The Villages, a master-planned retirement community in central Florida, is the fastest-growing metropolitan area in the U.S., we learned from the 2020 Census. In a demographically changing and urbanizing America, this predominantly white, politically conservative stronghold bucked the trend as retirees lured by warm winters and pastel-hued homes surrounded by golf carts and pickleball courts, flocked in.
We are all free to choose how and where we want to live, of course, and new housing solutions for the rapidly growing population of older Americans are needed. But, to be honest, if communities like the Villages represent the future of aging, please count me, and many of us, out.
Florida’s “friendliest hometown,” in the words of real-estate agents, the Villages features extremely popular 55-and-older residential offerings and was the subject of the award-winning 2020 film, “ Some Kind of Heaven .” Reports indicate that Disney /zigman2/quotes/203410047/composite DIS -0.37% may soon create a similar age-restricted community in Florida. It is not surprising that the creative minds behind a “fantasyland” for kids might be eyeing a lifestyle development for older adults as its next frontier.
Concerns about this retirement community
So, what’s my concern about the Villages, and why do others feel as I do?
At our Center for the Future of Aging at the Milken Institute, we have promoted the benefits of diverse cities and the case for intergenerational living, which are very different from the Villages.
From the archives (July 2020): Trump deletes tweet of video showing supporter yelling ‘white power’ after Republican lawmaker complains
From the archives (October 2020): A senior warning sign for Trump: ‘Go Biden’ cry at Villages
It is understandable that so many people in their sixth, seventh and eighth decades find Villages-type developments a logical next step for their lives. These places can seem safe choices in a youth-focused America that stigmatizes aging, regularly pushes older adults to the sidelines and sees getting older as defined by dependency and decline. In the past year alone, the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted ageist attitudes, as “OK, boomer,” “boomer remover” and similar memes spread across social media.
So why wouldn’t older adults want to live in communities where they can feel comfortable and accepted — in age-restricted places focused on their needs and wants?
From the beginning, shrewd developers recognized the opportunity to provide an antidote to the challenges of aging.
Del Webb of Sun City fame recognized that, rather than rocking away their “golden years” in the northern cold, older adults could be convinced to pull up roots, leave empty nests and move to communities of similar people and lives of leisure. A radio jingle promoting this new model of living sang out: “Don’t let retirement get you down! Be happy in Sun City, it’s a paradise town.”
Also see: 11 best places to live in Florida
But is a town without the sounds of children and a diversity of races and styles really a paradise?
A growing number of older adults say no, recognizing that living with neighbors of all ages and from all walks of life just makes sense. They realize that intergenerational connections are not just valuable for them but for their communities and country.
They recognize that ageism will not be defeated by a retreat to age-segregated corners, but only by engagement, collaboration and dialogue across age, race and class divides. They believe that there is more to graying than playing.