Familiar story: suburb that looks like paradise but is not, The Villages edition

The Florida community The Villages has roughly 80,000 residents living northeast of Orlando. Is it paradise or a sinister place?

Photo by Sebastian Voortman on Pexels.com

For the residents, it’s one of the most successful experiments ever undertaken in creating a community from scratch…

But critics say there’s something not quite right about The Villages, a sprawling suburb an hour’s drive north of Orlando in Florida…

She likened The Villages to Jim Carrey film The Truman Show about a flawless but ultimately fake town.

The filmmaker has now produced a documentary about the world of The Villages called The Bubble which has its Australian premiere at this month’s Sydney Antenna documentary film festival

Days for its residents are crammed with exhausting rounds of golf, cardio drumming, belly dancing and cheerleading lessons, even synchronised golf cart displays. And day drinking – lots and lots of day drinking…

The company that runs The Villages were none too keen on Ms Blankenbyl and her film crew’s presence.

On one hand, this is a familiar suburban story told for decades: the suburbs present themselves as the place for happy and successful family life. They aim to be green, quiet, and friendly. But, are they really? When a crime is committed, this might be a crack in the facade. Or, family life is not what it seems. Or, the community is built on the basis of exclusion and who is not welcome and/or present. There are plenty of real-life examples of this plus numerous films, novels, and stories that explore these themes.

On the other hand, The Villages appears to have some unique features that might set it apart from typical suburban experiences. It is a 55+ community which changes the entire social structure. The American suburbs broadly are built around protecting children and providing them room to thrive and succeed. It is in Florida so there is warmth and sun in levels that many suburbs cannot match. It is relatively new with a limited history and set of traditions and practices plus a particular architectural and natural approach that still looks new.

Is it a bubble? Many middle to upper-class suburbs might be accused of this. Is it different than many suburbs? Just by its population composition, yes. I look forward to seeing this documentary and thinking about it more.

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