The End of Life with the Beginning of Life

Why is there an abundance of old people in Williamsburg, mixed with a thriving population of young collegians just starting their lives?  How has this mixture evolved over time, and what effect does it have on this place, as a whole?

I’m interested in discovering how the town of Williamsburg is marketed to certain individuals, may it be college students, as it has been for centuries; older individuals embracing retirement, who began to populate this area in the 1970s; or young adults who have decided to start a life and career in Williamsburg, Virginia.  I hope my project can somehow focus in on two contrasting characteristics of this town: the old, and the new.  While exploring the history, and more so formulating a type of timeline of how different groups have ended up in Williamsburg, I also hope to uncover the questions of the ‘why’ and ‘how.’ 

 I seek to answer questions such as:

 I. Why is Williamsburg considered a retirement community, and is it still one? 

II. Why would people want to settle in Williamsburg for the rest of their lives?

III. How does this town market itself to people, both young and old? How do individual groups (like Chambrel, Williamsburg Landing, New Town, High Street) market their communities to older/younger individuals?

IV. What effect, if any, does The College have on marketing the town to younger individuals?

One of my major sources that I hope to be able to utilize are the planned retirement, assisted living, and senior living communities in the area.  Just by doing a basic Google search, I was able to find an assortment of these communities in the immediate area.  I also uncovered an interesting fact; there is a specific type of community defined by the Code of Virginia for some retirement communities, such as Williamsburg Landing.  They are called a ‘Continuing Care Retirement Community’, which aims to:

 “…accommodate residents’ needs through every stage of life. CCRCs provide this continuum of care through independent residential living, home health services, emergency medical assistance, assisted living, skilled nursing care and long-term care…all on one campus.  Services such as dining, housekeeping, scheduled transportation, home maintenance, security and activities are also typically provided (Williamsburg Landing).”

In the field, I’d like to talk to marketing directors at these communities and possibly discover what techniques they’ve used to market Williamsburg as a retirement and senior living community.  I’d also like to communicate with city officials in the Williamsburg Chamber of Commerce, and ask if, and how they attempt to market this community to older individuals as well.  I know a good deal of people who work with the court system here, and who are natives of the area, so hopefully they can point me in the right direction of who to talk to.  A little bit of informal research in the Swem online databases would suggest that towns want retirees because these individuals end up spending more money in their communities than what the local government would have to pay to provide resources to them.  This way, there’s more money coming in, and less going out; taxes are low, and everyone benefits.  Perhaps there’s an economic incentive?  In 2006, over 15 percent of the population in Williamsburg was over sixty.  Older individuals have moved here for the ‘heightened sense of community (Kalwarski).’  While this does not necessarily give me detailed information on how a community markets itself to retirees, it helps to answer the ‘why’ question.

Let’s be honest, Williamsburg is no longer a sleepy little town.  It might not be the hip inner-city such as New York or Washington, DC, but it’s not dead either.  New developments such as New Town, which was established in 1997, and still developing, and High Street, which is still in the process of complete development, are on the rise.  By visiting the New Town website, a short description categorizes it as a ‘New Urbanism’ community.  Wikipedia would define ‘New Urbanism’ as:

“…an urban design movement, which promotes walkable neighborhoods that contain a range of housing and job types. It arose in the United States in the early 1980s and continues to reform many aspects of real estate development and urban planning.  [It] is strongly influenced by urban design standards prominent before the rise of the automobile and encompasses principles such as traditional neighborhood design and transit-oriented development.  It is also closely related to Regionalism and Environmentalism.”

It would seem as though New Town caters to younger individuals; it’s a pseudo-city in a way.  Additionally, High Street promotes itself to younger families on its website as a developing, ‘vibrant community,’ and a place to call home.   I feel like these communities are growing, changing, and finding new ways to market to younger individuals.  Additionally, a handful of restaurants frequented by a younger generation have been opened in the past couple of years- Five Guys, BDubs, Firehouse Subs, Plaza Azteca, to name a few.  A Chipotle is even being built! 

Just by looking at these new communities’ websites, I can infer that they intend to be urban, youthful developments.  So are they taking over? Or just coming into existence with the older retirement communities? 

I hope to explore both of these dynamics. I want to see the effects they have on each other, but also look at differences.  Also, why does Williamsburg seem as thought it constantly needs to market itself to a group of people?  There’s a dynamic of bringing people in; does this make it different than any other city in Virginia?

One of my hesitations is that I’m looking at two different groups, which could get very complicated.  I’m also seeking to answer a series of questions, and while they may all interrelate, I’m afraid of getting my research and not knowing how to connect it.  I know it’s essential that I look at both groups of people because I’m exploring the dynamic of change.  I just hope I can maybe focus my project more, and I believe that will come about when I start to do research.


Kalwarski, Tara. ‘Where to Retire.’ Money. 2006.


The Williamsburg Documentary Project (WDP) strives to collect and preserve the rich past of Williamsburg, Virginia. By conducting oral history interviews, building physical and digital archives, and creating online exhibits, the WDP interprets Williamsburg’s recent past. The WDP works towards developing a better understanding of Williamsburg by bringing together individuals, local groups, Colonial Williamsburg, and the College of William & Mary.

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