Strike the creaky term "old age"
from your dictionaries. It has no place in the lexicon or
lives of today's 60-plus generation, which is operating under
a motto that harkens back to their 1960s roots: "Hell
no, we won't go!"
Ever the activists, as they battle inevitable
aging, they also are retiring the antiquated concept of retirement
that their parents embraced. Instead, baby boomers are preparing
to lace up their Rollerblades, crank up the iPod and skate
into hip, sophisticated active adult communities (also called
lifestyle communities) that are coming up like flowers around
the country, catering to their every whim.
Bill Parks, the former architecture director
for Del Webb Corporation who now tracks the coming great herd
of retirees on behalf of delighted, bewildered developers,
says if you don't see an active adult community springing
up near you, just wait six months.
"It's amazing," he says. "There
were over 100 started last year and about 50 are scheduled
to open this year, and that's just what's on my radar. There
are so many that don't announce until they open."
Parks says there are more than 1,200 active
adult communities nationwide, with many more in the planning
stages. Although their underlying purpose remains much the
same -- to give empty nesters a place to downsize after the
kids have flown -- their size, location, amenities and ambiance
are unlike anything that has existed before.
Just how big a trend is this for home builders?
Jeff Jenkins, deputy director of the seniors housing council
for the National
Association of Home Builders, says that since 2001, when
the first boomers became age-qualified for 55-plus communities,
the impact has been "staggering."
"According to our figures, people age 55
and over accounted for more than 207,000, or about one-fifth,
of the 1.1 million new-home purchases made in 2003,"
he says. "The active adult market accounted for an estimated
$51 billion in new-home sales in 2003. That's why you're seeing
active adult communities springing up everywhere."
More than semantics separate the Greatest Generation
from the Me Generation. For good or ill, the largest generation
in history has changed the face of everything in its path,
from entertainment to health care, childbirth to investing,
fitness to education. So it should come as no great surprise
that the boomers are about to reinvent the retirement village.
Snowbirds and great herds
In many ways, the World War II generation invented
retirement living; it was, after all, the first generation
that both outlived its work and amassed enough wealth to kick
back and enjoy its golden years. And it chose to do so 1)
in the sunny climates of Arizona, California and Florida,
2) with a pool and golf course handy, and 3) a community center
or country club through which to establish a new social life.
The boomers, however, have something else in
mind, according to Colin Milner, founder and CEO of the International
Council on Active Aging, an active adult advocacy organization
based in Vancouver, British Columbia.
"Boomers have a greater range of life experiences,
and that is going to be reflected in active adult communities,"
he says. "The main difference is in what we have had
access to. When we talk about fitness, our parents didn't
have fitness in their vocabulary; in fact, exercise itself
was a big turnoff. The boomers started the whole exercise
trend, they have had access to that all their lives, so it's
not something that turns them off. Their lifestyles are being
reflected in what developers are building."
Perhaps the biggest difference between active
adult communities and the first generation of retirement villages
is location. Numerous surveys have turned up a surprising
finding: Two out of three boomers want to retire within 100
miles of where they have worked and raised their family.