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The Washington Scene

A Good Choice for Many

July 06, 1986|JOHN BETZ WILLMANN | Special to The Times

WASHINGTON — Some of my best friends live in an all-senior environment. And some of them don't.

After six-plus years in a community populated only by adults, I'd hardly disagree with views on adult-only living as detailed in a recent Los Angeles Times story by Ray Kovitz of Mission Viejo. He covered the pros and the cons, interviewing "real" people and academics with apparently special expertise.

Only Robert Fulton of the University of Minnesota ruffled my graying feathers. Fulton sees "the retirement city movement" as another strategy of society to cope with death." That's simply far wide of the mark.

Society did not create adult communities; builders and developers--folks like Ross Cortese and Del Webb being among the pioneers--developed housing segregated in terms of the age of occupants. People over 50 choose to buy or rent--nobody forces them.

All of the adult community residents I know--and they number into the hundreds--made their own decisions. Nobody--not even the ubiquitous "society" as suggested by academic Fulton "isolated those most likely to die."

Mortality isn't restricted to adult communities, brother Fulton.

While an attempt will be made to avoid the platitudes of life in an adult community, some basic principles demand enunciation. First and pre-eminent, everyone--and that's 100%, with no exceptions--who chooses an adult community does so with a central interest in both residential and personal security.

Adult community residents like being able to take walks after dark without wondering if someone sinister is lurking in a shadow. Some senior adults like to be able to leave their homes unlocked by day. Anytime they leave home they like having a better than average chance that their house will not be violated in terms of any forced entry.

Incidentally, retired or semi-retired or non-retired folks living in adult communities tend to know their neighbors better, without sacrificing personal privacy. Adult neighbors take in the mail and newspapers of people who are away. And there's also an informal neighborhood watch over houses whose owners are off and gone. Senior folks are travel prone.

"Snow-birding" owners who winter in Florida or Arizona take special security precautions. They have someone "look in" occasionally and have a time-regulated light on during the evenings. But there's more to adult-only community living than just being or feeling secure from vandals and burglars.

So let's talk age segregation. Why live among people with whom you have age category in common? I would dislike having to apologize for mentioning World War II more than the Korean conflict or the fighting in Vietnam.

When I'm playing golf, it makes me feel good that my partner or opponent is using a longer iron than I do to get to a green. Some of them use shorter irons too for a comparable shot.

A similar age-level is evident on the tennis court and in the pool--although there are some slashing over-50 tennis players and some multi-lap swimmers who keep up the pace for 15 to 30 minutes. Thank heavens, they are few.

One dividend of life in an adult community is the tranquility. Our 30-year-old daughter often comments favorably when she visits. But some might mention that it's "too quiet."

That's one of the reasons we like to entertain family--and many of us do--on holidays. They come and they play and tend to tire us a bit. When they leave we heave a sigh, clean up and go to bed early.

Adults generally take a lot of walks these days and it's nice to have grandchildren to lope along on occasion. The walking cadre gets a lot of medical motivation from physicians who prescribe 30 minutes of brisk walking at least four or five days a week. If you've recovered from a heart attack or bypass surgery, you're usually under orders to walk 30 minutes every day.

Our dog-owning adults also have their daily pedestrian ritual to perform. Pets are generally favored by older/senior persons and the affection for a dog or cat is obvious.

But some pet owners fail to keep their dogs on leash while walking and a few others permit their cats to rove. In a community with a high rate of bird seed dispensing, prowling cats are less welcome than eve pesky squirrels which raid bird feeders at the drop of a few seeds.

Because of commonality of age group, residents of adult-only communities seem to be friendlier than are adult neighbors in suburban areas. Since we've all moved here from somewhere else and because we seem to want to know other folks with common interests (be they gardening, golfing or goofing off), we're more open to making new friends.

We also have more time and more opportunities. New residents depend on those already on board to provide information about churches, shopping, medical services and restaurants.

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