Not everyone is charmed. After his retired neighbors traded in their idyllic New England neighborhood for The Villages, writer Andrew Blechman followed.
He turned his monthlong embed as a 30-something at this retirement community into the book “Leisureville: Adventures in a World Without Children.”
“It’s certainly a marvel. In the same way that Disneyland is a marvel, or Las Vegas is a marvel, ” said Blechman, whose book chronicles the gleeful escapades of residents here, where there’s a thriving black market for Viagra and skyrocketing STD rates.
Nevertheless, he came away concerned about what a gated community geared solely to the needs and interests of people over 55 says about America.
“It’s almost impossible to age in place in modern American society, ” Blechman said.
Children move away, old neighborhoods vanish and most communities can’t offer amenities to compete with days full of sun, golf and dancing in the village square.
But, Blechman says, “the more you self-segregate, you forget what you have in common” with people who are still raising young children and working 9-to-5 jobs.
The Villages is a planned development, controlled by a single man — billionaire H. Gary Morse. That leaves a metropolitan area nearly the size of Rochester without any real form of government. Residents have little input into community decisions.
“They traded in the ballot box for a suggestion box,” Blechman said.
That hasn’t slowed the building boom. In 2011, according to the developers’ website, one of every 100 homes sold in America was sold in The Villages. The community sprawls across 40 square miles and parts of three counties in central Florida.
It currently boasts 52,000 homes and 540 holes of golf — soon to increase to 630. New homes are going up at a rate of 300 a month, said Villages spokesman Gary Lester.
The Villages is also in the process of building its first assisted living facility, as age begins to catch up with some residents in a community where the average age is 62 for men and 60 for women. But there’s still no cemetery in The Villages, a community designed to keep the focus squarely on living.
The Villages is a collection of hundreds of smaller “villages” — individual neighborhoods, each with its own fitness and recreation centers, pools, paths and golf courses, radiating out from three large town squares, with their own movie theaters, restaurants, bars, boutique shops and public plazas.
Most residents are just a five-minute golf cart drive from grocery stores, malls and offices clustered just beyond its borders.
Homes in The Villages are tidy houses with manicured lawns and lanais.
Prices range from under $100,000 to well over $1 million, and a $145 monthly “amenity fee” offsets the cost of all those pools and golf courses.
The Villages had a population of 8,000 in 2000 and just over 50,000 in the 2010 census.