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Friday, September 21, 2007

Stepford or Utopia?

Sometimes watching the Andy Griffith Show, I long to live in a small town where you know your neighbors and every important holiday is celebrated with friends in the town square. But this week, I stared that dream in the face and what I saw was rathering frightening.

Welcome to The Villages, FL, the perfect town. The buildings are perfect. Downtown has lots of shops and restaurants. The town square was decorated in red, white and blue bunting in honor of the presidential candidate visiting. A "weathered" building near the water added to the authentic atmosphere of a quaint, safe town.

Neighborhoods with gleaming sidewalks and manicured lawns and almost identical houses -- each with a screened or columned porch -- completed the picture of utopia.

The surrounding retail and chain restaurants all perfectly fit in with the schemes of either a Spanish mission or a southern lake community.

The cars all glistened -- no dented old cars with bad paint jobs here.

A perfect community for those 55 and older. Though, by law, since they've incorporated, the city has to allow at least 38 percent of its inhabitants to be 50 years and younger. We didn't see any of those people during our visit. Though, the high school was equally as manicured and perfect as the surrounding neighborhoods.

Most of the 55+ folks who live there also drive golf carts to events down town. Some sported chrome wheels and fancy paint jobs. The names of the owners, frequently were part of the paint scheme.

But there's a darker side to the Villages and communities like them; permanent Walt Disney Worlds for old people. But reports like the one issued today about the amount of AIDS meds paid for by Medicare crack the perfect facade. That's right folks. STDs are rampant in Utopia. More alcohol is consumed in The Villages than most college campuses. It's no wonder that at 2 p.m. in the afternoon, a nice silver-haired granny was downing liquor shots at the bar of the restaurant where we ate a late lunch.

The "Bait Shacks" around the town square look quaint. On closer inspection, we found out they were actually bars. Four of them, each at the corner of the town square. I guess when you're 55+, you don't want to walk far for a drink.

This community isn't that unique in Florida, though. The TrumanShow was filmed in a community just like this on the Florida panhandle - Seaside, FL. A real town, not a sound stage.

I definitely don't want to live in the perfect town. Only one member of our group said they would move there. Not me. I want the real world, not an escape route to a la la land.

My travels around Florida are giving me an interesting view of this state. I love the capital city, Tallahassee, with its moss-covered trees and old mansions. Though, whatever possessed Florida to turn its beautiful historic Capitol building into a museum and build an ugly high rise building to represent the state's government eludes common sense.

The country roads between Tampa and Jacksonville with tall pines and rambling country ranches and farms with orchards are Florida. The Everglades are so overwhelming that you don't know where they end. I love it all: Miami with its foreign flair and Orlando with its parks. Then home, of course. Our own rag-tag beach community. Even southeast Florida - Boca Raton - with its "hurry up" attitude jutting against the laid back beaches is interesting. Florida is a quilt with many layers and pieces. I'm sure I'll find more of them.

But The Villages will definitely take honors in being just plain creepy.


Gina said...

I've seen The Villages, and I agree. It's creepy. The whole time I was there, I felt like I was on a movie set. And I wondered just how "perfect" everything really was below the surface. No amount of fantasy, fresh paint, cute architecture or municipal mechanism can truly control nature — or the nature of human beings.

I'm like you, C. I prefer the real world.

Sondra said...

Next time we go to FL I would love to go there! It will feel like being in a movie! lol


Sherrie said...

Gasp! You've dissed DPZ, two of the genuises of "New Urbanism" design when you trash talk Seaside!

Actually, while I've edited a few New Urbanist architects/planners books, I think the "walkable towns" are creepy. It's like you said: Too perfect. And it just puts a whitewash on what is really going on behind closed doors.

I also find it funny that the New Urbanist development here in town can't fill its downtown. Amazingly enough, all the businesses are gravitating back to the real downtown, which has been rehabbed to its orginal look, and is coming back.

The condos downtown add to the walkability, without the fake. :)

DebbieDoesLife said...

So are you living there? I didn't even realize you had moved, Cis!

That place does sound creepy. Granny downing shots! Rampant STD's. I dunno, ask me in another 20 years, maybe I'll want to live there! Ha!

Redneck Diva said...

Creepy indeed! It's just not right. I'll take some good ol' Oklahoma livin' any day! In my small town the dirty laundry is aired quite frequentl! lol