Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The ultimate anticipation…

Remember the feeling of anticipating your last day of school in June? Each year, when summer approached, your thoughts raced toward the end of the final week - the anticipation of summer vacation. You couldn’t wait! And during each of those summers you experienced the joys of the freedom to do the things you really wanted to do.

Years later you embarked on your career. And, then too, you had your vacations. But as you progressed though your career, the anticipation of your one or two week vacations became a bit less exciting each year. The anticipation became routine, until vacations turned into tedious ritual. You knew you had to go back to work.

But now you approach your 60’s, and experience a new form of anticipation - The ULTIMATE Anticipation. Instead of growing stale, like it did through your career, this anticipation now grows stronger, the way you anticipated summer vacation when you were in school. This new, revived anticipation is for your retirement – the ultimate summer vacation!

You may have some vague musings of what you would like to do with your ultimate anticipation. Or you may have definite plans. Some people want isolation, solitude. They may head out to the mountains or rural area in the west. But most of us want to continue our social interaction, stay active, stay engaged with life, and do things we’ve wanted to do but never made time or had the opportunity to do.

Is there an “ideal” place to bring fulfillment to your anticipation? Is this place in your existing town? In a different town? In one of hundreds of retirement communities? Which one? And why? What should you look for?

I began my search several years ago while in my mid-50’s. I wasn’t sure what I was looking for. I’ve had my share of financial setbacks so I knew I wouldn’t be retiring in one of the many places advertised in “Where To Retire” magazine that require a “million-dollar-plus” nest egg. Maybe a mobile home somewhere in central Florida where my dad and my wife’s dad were quite content. But wait, I really loved the North Carolina mountains. Maybe a small cottage on the edge of a mountain town. Or maybe one of the “Sun Cities” sprinkled around the country. Time passed. The casual reading, the mailings, and the occasional visits to potential retirement places increased. But none of these options were very exciting. What was missing?

Only recently did my past catch up with me: My career as a City Planner. What types of communities did I like best during my 35 years as a planner? Would those qualities energize me today? I worked in Boca Raton, North Lauderdale, and Destin, Florida, as well as St. Louis and several communities in Northern Virginia. Among all these work experiences, my favorite, the one that energized me most, was Coral Springs, near Fort Lauderdale.

Why Coral Springs? What was different? What was so compelling about that place? Back in the early 1970’s it was brand new – rising out of swamp land, literally. But it generated excitement and enthusiasm. Visitors, prospects, residents, builders, entrepreneurs were filled with anticipation. It was a planned “new town.” Its’ roads, water, sewer and drainage systems, its commercial areas and residential subdivisions, its’ parks and school sites were all planned in advance. It had comprehensive and effectively enforced deed restrictions. They preserved the aesthetics of residential and commercial areas. The community had a strict, equitably implemented sign code. It promoted exemplary landscaping and street tree planting programs as next to godliness.

But most important is why this happened. Corals Springs began as a 25 square mile area on the fringes of Broward County, Florida, - owned, planned and developed by a single private company. Few of its successes were possible with fractured land holdings in a typical city with its contentious political processes and competing interests. The most successful City-building is a long-term affair, extending decades. The vision and unity of purpose must be constant, something only a singular controlling entity can sustain.

And guess what kind of people this community attracted. Those who don’t care about the quality of their community? Litterbugs? Street gangs? The something-for-nothing crowd – those who complain about taxes but demand more government services? Hardly! The planned quality of Coral Springs attracted residents and businesses that were head-over-heels about their community. Guess what the highest values of the City government became over the decades? It mirrored its residents and business leaders. The City of Coral Springs became the first state or local government in the nation to receive the coveted Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, a Presidential honor that recognizes U.S. companies for organizational performance excellence. And Coral Springs is indeed a beautiful City.

The funny thing is I could never afford to live there. Not during any one of my 11-years as the City’s Director of Planning in the 70’s and 80’s. But the fond memories remained and resurfaced in a “grand ahaa!” moment - my forth visit to The Villages, Florida in late 2007. The qualities of Coral Springs jumped out at me in The Villages. The planning of the infrastructure, the squeaky clean appearance, the immaculate and vibrant town centers, the abundant recreation facilities – and most of all the pride of its 70,000 residents attracted to those qualities and excitedly brag about the uniqueness of their new home town. My wife and I decided “this is the place”1.

There are dozens of planned retirement communities across the nation. There should be a book written that explores and contrasts the one community that is unique among retirement places: The Villages, Florida. It is unique on many levels: The location, the vision, the planning, the scale, the level of maintenance of facilities, landscaping, and infrastructure, the form of government and professional management. And, most of all the mind-boggling array of opportunities that exist to fulfill the “ultimate anticipation” of retirement dreams brought to life.

1 An early marketing motto of Coral Springs, Florida, by Coral Ridge Properties, the developer of that “new town.”

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