The Villages are a retirement ‘paradise’ so why is this a problem?



We learned from the 2020 U.S. Census that the fastest growing metropolitan area in the country is The Villages, a planned retirement community in central Florida. In a demographically changing and urbanizing America, this predominantly white, politically conservative stronghold has weathered the trend as retirees drawn to warm winters, pastel-hued homes, golf carts and pickleball courts flocked to them.

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.

We want to live in diverse and multigenerational communities, stay engaged and contribute to a better future for generations to come.

Florida’s “friendliest hometown”, in the words of realtors, The Villages has hugely popular residential offerings for over 55s and was the subject of the award-winning 2020 film, “Some Kind of Heaven.” Reports say that Disney DIS,
may soon create a small community of similar age in Florida. It’s no surprise that the creative minds behind a children’s ‘fantasy land’ envision the development of a lifestyle for the elderly as their next frontier.

Related: The arguments in favor of moving to a retirement community

Concerns about The Villages retiree community

So what is my worry about The Villages and why are others feeling what I am feeling?

In our Center for the Future of Aging at the Milken Institute, we promoted the benefits of diverse cities and the case for intergenerational living, which are very different from The Villages.

It’s understandable that so many people find developments like The Villages a logical next step in their lives. These places may seem like safe choices in a youth-driven America that stigmatizes aging, regularly sidelines the elderly, and sees aging as defined by addiction and decline. In the past year alone, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted ageist attitudes, like “OK boomer,” “boomer remover,” and similar memes spread across social media.

So why would not do older people want to live in communities where they can feel comfortable and accepted – in places with age restrictions focused on their needs and wants?

From the start, savvy developers recognized the opportunity to provide an antidote to the challenges of aging.

Del Webb of Sun City fame realized that instead of lulling their “golden years” in the Nordic cold, the elderly might be convinced to pull out roots, leave empty nests and to move to communities of like-minded people and to have leisure time. A radio jingle promoting this new model of life sang: “Don’t let retirement get you down! Be happy in Sun City, it is a heavenly city.

Also see: 11 best places to live in Florida

But is a city without the sounds of children and a diversity of races and styles really a paradise ?

A growing number of seniors are saying no, recognizing that living with neighbors of all ages and from all walks of life makes perfect sense. They realize that intergenerational ties are not only valuable to them, but also to their communities and their country.

See: We want a diverse region with a moderate, warm population, a beach, and a culture – so where should we retire?

They recognize that ageism will not be overcome by retreating to age-separated corners, but only by engagement, collaboration and dialogue across age, race and class divisions. They believe there is more to graying than playing.

Villages resident Ed McGinty, a 71-year-old retiree from Philadelphia, made headlines last year with a daily one-man protest against Donald Trump in the Trump retirement community in Florida. McGinty suffered multiple assaults and threats throughout his protest.

AFP / Getty Images

Options for a multigenerational retirement life

Fortunately, options exist and new models are multiplying; a recent New York Times article, “Don’t worry about the intergenerational housing gap,” featured a number of them.

Let me tell you about some remarkable examples.

A growing number of college retiree communities and cohabitation agreements are improving the lives of all residents. At Lasell Village on the campus of Lasell University in Newton, Massachusetts, for example, older residents commit to studying with teenage and 20-year-old students. Arizona State University’s new Mirabella community promotes physical, emotional, spiritual, social and professional well-being, offering what she calls “a retirement experience unlike any other.”

Studies confirm that the intergenerational connections and sense of purpose associated with these types of lifestyles and learning promote health, positive attitudes and well-being. The benefits for the brain and body are increasingly clear.

College towns across America offer benefits to residents of all ages. From big cities like Boston, Madison, Wisconsin and Austin, Texas, to smaller places like Ann Arbor, Michigan, Iowa City, Iowa and Boulder, Colorado, young people and retirees share spaces and learning opportunities.

Intergenerational ties have advantages.

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Beyond campus, the Modern Elder Academy started by Chip Conley (a Next Avenue influencer in aging) is using lessons from his pilot Baja California in Mexico to plan a network of regenerative communities, with the aim of cultivating a goal. and intergenerational ties. The first will be in Santa Fe, NM

What the success of The Villages shows

Opportunities for retirees to employ both experience and empathy are emerging in places such as Bridge Meadows in Portland, Oregon, which provides affordable living conditions for seniors and host families designed to promote interaction, connection and mutual support.

For those committed to a sustainable lifestyle, Eco Village in Ithaca, NY offers a multigenerational platform for engaged action and education. Agrihood in Santa Clara, Calif., Provides mixed-use housing and a working farm, enriching the lives of its older residents through intergenerational gardening activities and access to healthy organic foods and products.

See: America’s “ugliness and division” prompted this couple to retire overseas

It is clear that the inhabitants of the Villages must find meaning and joy in their life. But many of us feel the need for more – sharing a thirst for new ways of learning, working, serving and transforming our later years. We want to live in diverse and multigenerational communities, stay engaged and contribute to a better future for generations to come.

Read: I want to retire to a college town with a hot climate and lower taxes – where should I go?

The census and the success of The Villages make it clear: there is a demand for new living options for older Americans. For those of us who want something different from undiversified, age-restricted places, now is the time for community leaders and business innovators to design, develop, release and scale up. models that allow us to achieve our goals.

Paul Irving, a Next Avenue influencer on aging, is President of the Center for the Future of Aging at the Milken Institute, President of, and Distinguished Fellow in Residence at the Davis School of Gerontology at the University of Southern California .

This article is reproduced with permission from, © 2021 Twin Cities Public Television, Inc. All rights reserved.

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