Tuesday, December 5

Why Rome, Italy, and The Villages, FL, Are Similar, And Why It Matters

Ah, Rome. I was there back in 1999, and it was a treasured three days. The architecture, the art, the history, and the awful smell of air pollution. And what city in the United States reminds me the most of Rome? It's The Villages, Florida.

I have to admit that The Villages have their (or is it its?) own art, architecture, and fake history. That's all cool with me. Buildings in village downtowns that make you feel like you're in a small town that's been there over a century. Maybe one of the new village centers will take on the feel of a European downtown, and I think it's kind of a neato idea for a retirement community. People who are on spring break for the rest of their lives are able to live near downtowns that remind them of Ohio or Michigan without the snow removal. Activities, entertainment, and fun, fun, fun. I am sure there's also some sort of way these vibrant older Americans contribute to the improvement of society, too, like volunteering at schools or knitting blankets for those in need. Maybe it's more about replacing divots and power washing driveways, but I won't get into it in this article.

It wasn't really the architecture or the sprawling, gated, suburban blocks that reminded me of Rome. It was the smell. The smell of raw fuel combustion. Rome, in fact, has started banning cars in town or on certain days of the week, and it's even banned scooters some days. To me, it was the scooters more than the cars that caused the feeling that the Eternal City had become the Polluted City. In fact, when people asked me what Rome was like, I always added that it was in ruins--dirty and smelly.

So why am I comparing The Villages to Rome? It's the golf carts. These things are little travelling pollution machines, and they are everywhere in The Villages. Just like in Rome, where the preferred method of getting around is riding on scooters in between cars and often on sidewalks, golf carts are the preferred way to navigate the 100+ miles of paths in The Villages. Bike or walk these paths at your own risk.

Even though most golf carts use four-stroke gasoline engines, which are more efficient than the two-stroke engines used in the past, these machines are not required to use catalytic converters or other pollution control devices. And since these are all open-air vehicles, that means your ride includes the following:
carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, hydrocarbons, and particulate matter (soot and metals less than one-tenth the diameter of a human hair that can penetrate deep into the lungs). Source
Yummy. While the pollutants in The Villages probably isn't killing anyone any faster than the greasy burgers at local restaurants, they do take away from the ambiance of this Utopia for the aged. Honestly, the noise pollution is annoying but not a deal-breaker, and the chemicals are invisible, so it's just the smell that bothered me when I was there. Whenever I rode in a golf cart travelling near other golf carts, I felt like I needed to get out as soon as I could in order to get some water and take a walk. Maybe that's a health benefit.

So, how does all this affect any of us here in Jacksonville? Maybe you have a burning desire to live in The Villages, and this will encourage you to make sure the whole golf cart thing is for you. But it might be even right here in Jax, since golf cart communities are popping up in this area, too.

The new Nocatee subdivision (apparently all-electric) is one I can totally get behind (but not afford). EV golf cart communities might be a great idea, as long the multi-use paths encourage walking and bikes, and this one seems to do just that (based on some photos).

If other new planned community planners are lazy, or just hate the environment (and some developers do), then future new communities in the area might be a bit like a Roman holiday.

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