Tuesday, June 24, 2008


Award-winning journalist Andrew D. Blechman has been a reporter for the Los Angeles Times and the Des Moines Register. His work has also appeared in Smithsonian Magazine, the New York Times, and the International Herald Tribune, among others. His first book, Pigeons: The Fascinating Saga of the World's Most Revered and Reviled Bird, was widely praised in the media and featured on CBS Sunday Morning.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new book, Leisureville—Adventures in America’s Retirement Utopias, and reported the following:
Leisureville is about the rising popularity of age-segregated housing, where one member of the household must be at least 55 or older and no children under 18 are allowed to live as residents, ever.

It’s a stealth phenomenon given that 12 million Americans are expected to live in age-segregated communities in the next decade or so, and that’s a very conservative estimate. I suspect age-segregation will be the default retirement choice for anyone choosing not to age in place in a so-called “traditional age-integrated community” (i.e. the rest of the planet).

In Leisureville, I profile the world’s largest age-segregated retirement community. It’s called The Villages and is located in Florida. It’s nearly twice the size of Manhattan, gated, and will soon be home to 110,000 people. Children are allowed to visit, but their guest passes time out much like international visas. Those who overstay their limited welcome are basically reduced to the status of human contraband.

Page 69 is an apt choice because it located right in the middle of the chapter on the history of age-segregation and how it passed Congress as a little known amendment to the Fair Housing Act. Suffice it to say that the senior and developers’ lobbies were a lot stronger than the young family lobby.

It’s understandable as to why today’s seniors might choose to live in such a community, however it’s important to point out that these communities are actually designed for middle-aged “active adults” who enjoy a childfree environment in which to recreate — The Villages has three dozen golf courses, countless pools and recreation centers, let alone two make-believe downtowns with faux historical markers designed by entertainment specialists as well as golden oldies pumped out of street lamps and fake rocks.

But my real concern here is segregation; it causes people to forget what they have in common. Case in point: the residents of Sun City in Arizona (50 years old and one of the very first age-segregated settlements in human history) defeated 17 school bond measures in 12 years. That’s a pretty clear message. Years later, the generational strife has turned inward: older retirees are fighting bitterly with younger retirees over the possibility of reinvesting in Sun City before it falls apart and turns into a necropolis.

The question we should really be asking ourselves is this: do we as a nation want to promote the proliferation of communities where birth certificates are scrutinized at points of entry? As Sun City—and Biosphere 2 for that matter—point out, nobody can live in a bubble. A complex society demands cooperation.
Read an excerpt from Leisureville, and learn more about book and author at Andrew D. Blechman's website.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue