THE newest metropolis in the United States is hardly New York or Chicago. Its population is a mere 18,000 people, it covers only about eight square kilometres, and it did not exist until 1964. It has no restaurants or bars and its main attractions are a couple of golf courses, five swimming pools, a fitness centre, and a hall which houses an occasional game of bingo. The lawns are lovely, mind you. Welcome to Leisure World, where no one is under 55 and the average age is 77. Until last Tuesday, Leisure World, in sunny Orange County outside Los Angeles, was what is politely referred to as a retirement community. Under the curious terminology Americans use for their municipalities, it is now the country's newest city. Even more significantly, it is the first incorporated city in the US for senior citizens. In an historic vote - historic for them, anyway - 52 per cent of Leisure World's inhabitants chose to turn their retirement haven into a city, which means they will have their own city council, removing from the county authorities the responsibility for the community's roads, street cleaning, traffic policing and other municipal duties. In other words, this is people power for old codgers. The irony of the situation has not been lost on the community's residents. During the campaign in the run-up to the vote, they were asked to suggest a new name if the majority were in favour of cityhood. On the list of options were 'Geezerville' and 'Viagra Village'. However, sanity prevailed and Leisure World will be known as Laguna Woods. Do not try to visit Laguna Woods unless you have an appointment with someone who lives there. You can only gain entry to the new community by getting past a gate and security guards. Because of the nation's crime problems which, until the past three years, showed no sign of abatement, the middle and upper classes retreated in increasing numbers to such gated communities - so much so that there are an estimated eight million living in more than 20,000 of them. Sunny retirement spots such as California and Florida have the lion's share. Officially then, last week's vote makes Laguna Woods a gated city. If that sounds fortress-like, the residents probably do not mind at all. Sociologists, however, believe the trend is leading to the destruction of the community spirit. 'Leisure World gives us a look into the future as America ages and we live longer,' said Mark Baldassare, University of California urban planning professor. The main reason residents wanted to seek city status was to have more clout in area decision-making - rather than deferring to the county - and to help their fight to stop a nearby Air Force base being turned into a commercial airport. 'At long last we will be recognised by the federal government when we go to Washington to talk about issues,' said Bob Ring, who led the pro-city campaign. Those who preferred the status quo are worried that by taking on city functions, Laguna Woods is almost certain to demand more money from residents. 'I can't see any advantages - there'll be city taxes,' said Helen Ensweiler, head of the dissidents. She is probably right; taxes are the one thing sure to affect the residents - if death does not claim them first. To paraphrase Frank Sinatra on the subject of New York: if you can make it (past 60) there, you'll make it anywhere. A new study has proved what Americans - New Yorkers or not - always suspected: that there's something about the city that is bad for your health. The findings suggest that a New York resident is 55 per cent more likely to die of a heart attack than the average American. Not even tourists are safe: the heart attack death rate in the Big Apple is 34 per cent higher than the average for people who die away from their home town. The researchers checked the away-from-home death rates of other cities, and found that New York is unique. Tourists visiting places like Los Angeles, Chicago or Houston are barely more likely to die of a coronary than if they had stayed at home. 'Being in New York may be good for the rest of you, but it's bad for your heart,' said Nicholas Christenfeld, the San Diego University psychologist who based his statistics on death certificates dating from 1985. Experts are not sure of the reasons for New York's heart-breaking qualities. The only plausible explanation is the extra stress that comes from inhabiting the city's mean streets. But then again, no one is sure whether that comes from the noise, hectic lifestyle, exorbitant prices and crowded streets, or whether it's just from all those cuppa Joes downed by the average New Yorker. Stress might well be the factor that fells all those unsuspecting visitors from Wisconsin. As for the residents, another study might provide more sobering answers. The research showed a gap between rich and poor which is growing faster than the national average. While five per cent of the city's dwellers have incomes at least 10 times higher than the poverty level, almost 30 per cent of New Yorkers are living below the poverty line - twice the national rate.