The Revolution Comes to Rossmoor 

As the Vietnam War generation invades senior communities, an old generation gap rears its ugly head.

Page 5 of 7

Thirty years after Vietnam, Doubet had managed to piss off his parents' generation all over again.


The Bay Area's history of social protest has given its inhabitants a distorted view of what baby boomers are really like. We may think of them as conscience-stricken idealists, but most are more interested in doing well than doing good. According to "Reinventing Aging: Baby Boomers and Civic Engagement," a 2004 study by the Harvard School of Public Health, the boomers broke with their parents' volunteerism and withdrew into themselves. "By every measure of engagement one can think of, they do less," the authors wrote. "They vote less, read newspapers less, are less apt to join churches or civic organizations."

This didn't happen by accident, the study's authors add. The World War II generation lived through national traumas that instilled a sense of collective fate -- almost everyone knew someone in the front lines or on a bread line. Among white Americans (and Rossmoor is indeed an overwhelmingly white community), these "unifying experiences" were reinforced by both racial segregation and suburban migration that blended European ethnicities into a monotonously white culture. The dark side to this uniformity was a stultifying pressure to conform, and intolerance for different ideas.

The boomers demolished such groupthink, empowered women, and built a more diverse, exhilarating country. But their world, fragmented by race, immigrant experience, and class, lacked the social cohesion that drives the volunteer impulse. If their parents are citizens, the boomers are consumers who define themselves through lifestyles more than politics, ethnicities, or neighborhoods. Retirement industry leaders expect that the boomers will impose these lifestyles on their senior communities. "The one thing you're going to find with baby boomers is you're going to find a generation with a lot of choices," says Debbie Pate-Newberry. "When they move in, they're going to want and even demand the same kind of consideration. Whereas right now we have a lot of elderly women who were at home with whatever we offered, in the next twenty years the generation of Vietnam War protesters and free love are going to move in and say, 'This is what I want.'"

As senior VP for strategic planning at American Baptist Homes of the West, Kay Kallander spends most of her time worrying what the boomers will demand from her homes. First on her to-do list, she says, is to demolish the cafeterias. "Dining currently in most retirement communities consists of a large formal dining room where residents come and have dinner together," she says. "They have a communal dining experience, which has served seniors well in the past. I see the baby boomers wanting a very different dining experience."

The boomers, Kallander predicts, will demand an unprecedented array of food choices -- comfort food will be out, arugula and Belgian endive in. And the boomers will customize their spiritual needs as well: Rather than traditional chapels, Kallander says, her homes will build interfaith meditation centers -- ashrams are coming to a Baptist retirement center near you. A concierge may even be on standby to buy symphony tickets or pick up dry cleaning. And because the boomers have fetishized the concept of wellness, a host of fitness centers, personal trainers, and peer support groups will be installed.

Some developers have already begun tailoring their communities to these lifestyles. The Redwoods in Mill Valley, for example, has long branded itself as a bohemian retirement center, drawing old Mendo hippies and Marin County New Age acolytes to its grounds. In Brentwood, developer Blackhawk-Nunn is building Vineyards at Marsh Creek, an 1,100-home active senior community catering to the Napa Valley set. Instead of a golf course as the primary motif, Blackhawk president Steve Beinke is planting grapevines along the hills, and renowned vintner Kent Rosenblum has agreed to leave Alameda and build a new winery as the centerpiece of the new boomer paradise. "The over-55 group is expanding every day," Beinke explains. "It's an expanding segment of the market that is different from the buyer of a generation ago."

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