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,



substate said...

Just finished reading the book yesterday on my flight from Chicago to Phoenix. This is a great book. As someone who works for a company that builds so-called "active adult" communities, I'm frankly embarrassed to be contributing to this sort of segregation. Another reason to quit, I suppose!

IVM Traveler said...

As an RN Consultant to retirement communities in Central Maine, I agree with Andrew, that age segregated communities were designed for middle aged retirees, not the frail elderly they will become. I'm finding clients being moved back to Maine from Leisureville style villages because of increasing needs for assistance and for the convenience of family members who are now responsible for them.
As the population ages in place and need increasing services to stay independent, the younger, more active arrivals have little in common with the elder resident who has been there. Makes for an interesting marketing mix for the owners who need to keep the apartments filled.


Barbara said...

As someone seriously looking at The Villages, I thoroughly enjoyed Mr. Blechman's Leisureville. Fortunately, during our visits, we came in contact with some very happy, contented and grounded individuals. At the Town Squares there were young people everywhere we went. It was not unlike most small downtowns. The main difference was that it was safe, lively and stress free.

I appreciate Mr. Blechman's research and the history of the 55 and older communities.

Leisureville is a good read for anyone contemplating a retirement move.

Anonymous said...

I just read your book. So glad you researched The Villages! I have a friend there who will be moving with her husband into the CCRC currently under construction on the grounds. The Villages realized that this option had to be a part of the Village community.

I have worked in a CCRC environment for over 20 year...administratively and in Marketing and Public Relations. It is the later years (80+) when things become difficult. The Villages realized that there needed to be a place for those residents who could no longer care for themselves, and had no family or family that could not take on the required care. Thus the CCRC.

It might be a good idea to write a second book a few years from now:

Thanks for your insights and valuable information. My kids want me to move there, but I'm just not sure at this point...am 70 and still working part time.

D.R. Bartlette said...

I just read this book - an excellent piece of literary journalism. I've always been creeped out by these "Stepford" communities, but until now, didn't fully realize just how fascist they were. Thank you for bringing this phenomenon out into the public eye.