When I was two years old, I went on my first airplane: Toronto to Fort Lauderdale. I was visiting my grandparents in their brand-new condo in Century Village East (CVE), an age-restricted community in Deerfield Beach, Florida. With a suitcase filled with pencil crayons, plush toys, and Polly Pockets (the original three P’s), I swiftly arrived in the Sunshine State. Although I remember absolutely nothing about this trip, I feel very lucky to have been back to visit more than a dozen times. For 20 years of my life, I have been a semi-regular visitor to the senior living community, becoming well acquainted with the unique culture and many subtle charms. Today as I board my flight to once again return to Florida, I can feel that something about this trip is different. Rather than just spending quality time with my grandparents and soaking in the sun, I am going as a researcher. In this super-saturated, older adult specific environment, I will be observing traditional play interactions with the built environment specifically looking at the pool, path, and pickleball courts (the new three P’s)!
A wonderful perk of this research is having the unwavering and ultra-enthusiastic support of my grandparents. Since I told them about this project, they have been collecting information all about CVE. Upon arrival, I was greeted with hugs and pamphlets. I feel very lucky to already be well acquainted with the area and have the best built-in tour guides. On my second night in town, my grandparents even got us tickets to attend a show. This was quite exciting as I have never been inside the clubhouse due to the 18+ rule. We saw 71-year-old David “Dudu” Fisher who is an Israeli cantor and performer, best known for his Broadway performance as Jean Valjean in the musical Les Misérables. With a theatre filled with 1500 older adults and an area dedicated to parking mobility aids, this was quite a unique experience that further contributed to the general observations that I couldn’t help but already have started to mentally note.
The first day of my study of older adult play spaces was a blisteringly hot one. But I had no complaints considering the heavy snowstorm happening back home in Ontario. Although I was adjusting to the UV index of seven, the older adults were not fazed. Throughout the heat of the day, this active community showed its tenacity with full tennis and pickleball courts, along with constant movement from bikers, runners, speed walkers, and swimmers. Just another day in CVE, and a day I’ve been a part of many times before. However, when starting my research at the tennis and pickleball courts in the morning, I couldn’t help but feel a little bit awkward being alone as an observer and being new to field research. I positioned myself in the most-of-the-least incognito benches in the area and got right to the task of looking around, assessing the vibes, taking notes, and documenting play types of older adults in action. Once I got the hang of it, the observations were quick, although, I did feel awkward taking pictures or getting too close in fear of inadvertently impacting ongoing activities. Despite debating whether I was getting side-eyed or looked at to avoid direct sunlight, I finished the morning shift and headed home with a handful of pages filled.
For my next set of field research in the afternoon, I was lucky to be by the pool. Not only to have the wonderful opportunity to go swimming before I began but also to be observing a little bit more casually. This observation shift took a while due to the high volume of people in the pool area, but it was much easier once I found my groove. And again, once it was done, I went for a swim. The night concluded with observations on the main recreational path. For this, I situated on a nearby bench, set my timer, and subtly but closely watched people as they passed. This felt a little strange as it was the night but luckily, I was already in the swing of things. This shift went by quickly as I observed the ebb and flow of busyness and quietness along the path. In all, I was pleased with my first day of field research!
Day 4 and 5
Straightforward, sunny, and successful! All shifts went off without a hitch. Fear of being noticed subdued once I realized everyone was truly in their own habitat. I was also able to substitute the need for some photos that would be both awkward and likely useless with detailed notes. Personal highlights of the days included watching morning water aerobics to 1980s hits like “It’s Raining Men” by the Weather Girls and witnessing a mini-golf tournament with the level of focus of a Masters Tournament.
As I pack up to go home, I reflect on my trip and my first solo fieldwork experience. The way I feel about CVE has not changed but has been enhanced. I see it has something for everybody – or at least everybody who chooses to be here. But I am also more aware of the business and management side. Having done research beforehand, I recognize the behind the scenes activity that I have never considered prior to the visit. This reminded me that although this is a caring community, it follows the triple bottom-line model of people, profit, and planet (the actual three P’s). As both a visitor and observer, I was comfortably in the middle of knowing this intention while enjoying the benefits. Even when not officially observing, I was taking mental notes and a plethora of pictures. I thought more about everything I saw. About everything I was a part of. I was constantly doing double takes and having clinical thoughts about the couples on nighttime walks with flashlights, the walkers lined up outside the pool, and the man rollerblading in the heat of the afternoon. This in-between and fly-on-the-wall-like position was slightly overwhelming at times but ultimately led to some comprehensive and interesting results. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this unique opportunity to study CVE’s environment created to enjoy life and age playfully! Stay tuned for the next steps in this project!