31 May 2008

Email from Sun Cities Historical Society (#3)

This email is from the president of the Sun Cities Historical Society, which is mentioned in the book. They are working very hard to preserve Sun City's unique history and are doing a great job of it as volunteers. Unlike some of the angry emails that I have received from Villagers, residents of the Sun Cities have more time to reflect on their history, and I've found that has helped them look less defensively at their community.


Andrew, you have written an excellent book! It is easy to read, yet provocative in its insights. I've already encouraged our board members to pick up copies and read "Leisureville," and will recommend it to our community leaders.

I thought of you today when I got an e-mail from our church looking for those 67 and younger to start a "Youth Club." Where else but the Sun Cities!?!

I don't feel that the Boomers are a homogeneous mass. Not all are well off, sipping lattes at Starbucks and relaxing in Jacuzzis. In fact, I suspect many are a small step from bankruptcy, living with maxed out credit cards in order to enjoy the "good life."

We are seeing a turnover in Sun City. There are many younger-looking people on the streets drawn by the value that SC housing represents. I'm sure there will be a sub-set of boomers who have worked in factories, or taught school, or spent their lives in some low-middle income positions who will look forward to the type of affordable retirement that SC represents.

Your observations re SC and SCW avoiding school taxes are valid. While residents seek to avoid paying for a service they do not use, they insist that those in assisted living units in SC or SCW continue to pay rec center fees -- even though they never use them. Ironical in a way.

For your info, my wife and I plan to return to Wisconsin in the next year or two to be closer to family. We have observed how important it is to have an advocate once you enter a nursing home -- or even assisted living. The staff is human, and errors of ommission happen. Having a "watchdog" keeps the staff on their toes, at least as far as the watched-over patient.

I'll be interested in learning what choices you make once you are of retirement age. Maybe you can write another book about your decision-making process -- the alternatives you considered, and the reasons for the choices you make.

I hope I'm still around to read it. In the meantime, I did enjoy
"Leisureville," even though it was painful at times. But I believe you presented the pros and cons of a separatist adult lifestyle fairly, clearly, and in a thought-provoking manner

Congratulations on a job well done!

Ed Allen
Sun Cities Area Historical Society

Reader emails of particular interest (#2)

This email is from the son of one of the former Sumter County commissioners who was defeated by a Villages' backed candidate. At this point, The Villages and its developer, Gary Morse, control the entire county politically, and locals (with families) no longer have much of a voice in their government. Although many locals have lived there for many generations, new electoral policies have stacked the cards against them. Why does this matter? A gated geritopia with nearly 100,000 retirees is likely to have different needs and wants than the rest of county's residents. Clashes are already beginning to happen in regards to school funding, public parks, and many many other issues. There's even talk of moving the entire county seat from the center of the county where it has been for more than a hundred years, to the uppermost northeastern corner of the county where Villages' residents live. I found this email to be particularly poignant. Remember, it was written by a teenager....


I just finished reading your book "Leisureville" and I am thoroughly impressed with how entertaining and engaging the writing is. You put so much effort into researching and actually living the Villages life and it easily shows in the writing.

My name is Jarred Chandler, son of former commissioner Joey Chandler. I am 19 and a sophomore at the University of South Florida. Mr. Roberts was my high school Am. Govt. and Econ. teacher. I have known him for a long time so finally being in his class was a treat. He is an excellent instructor and was the first person I would go to with my problems or when I just needed some advice. Anyway, he emailed a few weeks ago and told me their was a book about my world famous father. Even though he was obviously exaggerating I was interested, so I called him and he told me about your book. I went out that day and bought it. It was so refreshing to hear the story told from someone not under the thumb of the villages. Reading about people I knew and places I had been was really cool and kept me turning the pages quicker and quicker.

I know what you mean about the hilarity of their fake history. I went to eat with some family friends at "up the creek". We get there and a guy who works for us from time to time reads the little history placard they have next to the door and starts laughing and tells us that this is all bullshit and he was working cows on the land not long ago and there was no way that all that stuff about the lake was true. We all realized he was right and had a good laugh. It is pretty amusing to see the lengths they will go to, and the lies they will create, to impress their residents.

The only thing I would change about the book is to have more coverage on the election, which is actually a very compelling story. I remember sitting along the side of the road that fall, waiving signs but ultimately I knew it would all be for nothing. I was very heartbroken, not for my father, but for our community. I was actually glad in a weird way that my dad lost. He now would have more time to spend with us and have a lot less stress on his mind.

But anyway it was a great book and is slowly becoming a hit in our little town. Thank you so much for shedding light on a great injustice that was done to our county, and on a problem that is becoming more and more serious as time passes and as more seniors retires. I hope you keep up the good writing and will be looking out for future publications.

Sincerely Jarred Chandler

** Reader emails of particular interest **

I've decided to post -- with permission -- several interesting emails from Leisureville readers. (I've gotten a good deal of them and endeavor to answer each and every one.) The emails have come from those who agree with the book, disagree with the book, and most interestingly, from those who have stories to share related to the topic of age-segregation. 

My desire to start a national conversation. The growing popularity of age-segregated living is nothing short of a sociological revolution in our living arrangements. The next several posts will consist of emails that I find particularly noteworthy and important to share.

-- Andrew

 This email is from one of my characters in the book, the Chief of Police for Youngtown, AZ. 

I've completed the book and want to let you know how much I enjoyed it.
It made me see a number of things from a different perspective, such as
Sun City's deterioration -- I never thought about Sun City from the
standpoint that the life of the development was finite. Although I know
that the same is true for a great many other developments and
communities, so why should Sun City be different?

Your conclusions are correct. Sun City residents are aberrant thinkers
when compared with the rest of outside society. Although, I suppose if
everyone around you thinks the same, then it's not aberrant, it becomes
the norm.

An example, the latest controversy: In Sun City's oldest section with
6,203 residents the water (fire) flow is inadequate to meet current fire
fighting standards. As a result of Youngtown's connecting to the Sun
City system, about 2,300 Youngtown residents have the same problem.
Arizona American Water wants to upgrade and pass the cost on to
ratepayers. It would improve emergency fire service for 6,203 people in
Sun City and 2,300 in Youngtown.

Yet, in the Sun City paper, there are constant op-ed pieces from the
heads of various Sun City groups that keep claiming Sun City is being
asked to pay for improvements in Youngtown. The truth is, far more
people in Sun City will benefit. The cost for water will increase about
$1.25 per month per residence (in both Youngtown and Sun City). This
will pay for more fire hydrants and larger mains (which were built at
basically whatever pipe diameter that Webb wanted to use in the 60s when
the system was built and before it was sold to Sun City residents'

I had lunch Monday with a Sun City resident, and the Sun City fire
district chief. I asked the Sun Citian why residents were against the
project. He said "Because we are being asked to pay for Youngtown's
problem." When I gave him the facts, he changed he said words to the
effect "I already paid for community improvements where I lived before I
came to Sun City, I don't want to pay again."
The fire chief spoke up
and told him that the project was going to cost $1.25 per resident a
month. The man replied "I'm against increasing the price of any services
in Sun City."

The fire chief then pointed out that some projects were
for the good of society as a whole,
and that before he got to Sun City,
someone else paid for him. The man answered that he knew that; but that
he is on a fixed income and that if the water company gets this rate
increase, they'll ask for another, then another. He said that if it were
to come to a vote, he'd vote no.

I asked him if he paid income taxes and
he said "yes, a small amount." I then asked him when it was that he got
to vote on whether or not the air force dropped a bomb in Iraq and said
that he apparently had no problem paying for that at about $26,000 per
bomb. He said, "That's different, they're over there protecting us." I
said, "So your OK with someone dropping $26,000 bombs on a foreign
country to protect us; but you're not OK with paying $1.25 more per
month to increase the water flow here so the fire department can protect
your property if there is a fire? "We really don't need it" he said. End
of that particular conversation. As I read the final pages of your book
last night, I said to myself, the conversation was a case in point.

I've always thought that the saying "Ye shall know the truth, and the
truth shall set men free" was an over simplification of "truth". When I
hear that phrase, I respond "No. When someone knows the truth, it
doesn't set them free; instead it creates an obligation to do something
about it."

17 May 2008

Welcome to Leisureville USA

Welcome to Leisureville USA, a blog where I hope to continue the national debate about age-segregated housing sparked by my book Leisureville: Adventures in America's Retirement Utopias.

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.

Best Wishes,