I received a surprising amount of feedback, both public and private, on my last post discussing our decision to switch Florida coasts (east to west). It would seem this is a very interesting topic for people considering relocating to Florida.
When we originally decided to move to Florida, I was not particularly interested in the demographics of our area. I assumed that because we were moving into a gated community in a town that is full of gated communities, we would experience all of the privileges that come with being relatively wealthy – low crime, an educated population, etc. I learned that is a terrible assumption to make in Florida. Much like how subtropical regions have micro-climates in gardening, Florida has a lot of social micro-climates. You have to pay attention to them.
My number one concern had been proximity to recreation, and we choose well in that respect. We bought a house on the ocean, with places to kayak, cycle, and hike all nearby. The only problem is there is not a community to do any of these things with, because we are surrounded by retirees, for whom an “active lifestyle” means tournament croquet or pickleball.
Demographics have now become our number one criterion for choosing a new place. I am not going to tell you all retirees are loathsome to be around, because that is not true. Particularly through gardening, I have made quite a few friendly acquaintances here. But being in a town that is MOSTLY retirees is absolute hell. If you are a young family, you will not have many opportunities to make true friends, and even worse, there are hardly any kids for your kids to play with.
Roughly half of our town is senior citizens. And beyond that, they are senior citizens who have relocated from a very narrow slice of our country (the northeast). A surprising number of them moved in the same social circles before they moved down here. Most of the town would fit in a specific matrix of Census data, down to the neighborhoods within NYC people are coming from. I have never lived in a more demographically homogeneous place in my life, and I never will choose to again.
The retirees are the most active people in local government here, partly because they have the time, and partly because they want to be governed by people exactly like themselves. They stack councils and boards. They even stack the school board, although they have zero personal interest in the day-to-day activities of the schools. The old people here would have been fine if the schools never reopened, which is why it was important that the state took a hard stance on the issue. I was thanking my lucky stars every day reading the news that we already had a lifestyle that supported homeschooling.
This is a more significant feature of the community than I would have thought. Much like how having really old people with really short time horizons has created an enormous amount of dysfunction at the federal level (let’s crash the economy to “protect” senior citizens, let’s put trillions on the country’s credit card…. we’ll be long gone before the financial reckoning), it creates a lot of dysfunction at the local level. There’s a lot of “that’s not my problem” happening in political discourse here and a lot of “but muh fixed income.”
The retirees do not want to invest in basic infrastructure or parks. The retirees fight all new commercial development. Their idea of acceptable commercial development – I am not kidding – is a Wawa gas station so they can get their beloved cold cuts. They block literally everything else. Things that ordinary people would associate with economic prosperity they associate with inconvenience and a higher cost of living. A local realtor said that a business wanting to relocate here is looking at a two-year approval process. Thanks to the reputation, many have stopped trying.
I have watched how these decisions make it difficult for the families that do live here to get by. There aren’t many jobs close by that do not involve wiping an old person’s ass or cleaning their house, so many people have no sense of social mobility or improvement. Most of the people who live outside of the gated communities are poor and uneducated and trapped. The despair in some of those areas is off the charts. During the economic crash inspired by the pandemic fearmongering, police were responding to several mental health calls every shift. For a relatively small population, that’s a pretty big deal.
I also underestimated how serious a problem it would be living among people who have nothing but time on their hands. Retirees here have created blogs where they do nothing but publish gossip about people they don’t like (by name). If you want to see more manufactured drama than a Real Housewives episode, attend an HOA meeting. You will listen to some 80-year-old woman psychoanalyze her neighbor’s flowerpots and wonder how she has no heirs to prevent this from being what her golden years are about. They have no interest in maintaining public spaces. They just want to make trouble for their neighbors. They have literally nothing better to do.
You cannot expect to raise a child in this environment. In fact, many of these retirees are openly hostile to children. One neighbor here with a six-year-old caught an elderly man standing in her hedge, because he wanted to take a picture of her child’s toys in their backyard to report to the HOA. She had to attend an HOA meeting to talk about her kid’s toys.
I would absolutely caution any young family looking at relocating to Florida to take demographics seriously, especially if you are of the digital nomad persuasion. It probably would not occur to you to care about this versus the lifestyle things you don’t have elsewhere (the beach, wetlands, boating). So long as you are not living in the interior of Florida, every town has those things in some measure. But it can become a major quality-of-life issue who your neighbors are. For me, it has become a dealbreaker.
It is also not true that this is what “all of Florida” has become. These folks have clear preferences for certain places because that homogeneity is a big deal for them. The west coast of Florida is mostly people from the South and Midwest, and the median age is much younger than the east coast. There is so much more for kids to do in those cities too. Water parks, children’s museums, children’s theaters, sports that involve actually breaking a sweat. If you look at the places that are the fastest growing in Florida, it’s all on the west coast. I’m not sure that is being driven by relocation so much as the median age of the people there. They aren’t watching a large portion of their population croak every year.