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Not My Place

Ron Wayne

LIKE MANY RETIREES, I’ve thought about moving. My two children are living elsewhere, and I have no other family in the Florida city where I’ve resided for more than 17 years. For two years, I’ve researched buying a condo closer to the ocean or even moving to Mexico, where my modest fixed income would go much further. Perhaps I should return to my hometown up north—something two friends from high school have already done.

One thing I know for sure: I wouldn’t want to live in a retirement community, especially one like The Villages in Central Florida. On the few occasions I’ve visited this sprawling development just 90 minutes south of my current home, I could tell it wasn’t for me. A new documentary available on YouTube confirms my gut reaction.

The Bubble provides an inside look at life in The Villages through numerous interviews with residents—which were conducted despite efforts by the developers’ representatives to prevent them. They likely knew the filmmakers would also examine the development’s negative impact on native residents, whose rural communities have been transformed into endless streets lined with cookie-cutter homes, golf courses and commercial developments.

In some ways, it’s no different from what you see across Florida. The Villages’ developers have created a kind of utopia for retirees who want to lead extremely active lives surrounded by people much like themselves. The documentary shows people ages 55 and older—the community’s designated age group—seemingly living a perfect life of sunshine, golf, dancing and socializing. The streets are spotless, and the lawns are kept green with fumigants and lots of water drained from the Floridan aquifer.

It’s clear the developers have tapped into a large market. The Villages ranked sixth in the nation and first in Florida in new homes built between 2010 and 2020. During that decade, it was the fastest growing metropolitan area in the U.S., ballooning 39% to some 130,000 residents. The demographic is 98% white, with twice as many Republicans as Democrats. The median age in 2018 was 67.4, or 29 years older than the typical American.

It’s great retirees have found a place that encourages them to feel young with a plethora of activities and opportunities to socialize. We all need that in our old age. But such a homogenous place makes it more like a ghetto than a village. The documentary suggests residents don’t want to be around younger people because they don’t want to be reminded that they’re aging. One resident freely speaks of the extensive plastic surgery she’s had on her face.

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The documentary suggests many residents are lifelong transients, with no particular home where they still feel wanted or needed. That struck me as sad, and yet it’s probably true. I’m glad these folks have found a home, however temporary, in what’s billed as “Florida’s Friendliest Hometown.”

But while it may be a great retirement spot for others, it certainly isn’t the place for me. I don’t want to live in an illusion, in a place where ambulances turn off their sirens once they enter the development, so residents won’t be reminded of neighbors ailing and dying. One resident speaks of the deaths all around her.

I’d rather see young people and children every day, even if I don’t know them. I like being around those who are younger, which is easy in the large university town I live in. Teaching as an adjunct and studying for my master’s degree in my 50s inspired me not to relive my youth, but to feel good about the present and the future.

Comments on YouTube about The Bubble are generally positive. Viewers say it provides a balanced perspective on The Villages, as well as a broader picture of ageism and older Americans’ mindset. One commenter wrote: “Really wonderful at showing the humanity of the Villagers. Not my cup of tea, to say the least, but am now more open and sympathetic to different choices that people make in regards to aging.” But another commenter said he now understands why his aunt who lived there described it as “dystopian and creepy.”

Comments on a website for residents of The Villages were less complimentary about the documentary. “It’s just another hit piece about us and our community,” wrote one resident. “Is our community perfect? Of course not, we have our flaws and idiosyncrasies, but I think most will agree, there’s not a better place to retire and enjoy our golden years.”

Ron Wayne spent 26 years working for newspapers in Pennsylvania and Georgia before becoming the editor in the University of Florida’s main news office. During his 10 years working there, he earned his master’s degree in mass communication and taught as an adjunct in the College of Journalism and Communications. Since retiring in 2020, he’s enjoyed a simple life, including reflecting on his experiences on Medium.com. Check out Ron’s earlier articles.

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tnretiree
tnretiree
6 days ago

We retired, sold our Florida home, and built a new home in a +55 neighborhood in a small town in TN. I didn’t want any part of the Villages either, for all the above stated reasons. Like all major life changes, there are good and bad aspects. While we have made some great friends, there are also tight cliques that sniff you over and turn their nose up…reminds me of Jr. High School. And don’t tick off a queen bee…they have absolutely nothing else to do but try to make your life miserable with vicious gossip. If I had known we’d be moving into “The Villages-Lite”, I may have reconsidered and opted for a college town, with some age diversity. I’d take a teenage gang any day over the blue-hair gang around here, LOL. We do plan to get out into the community more and do some volunteering when we aren’t travelling. Getting outside these “golden gates” is key to meeting the locals and exploring all our community has to offer. We have already observed several couples who built a new home and moved out of here and into the community after a few months…lots of work and costs to move a second time, but if the right option were to come up, we are open to moving out, too!

Chazooo
Chazooo
9 days ago

Lots of comments – this article touched a short nerve, apparently! As a Floridian for some 25 years now, I have mostly adapted to the heat/humidity and seldom miss my blue spruces. FL is a diverse melting pot, and hasn’t been “the South” for 50 years or more. We bought a house in an urban middle class development after looking at many, many “55+ communities” that did not really appeal for various reasons. Most Americans are basically nice folks wherever you go and can become friends, but we chose the lower cost of living/lower taxes option with some land, convenient to churches/shopping/medical/transportation, and have no regrets.

James Murray
James Murray
9 days ago

My wife and I have lived full-time in The Villages for eight years.  We are in our mid-seventies, have lived in several states and localities over the years, and traveled extensively throughout the US and the world.  We settled here at this stage in our lives because it checked all of our personal priority “boxes”.  Everyone is different, with different priorities, passions, and values, and we should consider ourselves fortunate that we have a variety of lifestyle options available to us; millions of Americans are not in this position.
No place is perfect; no place is right for everyone.  Numerous factors enter into our choices for where we want to live and what we want to do with our time.
TIME; the one thing we can’t stop or change.  So get on with enjoying each minute doing what gives you the most fulfillment, wherever and whatever it may be, and stop with the criticism and negativity about things that don’t fit your ideal life plan. 

Ronald Wayne
Ronald Wayne
9 days ago
Reply to  James Murray

Thanks for the feedback. It’s great you and your spouse have found the right place to live. As retirees, we have earned the right to enjoy what we like.

IAD
IAD
9 days ago

Interesting perspective. As a resident of the Villages, most of us find these “documentaries” humorous. They need viewers, so they find the most obtuse issue (or create one). It is the fastest growing small cities in the US (Cities That Will Grow the Fastest in the Next Few Decades – Page 9 – 24/7 Wall St. (247wallst.com) ) for a reason.

Anyone that says there are no children or young adults don’t leave their homes or are just parroting a line. If you are a county resident, there are tons of volunteer activities in the school and community that bring one into contact with all ages. Even going to the town squares will have you interacting with employees that are often college age and families either visiting or who live in the neighboring communities. The Villages even has villages for employees and their children, often right next to the 55+ sections (Middleton is the newest section). The key is one has to leave their house and make an effort. If one just wants to watch out the front window, yes, there are no kids riding their bike past their house.

“Turning off the sirens so not to be reminded of death” is another. Its a city, but mostly a housing development. I honestly don’t know of anyone that wants to hear sirens during the day and night. People complain about the noise, there isn’t lots of traffic, the sirens are turned off unless they need to be turned on. Like in the rest of the US, sirens aren’t used for every call but are encouraged when warranted. Yes, there are accidents and death, but thats life in any city or town.

Instead of perpetuating and regurgitating what you hear, come down and see for yourself! They have “Lifestyle visits” where you can participate in most Villages activities and see for yourself. You won’t be able to do somethings associated with the schools, etc, but thats a small thing. If its not for you thats okay! Its not for everyone, but at least you can write about your experience!

Ronald Wayne
Ronald Wayne
9 days ago
Reply to  IAD

Thanks for the feedback and invite. I have visited a good number of times with a couple who seemed to enjoy living there, although the younger partner was still working full time in the area. Went to a dance in a town square. Everyone seemed happy.

Terri's Barefeet
Terri's Barefeet
10 days ago

I’m with you on this. I just left The Villages – literally a few weeks ago, after a 15 month stay in a rental to try it out, so I am a first hand account lol. For me, the pros were: safe, clean, eye pleasing community, easy access to banking, USPS, groceries, some interesting forms of entertainment etc.
The cons for me were many: I threw my hands up when I could no longer stand the unrelenting humidity – literally only a few weeks out of the year were bearable. I found the people to be insular, provincial, narrow minded, extremely gossipy and clique-ish. Not a good place for free or critical thinkers or independents. I was surprised an appalling lack of professionalism and competence with respect to nearby medical, legal and financial professionals. I ended one interview with a local financial advisor when he claimed to be unfamiliar with umbrella insurance. That’s probably enough dumping on the place. I also spent some time checking out other parts of Florida. Some interesting and beautiful places with great entertainment, sports, nature, etc…..but better for a vacation in my view. I am visiting my hometown up north and enjoying the change of scenery – all kinds of scenery. PS/I just received my Mexican permanent residency! Snowbird options 🙂

IAD
IAD
9 days ago

I found the people to be insular, provincial, narrow minded, extremely gossipy and clique-ish. Not a good place for free or critical thinkers or independents. I was surprised an appalling lack of professionalism and competence with respect to nearby medical, legal and financial professionals.”

Wow. You could paint a house with one stroke with that broad brush! Sounds like moving on was good for everyone….

mytimetotravel
mytimetotravel
10 days ago

I have never wanted to move to Florida – too hot, too flat and too over-built. “Retirement community” is a different matter, but they come in assorted flavors, as can be seen from the comments. I anticipate moving to a Continuing Care Retirement Community next year, another variety.

When my rheumatoid arthritis came out of remission in 2017 it became clear to me that at some point I was unlikely to be able to live completely independently, and my house was not suitable for aging in place in any case. The CCRC I chose is walking distance to the center of town and on a bus route, besides offering transport to some events, doctors’ appointments and grocery stores. There are a slew of interest groups and activities on site, and everyone I have met has been friendly. It is a non-profit, the finances look solid and they promise not to throw me out if I run out of money. I can’t wait to move (they need to finish their new building first).

Terri's Barefeet
Terri's Barefeet
10 days ago
Reply to  mytimetotravel

Given the long wait lists, how does one begin to research and find these types of communities? thanks

mytimetotravel
mytimetotravel
10 days ago

I started by reading “Find the Right CCRC for Yourself or a Loved One” by Ruth Alvarez. A bit old but I don’t think things have changed too much. Then, it varies by state, but in North Carolina CCRCs are licensed by the Dept. of Insurance, which has a list on its website, along with required Disclosure Statements. (Note, there are some places which aren’t full CCRCs, they aren’t listed there.)

OldITGuy
OldITGuy
10 days ago
Reply to  mytimetotravel

Smart; sounds like you’ve done your homework and thought this through. I applaud your initiative in looking ahead and taking control. I see too many seniors who put off making any decision until they’re forced to, and then it’s often so late that they’re forced to take whatever’s available due to immediate need.

mytimetotravel
mytimetotravel
10 days ago
Reply to  OldITGuy

Thanks. A four year wait for a one-bedroom unit and a ten year wait for a two bedroom unit is not unusual at non-profits in my area. I was fortunate that my choice decided on an expansion a year after I made a deposit, so I expect to move to a two bedroom unit after a four and a half year wait.

OldITGuy
OldITGuy
10 days ago

I live in a 55+ retirement community in the southwest. I must admit I wasn’t crazy about the idea when my wife suggested it years ago and I shared with her many of the same arguments I read in this article and the comments below. However, after 10 years of living in one I must admit that it’s been way more positive than negative. I’d simply suggest that anyone actually contemplating such a move should try to find a list of pro’s and con’s generated by people actually living in the community they’re considering, or a similar community. I suspect that list will look quite different than a list prepared by people who haven’t actually experienced it firsthand. And for the record, my wife was right 10 years ago as it’s been a great experience. But I do agree that like most things in life, I’m sure it’s not for everyone.

Kenneth Tobin
Kenneth Tobin
10 days ago

Why do you think more than 1,000 people are moving to Florida daily. You can have all you need in life here as well as being a 2 hour plane ride to the northeast. And the cost of living is as well a main driver to go south

Randy Dobkin
Randy Dobkin
10 days ago
Reply to  Kenneth Tobin

Here in Florida, what we lack in taxes we make up for in insurance.

Jonathan Clements
Admin
Jonathan Clements
10 days ago
Reply to  Kenneth Tobin

It’ll be interesting to see what happens to the cost of living in Florida in the years ahead. As more families with school-age children move to the state, and as the state builds out infrastructure to accommodate a burgeoning population, Florida may struggle to maintain its reputation as a low-tax state. Presumably, we’ll also see upward pressure on rents and home prices.

Chazooo
Chazooo
9 days ago

Rents and RE prices have already exploded the past few years, but that hasn’t slowed the migration into FL as yet, but I suspect it will plateau. There hasn’t been a serious hurricane for a long time, but a big one will change the minds of most of those who haven’t experienced “Evacuation”, especially those driving EVs.

mytimetotravel
mytimetotravel
9 days ago
Reply to  Chazooo

“There hasn’t been a serious hurricane for a long time”

What?? I doubt the people in the Fort Myers area would agree with you! Ian was a category 4, deadliest to hit Florida since 1935.

Chazooo
Chazooo
9 days ago
Reply to  mytimetotravel

Andrew in 1992 and Michael in 2018 were Category 5 and very serious in scope and results. Ian was very strong in results but quite limited in scope by comparison. FL is a very large state. Crime stats are meaningless unless you are a victim.

mytimetotravel
mytimetotravel
9 days ago
Reply to  Chazooo

2018 is hardly a “long time” ago.

Ronald Wayne
Ronald Wayne
10 days ago

As long as Orlando’s theme parks and other attractions lure people from around the world, the sales tax might suffice for a long time. They generate billions of dollars. Miami is essentially an international city. Tourism is our strength and weakness.

Terri's Barefeet
Terri's Barefeet
10 days ago

insurance. insurance. insurance – elephant in the room.

mytimetotravel
mytimetotravel
10 days ago

Not to mention the costs of dealing with sea level rise and increasingly powerful hurricanes.

Chazooo
Chazooo
9 days ago
Reply to  mytimetotravel

Not sure there is any”perfect” location on the planet.

James McGlynn CFA RICP®
James McGlynn CFA RICP®
10 days ago

I see there are 200 pickleball courts there. Not ready for a homogeneous community yet.

Andrew Forsythe
Andrew Forsythe
10 days ago

Ron, thanks for an interesting article. I guess The Villages and like places appeal to a certain personality type, but not to us.

Ronald Wayne
Ronald Wayne
10 days ago

thanks

R Quinn
R Quinn
10 days ago

A few years ago while on vacation we drove to the Villages just to see it. After driving around for ten minutes or so we had to leave. It must take a certain personality to like such a place and I sure don’t have it.

It took me eight years after retiring to agree to downsize and move, but in the end we moved 7/10 of a mile into a 55+ condo community. There are nine buildings over many acres with only 12 condos in each. We are not isolated. Next to us there are million dollar homes and nearby affordable housing. In other words we not living in a closed community.

The 55+ plus community offers amenities, and activities if you want them or you can go merrily along on your own which many residents choose to do, A group of 8 of us play golf twice a week, others meet for a card game or pool, etc.

Each building seems to form a mini community as you get to know each other. We help each other, look out for units when someone is away, etc, In fact 50% or more of the residents are in Florida for the winter.

We are lucky that we are about an hour away from our children and grandchildren – which was a requirement when we decided to downsize. We could have moved to our house on Cape Cod and saved $11,000 a year on property taxes alone, but family was more important.

Ron, I would think long and hard about moving unless it’s in the cards to move near one of your children or where you have friends. Do you really want to start over or isolate yourself as you age, especially outside the US?

Ronald Wayne
Ronald Wayne
10 days ago
Reply to  R Quinn

Kids live in huge metro areas, which I don’t like. But I have other family members on both coasts of Florida, so living close to them would be nice.

steveark
steveark
10 days ago

I’m not sure the people unhappy with the Villages are not just people who would be unhappy anywhere because that’s just the way they choose to be. I’m not likely to select a retirement community because I also like age diversity in my life. I’m mentoring 19 year old college engineering students currently while in my late 60’s because they need someone like me in their lives, and I need people like them in mine. But I understand why people pick places like the Villages because loneliness is an epidemic in older people and it is a killer. I’m sure it is much easier to make friends in a retirement community where you have much in common with your neighbors.

R Quinn
R Quinn
10 days ago
Reply to  steveark

Hey, I’m happy where I choose to be. The Villages is huge, houses are close together, people everywhere and it’s hot, hot, hot in the summer.

By the way you can be lonely in a crowd too.

Even though I am in a 55+ plus condo community our daily contacts mostly go far beyond that group.

The villages has everything needed to isolate yourself with people like you and I don’t think that’s good.

There are 138,000 people and 71,000 houses in the Villages. Not my cup of tea.

DrLefty
DrLefty
10 days ago

The Villages wouldn’t be my cup of tea, either. We live in a university town in Northern California and enjoy both the range of ages and the ethnic diversity.

That said, my in-laws are about to move into a large retirement community in SoCal. Not as over-the-top as The Villages, but a sizable infrastructure. They’re in their early 80s. We’re relieved that they’re leaving their two-story house just off a busy street with neighbors they barely talk to for a more safe, supportive environment. They didn’t want to leave their area and move closer to us, so this is a good solution for them and gives us more peace of mind.

James Kerr
James Kerr
10 days ago

I couldn’t agree more, Ron. The Villages, Latitude Marghartaville, and other manufactured senior centers are not for me. For one, I couldn’t tolerate the heat in Florida and I love the seasons too much in the northeast. I’m looking for something more authentic for my retirement years.

M Plate
M Plate
10 days ago

I rode with EMTs when I was a student. In areas that they frequent, such as streets near their office, nursing homes, etc, they turn off the sirens so as not to torture those areas with noise all day long. It has nothing to do with fears of reminding people that they (and their neighbors) have health issues.

Choosing to live in with exclusively older neighbors is often about peace & quiet and sharing a stage of life. It’s not about excluding younger people so we can delude ourselves that we are not young.

I’ll never have cosmetic surgery, but surely others will. It’s an individual choice. Our you suggesting its something nefarious about the development?

John Yeigh
John Yeigh
10 days ago

My in-laws lived in two FL retirement communities and loved it. Several friends have recently made the same move. While we understand the attraction, it’s not for us. We prefer the vibrancy and variety of doing activities which keep us in association with younger folks – like hiking, skiing, jogging 5Ks, and coaching.

Last edited 10 days ago by John Yeigh
Rick Connor
Rick Connor
10 days ago

Ron, thanks for an interesting article and providing a link to the documentary. I have a friend whose parents have place in The Villages. They seem happy, but it does not seem like the place for my wife and me. We have avoided 55+ communities because we like being around children and younger families. But we acknowledge that choice isn’t for everyone.

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