I've been rather dumbfounded by the total lack of media coverage of this "stealth" phenomenon, which is really nothing short of a revolutionary shift in our societal living arrangements. Until now, the only press coverage of age-segregated living has been fluff pieces in local newspapers and television news programs that quote a local mayor's excitement about a new housing development that will bring in more tax dollars but won't impact local schools (at least not directly). I'm not sure why there has been so little debate about this radical reorganizing of our society, but at least a debate can now begin ... and none too soon: 12 million Americans are expected to live in age-segregated communities in the next decade or so, and that's a conservative estimate. I strongly suspect that these communities will become the default for retirees who choose not to live in traditional "age-integrated" communities.
I want to make it clear that I don't begrudge those seniors who choose to live in these communities. There are many reasons to do so: they're safe, there is a sense of community which is often hard to find in today's world, they're often affordable, and they're legal. But my thesis is this: they come at a cost. Not only are these communities unsustainable--they age worse than their residents because residents tend not to reinvest in their community's infrastructure--they are also predicated on something that is never a good thing: segregation. For me the proverbial "canary in the coal mine" was Sun City's voting down of 17 school bond measures in 12 years. That's a pretty darn clear message: We don't care about our neighbors, and we care even less about their children.
What worries me even more is that these communities aren't really designed for the elderly; they're designed for middle-aged people at the peak of life (they're called "active adults" for a reason) who simply don't want to live around children. It's true that today's society is less civil than before and school costs seem to perpetually rise. But doesn't secession only aggravate these problems?
Many of the residents of these communities tell me that they are "tired of giving back" and that they "did their share." But I'm not sure what that means, especially given that the generation of Americans now retiring are the healthiest and wealthiest in human history. And that was not an accident; it was given to them. The generations before suffered mightily through two world wars and a great depression to ensure that this generation's life would be a better one.
It's sad that many of our seniors feel the need to secede. The extended family is dead and now many seniors are choosing to live in communities that forbid families. It's an unusual cultural phenomenon and one that begs further investigating. We all play a role in it.
I invite you to join the debate. Please don't be shy about your opinions, but I would urge you to keep your language clean -- this blog is open to all ages.