Are Niche Retirement Communities the Future for Retirees?
November 16, 2016 | Enjoying Retirement
When Tom Simstad and his wife, Marla, moved to southeastern New Mexico in 2004, their goal was to pursue a passion he’d had since he was a young boy: astronomy. Atop the Sacramento Mountains, where the air is clear, the nights are dark and the view to the heavens is unobstructed, the couple bought 120 acres of land.
“I was awestruck on my first visit,” said Marla Simstad. “I could see my shadow on the ground solely by the light of the Milky Way.”
The couple’s vision was to develop a community of like-minded people who were passionate about astronomy and who were committed to wanting to live in a dark-sky, mountain-top community.
Today, at their New Mexico Skies Astronomy Enclave, about two-thirds of the residents are retirees. A few are semi-professional astronomers, but most came to the community as beginners—a mix of retired business people, government employees and military lifers—who had little expertise but lots of enthusiasm.
“We learn from each other. We share knowledge, ideas and companionship,” said Tom Simstad.
Niche communities like this, which cater largely to retirees, are popping up all over the country. Much like the “original” niche communities of the past—golf course communities in Florida and Arizona—today’s niche communities are being developed around hobbies, passions and lifestyles.
- Artists: The Burbank Senior Artist Colony in California caters to creative retirees, with an art studio on the grounds and live performances in its theater.
- Aviators: At the Spruce Creek Fly In community, a residential park built around an old navy airfield near Daytona Beach, you can taxi up to your own driveway.
- Dog lovers: Cypress Lakes in Lakeland, Florida, has a dog park on site and hosts events specifically for canine companions, such as an annual Halloween Pet Costume Party.
- Equestrians: The Ridge at Chukker Creek, in Aiken, South Carolina, features accommodations for horses and allows residents to build their own stalls and explore trails on horseback.
- Gardeners: Retirees can tend to personal gardens and individual pea patches at the Village Green Retirement Campus in Federal Way, Oregon.
- LGBT seniors: Fountaingrove Lodge is a continuing-care retirement community in the heart of California wine country catering to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered seniors.
- Lifelong learners: University-based retirement communities, such as Holy Cross Village at Notre Dame and Kendal at Hanover, offer retirees the opportunity to attend campus events, concerts and arts programs, as well as sit in on classes.
What’s the draw of surrounding yourself with like-minded people in a niche retirement community? “There’s a sense of camaraderie,” said Simstad of his astronomy community. “We try to get together once a week for a community dinner, to play cards and to share ideas. Plus, there are opportunities to learn and grow. The person who’s never seen a telescope—but who truly has the passion—can go right down the street to meet up with a guy who’s an expert. Some of our neighbors have already moved on from taking pretty pictures of the night sky to working with professional astronomers or gathering data for doctoral students.”
The benefits of staying mentally challenged, socially engaged and actively involved have long been documented. According to the National Institute on Aging, seniors with an active lifestyle have longer life spans, are happier and less depressed, may improve their cognitive abilities and are less likely to develop diseases like dementia..
“You hear about people who retire and a few years later they start to decline because there’s nothing for them to be passionate about, no meaningful experiences like they had when they were working,” said Simstad. “That’s why it was important for us to be in a community where we’re challenged by others who share our passion and where everyone has something to do that’s interesting and worthwhile.”