My parents bought a home for their retirement a few years ago in Central Florida in what used to be “cow country” and citrus groves, but is now a city called The Villages. It’s a senior living community where you must be over 55 years old to be a resident. It’s also one of the fastest growing communities in the country. We visited over Christmas again and every time we visit I feel like the place needs an explainer because the concept is so unique.
That same uniqueness seems to land The Villages in the news constantly. Stories about it effortlessly combine several popular recurring news topics, particularly: Seniors or Baby Boomers, Florida [man], and Republicans. It’s about as demographically diverse as you’d expect from an upscale suburban development in Central Florida, but that may be expected since it represents the era from which its residents are drawn.
Other than that, visit there and it’s much more normal than it sounds in the news. People are friendly and community-oriented and are always curious where you’re from, particularly if you appear to be a younger visitor like us. At its core it’s a nicely manicured Disney-esque suburban development with some New Urbanist elements central to its design philosophy, particularly mixed use paths, roundabouts, and town centers.
The mixed use paths are used by bicyclists, joggers, but more often than not by The Village’s cutest ambassadors, its golf carts. Homes in The Villages are often even built with a golf cart garage door, as nearly every home has one. Many add custom decals of sports team logos. The more adventurous “pimp” their carts to look like hot rods, pickup trucks, sports cars, or even a helicopter.
The Villages’ roundabouts are both a traffic control device and an aesthetic choice. With no stoplights, its main roads are free-flowing, green, and unspoiled by hanging wires or bright lights. Most first-time visitors have some trouble adjusting to the roundabouts, as they require drivers to slow down and yield, yet they are placed on otherwise wide and obstruction-free parkways that appear made for fast driving.
The town centers are the center of the community’s cultural life. Each cluster of neighborhoods has one, they are small mini-downtowns with supermarkets, stores, restaurants, and other amenities placed closely together to resemble a Main Street. Each night, amphitheaters host live music and events and the residents arrive, mostly in golf carts, to dance, drink, and socialize. These clusters make The Villages mostly self-sufficient, with all your typical daily needs located within a short jaunt in the golf cart.
Not only are the golf carts a conversation starter and mobility device for use into old age, they are for playing golf. One of the main selling points is the 40 nine-hole golf courses to which residents have free access. When not in use they double as beautiful landscaping.
Probably the most admirable element of The Villages is the way in which its design encourages continued physical activity in retirement. Each neighborhood has a local pool and rec center, while larger rec centers with tennis, pickleball, shuffleboard, bocce, and horseshoes are placed throughout the development. It’s like the Olympics of leisure sports!
Here are some photos from our last visit to The Villages: