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According to the 2020 U.S. Census, The Villages is the fastest-growing metropolitan area in America. It is a master-planned retirement community located in central Florida. This largely white, conservative, and politically conservative country was able to buck the trend in a changing America. Retirees were attracted by warm winters and pastel-hued homes.
All of us are free to choose where and how we live. New housing solutions are required for the rapidly increasing number of elderly Americans. To be fair, I and many others believe that The Villages is the future of aging.
We desire to live in multigenerational communities that are diverse and inclusive, stay engaged, and make a difference for the future generations.
According to real-estate agents, Florida's friendliest city is The Villages. It features highly-rated 55+ housing options and was featured in the 2020 award-winning film Some Kind of Heaven. It's not surprising that Disney DIS, -2.65% might soon create a lifestyle development for older adults.
Similar: Why you should move to a retirement community
Concerns regarding The Villages retirement community
What is my concern about The Villages? And why are others feeling the same way as me?
Our Center for the Future of Aging at the Milken Institute has promoted the benefits of different cities and the case for Intergenerational Living, which is very different from The Villages.
It's understandable why so many people consider The Villages an ideal next step in their lives. These areas can be considered safe in an America that is youth-focused and stigmatizes aging. It also pushes older adults to their sidelines and views getting older as a matter of dependency and decline. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted ageist attitudes in the last year, with similar memes like OK boomer, boomer removalr, and others spreading across social media.
Why would older adults not want to live in communities that are accepting of their age and focused on their wants and needs?
Developers who saw the potential to offer an antidote for the problems of aging recognized it from the beginning.
Del Webb, the Sun City legend, realized that older adults should not be left to languish in the cold north. Instead, they could choose to plant roots and leave their empty nests to move to communities with similar people who live a life of leisure. This new way of living was promoted by a radio jingle that sang: Don't let retirement get your down Sun City is a paradise town. Be happy!
Also, see 11 top places to live in Florida
Is it possible to live in a place without children's voices and the diversity of cultures and designs?
An increasing number of older adults are saying no to this, realizing that it is just good sense to live with people of all ages and backgrounds. They recognize that intergenerational relationships are valuable not only for themselves but also for their communities as well.
See: We want to retire in a diverse area, with moderate population, warm beaches, and culture.
They know that ageism cannot be defeated by retreating to age-segregated corners. It can only be defeated through engagement, collaboration, and dialogue across class, race, and age lines. They believe there is more to greying than just playing.
Ed McGinty, a 71 year old retired man from Philadelphia, staged a one-man protest last year in The Villages against Donald Trump. McGinty was subject to multiple threats and assaults throughout his protest. AFP/Getty Images
Multigenerational retirement options
There are many options and new models available. A recent New York Times article, "Don't Mind the Gap" in Intergenerational Housing featured quite a few.
Let me share a few examples.
The lives of all residents are being improved by a growing number of university-based retirement communities. Lasell Village, located on the campus at Lasell University, Newton, Mass., is an example of an older resident who agrees to study with students in their 20s and 30s. Arizona State University's Mirabella community promotes spiritual, physical, vocational, and emotional wellness. It offers a unique retirement experience.
Research has shown that these learning and living arrangements promote positive attitudes, well-being, and intergenerational connections. Both brains and bodies reap the benefits in an increasing number of studies.
All ages find benefits in college towns. Larger cities like Boston, Madison, Wis., and Austin, Texas, offer many advantages for residents of all ages. Smaller places such as Ann Arbor, Mich. or Iowa City, Iowa, provide opportunities for young people to learn and share their experiences.
Intergenerational connections have many benefits. This is an example of how it works
The Modern Elder Academy, founded by Chip Conley, a Next Avenue Influencer, is drawing on the lessons from its Baja California Mexico pilot to plan a network for regenerative communities with the goal of creating purpose and intergenerational bonds. Santa Fe, N.M. will host the first one.
The Villages' success is clear
Bridge Meadows, Portland, Ore. offers affordable housing options for seniors and foster families that promote interaction, connection, and mutual support.
Eco Village, Ithaca, N.Y. is a multigenerational platform that encourages sustainable living. Santa Clara's Agrihood, Calif., plans mixed-use housing as well as a farm. It will enrich the lives of older residents by providing them with healthy organic food and fresh produce.
See: America's ugly and divisive nature prompted this couple to move abroad
Residents of The Villages must find meaning and joy. Many of us are hungry for more and a desire to share our lives in new ways. We want to live in multigenerational communities that are diverse and inclusive, stay engaged, and make a difference for the future generations.
Read: Where should I retire to enjoy warm weather and lower taxes?
The success of The Villages and the Census confirm that there is a need for new options for seniors. For those who desire something more than non-diverse, age-restricted places, it is now that community leaders and business innovators can design, develop and spread models that allow us to achieve our goals.
Paul Irving is a Next Avenue Influencer and Aging Chair at the Milken Institute. He also chairs Encore.org. He is also a distinguished scholar in residence at the University of Southern California Davis School of Gerontology.
This article was reprinted with permission from NextAvenue.org, Inc. 2021 Twin Cities Public Television, Inc.
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