In 1950, Time magazine's Man of the Year was Bill Levitt, who got honors as “The Father of Suburbia” for the brilliant way he brought assembly-line manufacturing principles—in reverse—to home building. Time came back with a selection 11 years later that related, not by coincidence, to its editors' earlier choice: the laudatory nod not just to how Levitt revolutionized residential construction, but to how his Levittown communities represented a transformed society. Time's Man of the Year, in 1966, was the baby boom generation, the population that got marketers and consultants into the generation naming business, an area previously administered by Census Bureau wonks.
The profound way that Abraham Levitt and his two sons, the home building company's proud pedigree, and the ongoing phenomenon that is the baby boom each connect to one another is the focus of associate editor Sarah Yaussi's cover story, “A Chip off the Old Block Maker,” starting on page 42. The Levitt story exemplifies the enormity of the opportunity and the vastness of the challenge that Levitt and all home builders face as they engineer operations, product lines, and positioning to meet the needs of a generation on the brink of who knows what?
Core to the strategy that Levitt Corporation CEO Alan Levan has put into place for his putative once-and-future home building power is a conviction. Part of Levan's conviction is in his belief that baby boomers who ate, slept, and breathed Levitt's homes and neighborhoods when they were kids coming of age are going to be apt to pick Levitt homes and neighborhoods for their next lifestyle phase, best characterized as a hybrid of leisure, cultural edification, thrill-seeking, work, and, in many, many cases, being the best grandparents in the history of the universe. Equally, Levan believes that his company's DNA, literally and metaphorically, has an edge when it comes to knowing what baby boomers want.
Yaussi's analysis addresses two big questions about Levitt. The first is, has Levan got the company operationally where it needs to be in order to quantum leap back in among the leading home builders? Secondly, will boomers swarm into the age-targeted, resort-style hives that Levitt is creating on the one-hour perimeters of major metros like Atlanta? The answer—to both questions—is maybe. The gamble Levan is taking, both for Levitt's own business model and as a competitor in an arena of Active Adult behemoths, gets back to his conviction. He's certain that the name of the company holds a special “promise” to 40-to-60-year-old home buyers nearing their next move, and that the company's lifelong knowledge of those buyers enables them to deliver on that promise.
Age-targeted, age-restricted, age-qualified, all these terms that have currency and viability in internal rate of return analyses for those who were born up to about 1944 are going to be up for question for those born since. The term “generation gap” first took on wide significance as boomers let the world know how vastly different their attitudes, values, and behaviors were from their parents'. The geezer version of the “generation gap” may be less fiery, idealistic, and dignified, but it's not likely to diminish.
Our issue devotes itself to this riddle of metamorphosis. If “old age home,” “senior housing,” and “assisted living” went the way of all flesh because the terms insulted those intended to derive benefit from the actual homes, it might be safe to guess that 76 million baby boomers may be put off by a term coined to describe places they themselves didn't bless. Bill Becker's “Lose the Label,” essay on page 27, offers glimpse of the generational dilemma facing builders. In our other features, from Lisa Marquis Jackson's focus on Technical Olympic USA's land position play in “An Historic Address,” on page 29, to Teresa Burney's insights on age-in-place design in her Supply Side report on page 61, we drill into the complexity of the challenge.