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I have lived in The Villages for over 5 years and I'm a Social Psychologist (PhD) and physician (MD). After reading a review of Blechman's book in the Boston Globe and seeing an editorial by him in the Los Angeles Times, I was prepared not to like his book and to write a scathing review.
After reading Leisureville, and personally knowing some of the people he interviewed, I find my opinion of his work to be somewhat mixed. There is much about his book that is well done. And there is much that is poorly done from the standpoint of even handed social science.
Blechman never claims to be a sociologist or psychologist or anything other than an author with a firmly entrenched point of view, viz.: age segregated communities are bad. He not only doesn't like The Villages (pop. c75,000)([...] he doesn't like Sun City either. He also doesn't like the lifestyle in retirement communities. He lets you know this in the first short chapter where he bemoans the loss of his neighbors who are moving to The Villages. By page 9, he asks "How could two bright individuals be drawn to something as seemingly ridiculous as The Villages?"
As you read through the book he tries to make the point that homogeneous communities without a diveristy of age, class, lifestyle, interest, etc. are intrinsically bad. His last chapter is a summary of his position based on his non-scientific observations of The Villages, Sun City, and Youngville. Biased as his outlook is, there is still a lot in the middle that makes his book worth reading.
There are research data which support some of his positions. Homogeneous communities do not support tolerance and understanding. They tend to increase 'groupthink' and insularity. When a group is ideologically homogeneous the positions adopted by its members tend to become more inflexible and more extreme. This leads to less tendency to compromise or debate and more reactionary thinking.
Do we need to worry about the social and political effects of ageism because of age segregated communities? Do religiously segregated communites like Ave Maria or fundamentalist Mormon communities threaten civil liberties? Are gay/lesian communities a threat to life in America? How far do you want to take Blechman's rejection of homogeneous communities.
Some of the things he writes about regarding The Villages are right on the mark. Its daily newspaper is, indeed, a joke. It is so right wing that it presents Ann Coulter as an intellectual and fosters several local columnists who emulate her style.
The governance system using the Community Development Districts and their control by the developer are, in truth, a black spot on the body politic. There is little organized opposition to the status quo outside of the 5000 member Property Owners Association
Much of the rest of Blechman's book is actually pretty accurate. We do go everywhere in our golf carts, we do have wonderful restaurants, over a thousand clubs/interest groups, lots of golf at very reasonable prices ($20-30 per round on championship courses), pools,
dances, entertainment in the villages squares, opera, theater, concerts, recreation centers, good friends, neighborhood parties, etc.
Blechman does spend a bit too much time on sex in The Villages and his sources of information are not particularly representative. Sexually transmitted diseases are reportable and statistics are kept by county health departments. I have not treated an excessive number of STDs and I have not seen health department data suggesting that they are particularly prevalent in retirement communities in general or The Villages in particular. I find Blechman's emphasis on the topic of sexuality to border on pandering.
The author is good at wordcraft. Despite his obvious bias he raises some interesting questions about The Villages and about age segregated communities in general. If you want to know more about The Villages, come for a visit rather than make your mind up based on this book.
We have now lived in The Villages for more than 10 years. Blechman is more wrong than he originally was.
The population is now over 100,000 and 95,000 of them are very happy to be here ( the remainder complain of being too far from grandchildren). There are now 3 town squares, an innovative medical system, a well appointed hospital, lots of theater, music, art and activities. Over 2000 clubs and special interest groups exist to tempt you into an active lifestyle. There are more holes of golf than you will probably ever play and the executive courses are free. The whole place is accessible by your golf cart if you care not to drive. The transition from Developer run to resident run local government has been smooth and seems to be working as planned. My comment above about the 'black spot' is probably no longer applicable. Crime is so low as to be almost non-existent. Grandchildren love to visit to drive around with you in your golf cart and go to Disney and Universal...
Don't let others make up your mind for you; COME, VISIT, and talk to people on the town squares in the evening. Decide for yourself.
The population is now about 110,000; much larger than many towns or cities up north. It is still a truly wonderful place to live. Crime is so low as to be almost non-existent compared to similar sized cites elsewhere. The golf, restaurants, pools, recreation centers, Life Long Learning College, etc. all keep growing apace. The builder is still closing on about 300 houses per month and expects to keep up that pace for the near future. Buyers have an enormous range of choices.
A counterbalance to the developer owned newspaper has sprung up and provides information on life in The Villages that is not covered in detail elsewhere. Check out www.villages-news.com It has info on the good, the bad, and the ugly. Global coverage regarding a recent sex-in-public event on one of the town squares gave us a bit of a black eye in some circles. It turns out that the couple was part of the synchronized sex club and was just practicing... (I hope you realize I'm joking here.)
Regardless of what you see on Inside-Edition or read about The Villages, don't make up your mind without a visit and your own research. When I first visited The Villages, my wife and I toured the Town Square and spoke to residents asking how long they had lived there and if they were happy with the place. I thought, based on the responses, that someone was putting Prozac in the water supply. (kidding again). Check it out for yourself after reading Blechman's book.