Giving up democracy: My trip to a weird privatized town
I took a bit of a break to hang out in Florida last week. Don’t be jealous; it wasn’t all that warm. We woke up one morning to 0 degrees Celsius and a high of 10.
But we had fun.
This week, the little one is happy to be back at preschool, I’m not as happy to be back at work, the man made eggplant parmesan and the dog got a haircut.
There, you’re up to speed.
So while in Florida I encountered something interesting called The Villages…
The Villages, where we stayed, is the fastest growing town in the US according to Forbes. In the 2000 census there were 8,333 residents and last year there were over 90,000. Hundreds of homes are sold each month.
It’s a master-planned and gated 55+ community (people under 18 can visit but not reside) in the middle of nowhere. It covers more than 14 square kilometres and boasts 39 golf courses, more than 50 recreation centres of varying sizes, 10 churches, three movie theatres, hotels, hundreds of restaurants and stores, a polo stadium, a college, a hospital, an elementary and high school, a fire department, a large daily newspaper, a radio station, a television station and literally thousands of clubs. The community will even soon offer its own health insurance plan.
Plus, you can get everywhere in a golf cart as there are are hundreds of kilometres of golf cart roads.
But it’s weird…
Almost everything in The Villages is owned by one guy, including the bank that provides the mortgages. Instead of a municipal government, there are 12 Community Development Districts that he pretty much controls.
More than 98 percent of the residents are white and most are Republican.
On a funnier note…There are three downtown areas with shops and restaurants. Each has a town square with nightly entertainment and weekly drink specials. There’s a train station, restaurants that overlook the locks and sunken boats in the lake. There are little placards everywhere that talk about the town’s history.
But it’s all fake.
There is no train, the locks don’t actually do anything and the sunken ships are decor. These “downtowns” were themed by Universal Studio designers.
So it’s essentially like living in a theme park…Which to some might sound like a great way to retire.
In fact, we had a great time in The Villages. My daughter loved the golf carts, feeding the birds by the water and dancing in the square.
The place is insanely clean and has a very low crime rate. Even the school is said to be one of the best. Getting around in a golf cart is definitely cheaper and more eco-friendly, and the emphasis on physical recreation is good.
But…I’m not sure if it’s all brilliant, bizarre or bad.
It wasn’t designed with walkability in mind, all the fancy and new amenities seem a bit excessive, and I didn’t see too many non-chain dining and shopping options. The lack of diversity is almost creepy and what do the folks outside the gates think?
And the idea of giving up some democracy is certainly unsettling…
Actual gated communities are a rarity in Canada, so this was fascinating to me. I haven’t really formed a solid opinion but I’ve been reading everything I can find about the place.
Thoughts? If something like this existed in Canada and was designed for families, would you live there?
Billionaire Morse Behind Curtain at Villages (Bloomberg.com)
Tricked-Out Golf Carts Swarm Florida Communities (Wired.com)
Twilight in the Sunshine State: Florida’s Vision of Boomer-Land (Huffingtonpost.com)