In The Villages, Florida, a well-funded developer has created a planned community unprecedented in vision and scope. The Villages has been created to look historic, look quaint, look pristine. With fake historical plaques, fake railroad tracks, ubiquitous golf carts that look like Bentleys and Mini-Coopers and a population engineered to weed out the undesirables (in this case, the young whipper-snappers), The Villages population has exploded, from 8,000 to 80,000 in ten years.
Here are a few snippets from the recent NPR story:
But history means something different in The Villages. The whole place was built in a year or so, Blechman says. But it has made-up history, including a man-made lake, which is supposed to be 100 years old with a lighthouse, and two manufactured downtowns that were themed by entertainment specialists from Universal Studios…
Everything’s owned by the developer,” he says. “The government is owned by the developer. Everything’s privatized – and they’re happy with that. You know, they’ve traded in the ballot box for the corporate suggestion box.
I don’t fault anyone residing in The Villages for wanting an energetic, beautiful space for spending their golden years with friends, and I’m sure that there is much about life at The Villages to commend it. However, this is a sorrowful ode to our longing for community – we are so desperate for community that we will create a plastic version of it if we must, just to get some modicum of the real thing.
Truthfully, I think that many of us have done the same in our churches. We have put together structures and groups and hang out the shingles that say “community.” If we’re honest with ourselves, though, we have quite a facade going, and we’re shriveling up inside. We’re The Truman Show.
There is no way to get the real thing without the mess. You can’t build much of anything genuine overnight, no matter how well-funded or polished or comprehensive your master plan might be. I can’t discover a lifelong friendship without the mess and mingle of odd-hour coffees, shared experiences, boring seasons, weddings and funerals and long stretches where nothing of any consequence is happening – nothing other than living in the middle of another person’s life, and them in mine.
As one resident said, “Golf carts should look like golf carts.” Amen, sister.