. A lot of residents as well as could-have-been visitors stayed home instead of getting into trouble. Partly as a result, the countywide crime rate dropped 16% from 2019 to 2020. Daytona Beach’s rate dropped 24%. And Flagler County’s dropped 20%, according to Florida Department of Law Enforcement statistics.

A bad special event season plus a pandemic outbreak worked to boost the city’s ratings. It might be a passing statistical bump, but we’ll take it.

Normally my local pride is hurt by what place rankings say about us. This time, I’m concerned that the picture it paints is too glowing. Message: Come on down, old folks!

Being a retirement Mecca has costs

But there are costs when a place becomes known as a retirement center: A lot of newcomers with no particular attachment to the place. A lot of newly arrived retirees who feel their days of supporting schools ended when they left town and who are still fighting the taxes they remember paying back in New York, New Jersey or Connecticut. Florida has never been a high-tax place. It’s a place that has always believed that the next round of growth, the one just around the corner, will pay for things we want now.

The median age here in the Deltona–Daytona Beach–Ormond Beach Metropolitan Statistical Area, the age where half the population is higher and half lower, is 47.8 years, 10% higher than the state as a whole and 25% higher than the nation. We’re not Villages old, but we’re getting there.

And with that comes a certain loss of economic and cultural vibrancy, a rise in political conservativism and less support for education. All things we’re seeing. (And don’t get me started about classic rock playing everywhere. Really people, music didn’t end when you left high school.)

This is why I’m hoping other trends might push the hump of the area’s population-age bell curve back to something a little closer to its natural center. Which is why, although I’m flattered that somebody has figured out that this is a nicer place than people usually give us credit for being, I’d rather not advertise the fact.

There’s already a lot of land clearing machinery at work and the roads in town are filling up. Maybe all of you won’t really like it here. I see Sarasota’s rated as a really nice place.

Mark Lane is a News-Journal columnist. His email is [email protected]

This article originally appeared on The Daytona Beach News-Journal: Mark Lane: Retiring? National list says Daytona is a prime place to be

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