Opinion | The Villages in Florida: Shangri-La or Shameful? (2023)


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Readers have strong views about the huge retirement community that offers countless clubs and activities and is largely white and conservative.

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To the Editor:

Re “The Nihilism of the Golden Years,” by Michelle Cottle (Sunday Review, March 6):

Ms. Cottle, your opinion piece about the Villages is one-sided and biased. In your short visit, you saw only the surface of what the Villages can be.

My husband, Steve, and I have been residents here for less than a year. For us the Villages offered a large and active bridge club for him and an engaged and welcoming synagogue community for me. We looked for local theater, restaurants and educational opportunities, all of which abound in the Villages.

The Villages is certainly not the only community to have experienced the political divisiveness of the past few years. It is true that the Villages lacks racial diversity, and is mostly Christian and politically conservative. As in other places we have lived, we find ourselves in a small minority. And yet, we are finding a community within the community where we can feel comfortable.

Many of us baby boomers grew up in a social climate that valued volunteerism and public service. A large proportion of the thousands of clubs and social groups are dedicated to helping the local community. Villagers devote many hours to volunteering in local hospitals, hospice, schools, libraries, food pantries, animal shelters and more. Thousands of Villagers take advantage of continuing education classes, performances and lectures offered by the Enrichment Academy.

People come here for all sorts of reasons, and, as you did for your article, most will find what they are looking for.

Gail Becker
The Villages, Fla.

To the Editor:

I live in Florida, about 230 miles southeast of the Villages and a million miles away in mind-set. The only thing my community has in common with the Villages is that we are an active 55-plus community. No golf cart rallies, no late-night bacchanals. Right now I’m reading in my backyard awaiting the sunset with a tall cool one in my hand.

I have no illusions about the state I now call home, as I tell my friends still living in the Northeast. Our governor is dangerous, never missing an opportunity to be the point person in the culture wars, from his anti-vaccine crusade to the obscenely restrictive abortion law passed by our legislators. And of course, Florida is the gold standard for weird. Tales of “Florida Man” abound, most of them with some degree of truth.

Yet despite this, my wife and I love where we live. Maybe it’s the relatively civilized bubble we live in between Boca Raton and Palm Beach, a small patch of blue in an increasingly red state.

Norman Berkowitz
Boynton Beach, Fla.

To the Editor:

Michelle Cottle writes that Villagers can “maintain a distance from the demographic and cultural changes reshaping the nation and from many of its more intractable problems.” And what is so wrong about that? I’m sure a number of Villagers have for most of their life dealt with urban problems and paid high taxes to help their communities. Forgive them for wanting to enjoy a little peace in their final years.

If Ms. Cottle wants to be consumed by problems such as “crime, inequality, homelessness, climate change, racial strife, the high cost of child care and college,” I won’t stand in her way. But she shouldn’t judge the Villagers for their envious decision to move to Shangri-La.

David Tulanian
Henderson, Nev.

To the Editor:

As an older white person myself, I was ashamed to read the article about the Villages in Central Florida. How is it that so many of us are turning to places like this, a community of old white people zipping about in golf carts and insulated from the world’s problems?

The Villages is located about 50 miles from Sanford, Fla., where Trayvon Martin was killed in a gated enclave. Brenda, quoted at the end of the article, says that the Villages “feels safe,” because “anyone here who doesn’t belong stands out.” Trayvon’s death is a testament to that chilling statement.

Betsy Newman
Columbia, S.C.

To the Editor:

Michelle Cottle’s opinion piece is a good example of an extreme put-down of seniors and, of course, Donald Trump. It is cleverly disguised as a review of life in America’s largest senior community. However, the underlying theme is to highlight these seniors as wrongfully out of touch with the rest of the world.

Many liberals have told me that Mr. Trump has caused everyone to become nasty and disrespectful of one another. I tell them that the fault lies within themselves, not Mr. Trump. A single person or leader doesn’t “make people” display a particular personality or “make them” act a certain way or do anything out of character.

The goal of Trump haters is to keep the hatred going. One of the ways that this is being done is to publish criticisms of whole communities like the Villages. I don’t live in the Villages, but I think that many communities have a preponderance of a certain political slant, and so what?

I wonder if Ms. Cottle ever considered doing a criticism of the divisiveness of people in cities, neighborhoods or communities that overwhelmingly have liberal views? Probably not, since that may not provide an ideal opportunity to inject Trump hatred, as well as degrade an entire group of people as self-absorbed and out of touch.

George Niemann
Dover, Fla.

To the Editor:

I am very familiar with the Villages and rejected moving there 22 years ago for several reasons, including the extreme lack of diversity. Almost everyone came from the Midwest or areas in states such as Pennsylvania and New Hampshire where the population was mostly white and conservative.

This was a simple transfer of life from one white conservative community to another with better weather.

Ron Armillei
Orlando, Fla.

To the Editor:

Rather than hanging out with a small minority of people who spend their days sitting in a bar, Michelle Cottle should have spent her time in the Villages finding out about the thousands of people here who work together raising money for charities. She could have written about the options for intellectual pursuits like the Civil Discourse Club, the Writers League of the Villages and the 1,300-member Villages Genealogical Society.

She did a great disservice to us by positioning the lack of diversity as a reason for people to stay away, rather than mentioning the recent Black History Celebration where Villages residents came together to learn more about the accomplishments of our African American neighbors.

On my block there are very diverse political opinions, but our first priority is to be good neighbors to each other.

Nancy Flanigan Schultz
The Villages, Fla.

To the Editor:

Regarding the article on the Villages, I was so disturbed by the extent of derision and elitist disdain for a group of older citizens who are trying to enjoy life while harming no one. Yes, many are politically conservative and exercise their right to express their views no matter how abhorrent they are to some in the media. Little wonder the country is so divided.

Martha Gros
Emerson, N.J.

To the Editor:

Thank you so much for the entertaining and informative article regarding the Villages.

When I visited the Villages some years back, I changed my will to indicate that if I ever exhibited any characteristics that could be interpreted as a desire for the Villages’ lifestyle, I was to be considered incapable of making rational decisions and enrolled in an assisted care facility, where I would not be allowed to leave voluntarily.

Stuart Reininger
Calabria, Italy


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