A Side Trip

I have been keeping busy over these past few days since school let out on May 1st. My mom has dragged me down to Florida. Initially, I got to admit I thought I would hate it down here, but really it’s been a nice break. The big issue for this post is: Have you ever had “work” creep into your vacation? For me, it is an easy matter. I love anthropology. The discipline can be my bread and butter at times. Recently, I wrapped up a course about urban planning and development, taught by Professor James. It’s main themes focus on all things urban, yet suburban also falls into the discussion. As a movement that came out of the advent of the car and a post WWII push to leave the city, suburbia presents a host of questions about urban planning and specifically isolation. If you look at a map of a suburb, the roads are far away from any main veins (streets) and often have curvy roads to discourage random drivers from entering the area. Take this aerial photo provided by ms cwang for example.

Yes, we notice a large vein pass close to the residential block, but note that this pathway does not come into contact with the suburb in question. You would have to enter it, if driving, by taking a number of side streets. Someone carefully lays out all of these plans, I assure these are not random designs by some kid. Each design comes with a specific purpose. A photo or snapshot can tell a lot about an area’s purpose, at least at the time of its inception. James provided me a much better eye for urban development, at least giving me a baseline for questioning, always a good start. My next stop, of course, will be Celebration which a part of a study conducted by Mr. Ross about ten years ago now.  Although I could leave Disney’s crack at New Urbanism to a study in an Anthropology course, nothing can beat the ability to go and see this place first hand.  Walk the streets that researcher walked etc.

I went off to visit some friends that live an hour and fifteen minutes north-west of Orlando, Florida.  We hadn’t seen each other in quite a while, and I figured, since we were in the same area, it was prime time to catch up. I brought my trusty little camera for the ride (provided by DTLT thank you!). Who knows what little random thing you can take a picture of?  I thought nothing of the surrounding area around my friends’ house called the Villages, yet as soon as we turned our little rental car into this place, my newly shaped eye for seeing urban development exploded with excitement. A gated entrance stood just before the car, unmanned yet nevertheless an imposing border line.  I began to take pictures at a furious rate of just about everything–still trying to get a hold of the idea of even taking pictures.  After hanging around my friends’ house (pardon villa) for a while, the couple took my mom, my friend and I around the community for a brief tour.

Some background is required to understand what the Villages are all about. I found out from a long time resident that a man by the name of Harold Schwartz started a small suburb for older individuals called Orange Blossom.  Orange Blossom provided the initial start to this absolutely huge development. He hired on some marketing experts to help further develop and popularize his vision of a planned community. According to an informant, the Villages is the largest entirely family owned development in the country. The entire area contains approximate 75,000 people, primarily above the fifty mark.  The Villages contains many of its own facilities, such as shops, grocery stores, and even a Walmart.  In Urban Theory, through Setha Low’s work, we studied over places such as Celebration Florida (where we will hopefully be going there on Friday) where the main idea is concerned with understanding how gated communities work. The Villages is by and large a gated, although not particularly secure, environment where one can live fairly self-contained and drive around in golf carts or cars.

(Golf Carts line the city streets)

The community actually has a main public roadway that bisects the Villages into two sections each carrying vastly different themes and styles, one being Spanish and the other New England Port. Most significant for me, I found that the Villages is a complex that only allows people older than fifty to life there. Linking this to Gate Communities, I am not used to seeing a fairly active attempt to distinctly label the majority group.  Certainly gated communities tend to be all one homogeneous group, but this is more by the cause of having such high living rates.  Here the Villages stands as an area devoted wholly to the upper fifties+ crowd. With youth and family only allowed at very short intervals, a month at maximum. I came at an interesting time, the community was celebrating Cinco de mayo.  I noted that many of the performers were from the community and even cheerleaders (whom my older friend remarked “probably didn’t make into the high school team!”) did cheers to Spanish music for a pretty packed in audience:  Cheerleaders for Cinco de Mayo.

This place, obviously, is a huge sprawling complex with a lots of clubs and activities for each member.  Many of these members leave during the summer months, which typically one can see a dramatic decrease in population beginning in early to mid May.  I wondered whether any of these people work and what level of disposable income would one have to have in order to stay afloat here.  The level of planning that is involved in the creation of a place like this is unthinkably high.  I have to admit I was impressed, but what does the Villages mean to urban planning?  I have so many unanswered questions about the whole matter.  Yet, all that being said, something interesting is happening with that development.

(update later!)

Tags: , ,

Comments are closed.