Gated communities – Atkinson and Blandy

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Introducing a volume of papers on gated communities, Rowland Atkinson & Sarah Blandy explain that:

Gated communities (hereafter GCs) have been defined in a number of ways. These definitions tend to cluster around housing development that restricts public access, usually through the use of gates, booms, walls and fences. These residential areas may also employ security staff or CCTV systems to monitor access. In addition, GCs may include a variety of services such as shops or leisure facilities. The growth of such private spaces has provoked passionate discussion about why, where and how these developments have arisen. This volume presents an opportunity to gather together contemporary and diverse views on what is at least commonly agreed to be a radical urban form.
The apparently ‘unique’ characteristics of GCs present immediate problems for an accurate definition. Should we include flats with door entry systems, tower blocks with concierge schemes or partially walled housing estates, even detached houses with their own gates? Among this confusion we suggest that the central feature of GCs is the social and legal frameworks which form the constitutional conditions under which residents subscribe to access and occupation of these developments, in combination with the physical features which make them so conspicuous.

Living in a gated community means signing up to a legal framework which allows the extraction of monies to help pay for maintenance of common-buildings, common services, such as rubbish collection, and other revenue costs such as paying staff to clean or secure the neighbourhood. However, such legal frameworks can also be found in many thousands of non-gated homeowner associations in the US, and indeed in blocks of leasehold flats in England. This leads us back to the important physical aspects of these developments. Where a combination is found of these socio-legal agreements and a physical structure which includes gates and walls enclosing space otherwise expected to be publicly accessible, we can finally achieve some clarity of definition. Gated communities may [-p.178] therefore be defined as walled or fenced housing developments, to which public access is restricted, characterised by legal agreements which tie the residents to a common code of conduct and (usually) collective responsibility for management.” (pp.177-178) [although Atkinson and Blandy do note further down that many residents are not well-read on the nature of these agreeements (p.183)]

Atkinson & Blandy continue: “While this definition may be useful it is often argued that gated communities express more than a simple constellation of particular physical and socio-legal characteristics. In the built environment around us we increasingly see examples of an attempt to boost defensible space and the means to exclude the unwanted. This has meant that we can now observe a continuum of ‘gating’ which can be seen moving between symbolic and more concrete examples. Suburban areas with booms across private roads, housing estates with ‘buffer zones’ of grass and derelict land, and cul-de-sacs all express a mark of exclusion to non-residents with varying degrees of efficacy. All of these built forms suggest a lack of ‘permeability’ in the built environment directed at achieving increasingly privatised lifestyles, predominantly through the pursuit of security. It is this attempt at self-imposed exclusion from the wider neighbourhood, as well as the exclusion of others from the gated community, which has driven a much wider debate about the relative merits of gating and other strategies to achieve security, when set alongside other key concerns such as freedom of access to the wider city, social inclusion and territorial justice.” (p.178)

Under the title “The Fortified Neighbourhood” (which I rather like), Atkinson and Blandy acknowledge that “It is now well documented that gated communities can be seen as a response to the fear of crime (Atkinson et al., 2004) but other drivers also appear significant. In particular the desire for status, privacy and the investment potential of gated dwellings all form important aspects of the motivation to live behind gates.” (p.178)

Many have argued that GCs represent a search for community with residents seeking contact with like-minded people who socially mirror their own aspirations. While advertising by developers (primarily in America) draws on this communitarian ideology it has been clear to some that the idea of a gated ‘community’ is something of an oxymoron. Increasing numbers of recorded neighbour disputes and conflict between residents and their management companies suggest at least as many problems as are found in ‘normal’ developments (see for example, Linford, 2001). …. In this volume Evan McKenzie picks up on this theme and argues that gated communities increasingly contain residents openly hostile to the strictures to which they have signed up…. The possibility that GCs contain some kind of built-in obsolescence may become increasingly apparent.” (p.179)

“Even before getting into a debate about the relative merits of gating we find systematic research which suggests that the shelter from fear that gated communities appear to
represent soon fades once residents move in. Research by Low (2003) suggests that living ‘behind the gates’ actually promotes fear of the unknown quantities of social contact
outside them. The lack of predictability and experience of people in social situations outside these compounds appears to play out most strongly for the young, particularly those brought up in gated communities. / In fact, perceived safety and actual crime rates have been found to be no different between gated communities and similar, but non-gated, high-income American neighbourhoods.” (p.181)

We have argued that the contractual legal framework is an essential characteristic of GCs. These detailed rules indicate a different and much more formal structure than the framework of informal rights and rules developed in a neighbourhood through “neighbours understanding the importance of maintaining a shared and reciprocated set of values and neighbourhood attributes” (Webster, 2003, p. 2606). It has been suggested [-p.183] that GCs are an example of a much wider rise in contractual governance, resulting from the new relationship between state, market and civil society, designed to address concerns about social order: the contract of membership takes centre stage in the age of ‘responsibilisation’, in which “exclusion from club goods may be tantamount to exclusion from key aspects of citizenship.” (Crawford, 2003, p. 500).” (pp.182-183)

Ref: (emphases in blue bold, mine) Rowland Atkinson & Sarah Blandy (2005): Introduction: International Perspectives on The New Enclavism and the Rise of Gated Communities, Housing Studies, 20:2, 177-186

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