Boomers leave generation's imprint on the U.S. landscape

Tue Sep 29, 2015 10:53am EDT
 
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By Barbara Liston

THE VILLAGES, Florida, (Reuters) - U.S. baby boomers have been on the planet for nearly 70 years, long enough to reshape almost every aspect of American life. Rock culture, consumerism and political activism are part of their legacy.

So too are the lasting changes they've made to the landscape.

The modern American suburb was carved out of the unspoiled countryside around established cities to serve as the boomer nursery. As many boomers remained there to raise their own families, suburbs sprawled outward exponentially, plowing under the forests, farmland and natural habitats and covering the land with asphalt and lawn turf.

Now in their retirement years, boomers are putting their final stamp on the landscape even further out of town in age-restricted communities epitomized by The Villages, a massive master-planned retirement development in Florida.

At 34 square miles (88 square kilometers) and still expanding, The Villages is already bigger than Manhattan and approaching the size of central Paris, which is 40 square miles.

Though the expansive tract housing might look and feel like home to suburban retirees, a bird’s eye view shows something else. The Villages is a self-contained exurb, a housing island sprung like an exotic fruit from rural central Florida, untethered to a city or anything else that came before it.

The Villages took root in the 1960s, far from Florida’s famous sandy beaches, in remote cow pastures and watermelon fields in rolling Lake County. Like other land speculators of the time, Michigan businessman Harold Schwartz and a former partner doubled their money by selling home lots sight-unseen to northerners dazzled by the dream of a retirement paradise.

After the federal government banned mail-order land sales, the two were left holding land and began to slowly develop a trailer park they called Orange Blossom Gardens. By the late 1980s, the Gardens had more than 2,000 mobile homes.   Continued...

 
People play golf at the world's largest retirement community The Villages in Central Florida June 18, 2015. Green carpets of golf are threaded throughout the community with about 600 holes over 45 courses, where residents play for free.   REUTERS/Carlo Allegri