Are Childfree Communities Havens?
Increasing numbers of people in developed countries are opting out of parenthood - most studies estimate between 20 and 25 percent of people twenty years today will choose to not have children of their own, with 5 percent of these choosing to adopt instead. As more adults grow into old age without children with grandchildren, trend-seeking real estate developers are offering childfree housing alternatives.
Some of these age-restricted retirement communities also come with highly restrictive covenants regulating noise, outdoor activities, visiting children, pets, and landscaping. Considering that communities such as The Villages in Orlando, Florida are growing and increasingly popular with Baby Boomers, it seems many people are willing to embrace lifestyle restrictions to live away from a world filled with kids.
My friend and I recently went to check out a new apartment community with age-restrictive covenants. She currently lives in all-adult community but finds that most of her neighbors are thirty years older she is. She claims she is sick of the frequent "cemetery and hospital" conversations. She still wants to live in a complex that restricts kids but is hoping the new one, being an arts community, will have a more joyous outlook on life and a younger resident population.
This community looks lovely at first glance - shared artist studio spaces, gardens, and open spaces. The complex is very large and divided into two sections, kid-free and kid-friendly. There are wide, open fields separating the two. We looked at both complexes, mirror reflections of one another, and talked with the resident manager. The kid-friendly side is open to families with children of any age with up to three kids per family. The kid-free side is open to residents of age 45 and up with no kids.
Restrictive leases in the kid-free section warn tenants that no grandkids, or any children under the age of 18, can visit more than one weekend per month and never during the week. Tenants are restricted to having only one small dog or cat. "Quiet time" is enforced between 10:00 pm until 10:00 am.
My friend is someone who enjoys a good, loud argument any time of the day or night, doesn't sleep regular hours, and likes her music. She became concerned at the nature and amount of restrictions that come along with the ban on kids. Also, she doesn't want to live in a divided community, especially on a side where tenants might be viewed as unfriendly "old codgers." She fears forced separation of parents and people without kids may lead to false and unnecessary tensions.
For several months, Author Andrew D. Blechman immersed himself in The Villages, the huge self-contained, age-restricted retirement community in Florida. He summarizes his experiences in his book Leisureville: Adventures in a World Without Kids. Blechman found graying adults desperately seeking a sense of community and largely feeling marginalized by the "outside world."
In The Villages, Blechman found idyllic and luxurious surroundings although he felt the landscape was "Disneyesque" and artificial. Ironically, he found adults behaving like children, finding freedom to play free of criticism and judgment from younger people. He didn't find the peace and quiet one might expect from a childfree community. Instead, he found a distinctly party-like atmosphere, with people apathetic and removed from politics and happenings outside the walls of The Villages.
I didn't get such a negative impression of the age-restricted community I visited with my friend. The place has distinct potential. Still, multiple pages of highly restrictive rules put me off. The regulations result in a communal life dictated by a real estate developer. I also feel that if I lived there I might eventually become a hermit - lulled into a rural life of isolation because it was ultimately easier than dealing with my neighbor's noisy kids or with any people having a lifestyle significantly different than my own.
My friend is still mulling over her options and is considering a move to the artistic age-restricted community. In my opinion, if I choose to isolate myself from the "real world" by living in a community dictating similarity in all things I'll become a weaker person for retreating from the world.
Understandably, age-restricted communities are appealing to people feeling marginalized by their childfree/childless lifestyle or by old age. But, in spite of the attractions of living in a sympathetic all-adult community, I know I would come to resent feeling segregated and marginalized. I enjoy living in a busy city with much diversity. In a diverse community, it doesn't matter if I have kids or not. I fit in. Most people living here "fit in" simply because there is no one best position to fit. The Villages, at its worst, seems to reflect the xenophobic nature of the suburban neighborhood in which I grew up.
Sometimes, when neighborhood kids are splashing in their swimming pool screaming "Marco Polo" into the night I may again think with favor of living in a no-kid community. Other nights, the voices resonate, rising and falling in the soft breeze, reminding me of my own childhood evenings of playing ball and calling to friends in the night. The sounds bring back a warm feeling accompanied by fond memories. I don't think I want to isolate myself from such feelings.
What do you think? Would you ever consider moving to a kid-free community? Share your thoughts, ideas and concerns on our Married No Kids discussion forum:
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