Kidless Communities: The Next Ghetto?

retired manThere seems to be no shortage of communities for the 55 and over cohort, and given the huge demographic shift of boomers moving into retirement over the next 20 years, the number will soon skyrocket. With increased life spans, and not withstanding our current economic fix that will inevitably delay some retirements, itís expected that we may spend one-third of our lives retired. If that doesnít scare you, nothing will. By 2014, there will be 85 million retirees out there (and 40 million of them may be driving golfcarts!).

I have no problem with the basic concept, though Iím not getting in line to join the trend. Personally, I need more diversity. I want to see kids being kids and young parents raising families. I want to know what twenty-somethings are listening to on their iPods and watching on TV.

Leisureville by Andrew Blechman may exaggerate the pitfalls of the over-55 communities, but there can be a dark side to a monocultural environment. Blechman calls it geritopia but beyond all the terrific amenities there may often be a sense of isolation and a penchant for rigidity that may rub baby boomers the wrong way fast. Some of these communities limit the stays of children to no more than 30 days a year. Anecdotes about arbitrary rules abound. Dogs have to be weighed periodically to make sure they do not exceed the thirty-pound limitation. The height of your lawn grass is prescribed. Some communities retiree on golfcarthave their own newspaper and security force Ė both supplied by the developer.

While other countries encourage extended families to stay together, here we put retirees out to pasture in idyllic, albeit isolated splendor. And itís not like we make them go there under the gun. There are plenty of retirees who canít wait to get to the retirement village --- like eternal spring break for geezers. More power to them. Why not live somewhere where thereís less friction and you feel safe?

My answer to that question would be that segregation, even when self-imposed, has the effect of creating alienation and intolerance. Every assisted living facility goes out of its way to promote programs that bring in children and pets. Why? Because every human needs that stimulation to create a happy medium between being overstressed and living in a bubble.

Iím looking for more than a cocoon when my time comes, and I can only hope that as a society we figure out a way to mainstream our retirees. If I can put a bumper sticker on my golf cart it will be the one that says Geezers Just Want to Have Fun.

Jay Harrison is a graphic designer and writer whose work can be seen at DesignConcept. He's written a mystery novel, which therefore makes him a pre-published author.

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