There are a number of private, heavily fortified schools in recent YA fictions (I’m thinking Vampire Academy and Gallagher Girls Academy)…. While not technically ‘gated communities’, the use of such settings for these stories of adolescence kind of interests me. I can’t help wondering what role the setting plays (and thinking about literature on gated communities in response). According to R. Atkinson and S. Blandy:
“Defining gated communities is difficult and contentious. There are two aspects of such residential neighborhoods which make them distinct from other examples of secured accommodation (such as high-rise condominiums with concierge staff or individual houses with gated access). The first aspect is, of course, the physical constitution of such neighborhoods, but even then there may be differing degrees of ‘gatedness’. In some gated communities we may find gates or booms across the road and in others it may be that gates block car access (or theft) while adjacent pedestrian thoroughfares are not controlled in the same way. The main differentiating physical feature of gated communities is that where access would ordinarily be expected in an ‘open’ neighborhood, it is restricted or available for control in a gated community.
“The second key hallmark of gated communities is their legal constitution. As developers have built gated communities they have effectively created privately organized neighborhoods with their own infrastructure, including internal roads, common spaces, and services such as refuse collection. Unlike open neighborhoods, where roads are managed and repaired by the local state, gated communities are run by residents’ management committees, known as homeowners’ associations in the US. These governance organizations are often controlled by the developer in the first instance, and are then taken over by residents who pay an annual contribution for the maintenance of infrastructure and services provided to residents. These services may also extend to the employment of maintenance staff and security personnel and the use of closed-circuit television (CCTV) systems. Many gated communities also have their own amenities such as gyms and swimming pools, or are built around golf courses or sailing lakes, which are also paid for and managed by the residents.” (p.297)
“The relatively more recent trend toward purposebuilt gated developments as the preserve of the affluent began in nineteenth-century North America, and has accelerated over the last 50 years to the point where in some US states it is now almost impossible to purchase a new dwelling that is not located in an enclosed private neighborhood. It would be wrong to conclude that the parallel growth of gated communities worldwide has necessarily been influenced by developments in the USA. However, such developments are now common both in countries where this type of built form represents a relative novelty, as well as in regions, notably China and the Middle East, where inward-looking, multi-occupied residential developments have always been part of the architectural heritage.” (p.297)
“Gated communities can be broadly differentiated between three types of development, each meeting different consumer needs. ‘Prestige’ gated communities enable their residents to enjoy an urban lifestyle while providing complete security. ‘Lifestyle’ developments incorporate exclusive leisure and other facilities, while the third type is the ‘security zone’, an inner-city or inner-suburban area retro-fitted with walls, gates, and other security features, usually at the request of residents. Subsequently, analysis of the 2001 American Housing Survey has undermined the usual assumption that gated communities are the preserve of wealthy homeowners, by showing that low-income, non-white, renters are now more likely to live in gated developments than owner occupiers.” (p.298)
“From residents’ points of view, in high-crime societies like Latin America, the USA, and South Africa, the recent increase in gated communities can be seen as a relatively rational response to a fear of violent disorder and personal harm.” (p.298)
“The small amount of evidence on whether gated communities prevent crime or not for such neighborhoods is contradictory.” (p.298)
“Gated communities appear to be growing in their prevalence by appealing to people with concerns about crime, as well as delivering prestige and privacy for those motivated by such issues in their residential decisions. However, the limited anthropological evidence available so far tends to show that, in fact, the residents of gated communities are highly susceptible to fear of crime directed at those outside the boundaries of gated communities, as well as at service personnel who continue to connect these spaces of relative privilege with less-well off communities outside, and who are therefore also viewed as a possible threat.
“Since gated communities have not been a regular feature of urban life until perhaps the last 15 years, and then predominantly in Latin America, South Africa, and North America, the longer-run implications of social life in these kinds of neighborhoods have not been fully thought through. However, some writers have begun to ask what will happen to children who grow up in the kind of predictable, racially homogenous, and privileged spaces of gated communities. These fears, of a withdrawn, shy, fearful, and affluent class have recently been realized in cities like Moscow where the growth of a super-rich social elite has led to the protection of their children in gated communities, as well as being trailed by personal bodyguards. Again, the implications of these lifestyles for the future views and social politics of affluent classes brought up in protected neighborhood environments is unlikely to be positive, with possible impacts on a lack of empathy with people from different social backgrounds, as well as a fear of such difference.” (p.299)
“Everyday life within a gated community is largely regulated by legal documents, which set out the rules with which residents must comply, and the arrangements for self-governance by the homeowners. These non-negotiable legal instruments undermine the concept of gated neighborhoods as voluntary communities able to develop their own informal controls
and sanctions. Existing evidence on life within gated communities thus suggests a high degree of regulation that must be accepted in order to find distinctiveness and safety for the purchaser’s household. Such developments may offer security or privacy but in a context in which, ironically, the freedoms of residents need to be sacrificed to achieve the apparent benefits of ‘gated’ living.” (p.299)
“Gated communities have figured in significant literary examples. For J. G. Ballard, collectively privatized neighborhoods have formed a significant setting for many of his novels, particularly Running Wild, Super Cannes, and Cocaine Nights. In fact the idea of enclosure and rarified environments in which often affluent residents run amok outside the normative restraints of mass society has become a recurring theme for Ballard.” (p.299)
“More recently T. C. Boyle has [-p.300] used the desires of an affluent community to gate their estate as a literary device in The Tortilla Curtain, in which an affluent young couple are confronted by their own fear and prejudices as they encounter desperate poor Mexican migrants on the US border. As fears of the Mexicans increase, fueled by the prejudices of a minority of residents, a surrounding fence and gates are finally installed against their instinctive rejection by the story’s ambivalent hero. Dystopian fictional treatments like these highlight the way in which gating can be seen as a zeitgeist through which we understand a series of wider social and physical transformations affecting an increasing range and number of cities.” (pp.299-300)
“…privatization of what would otherwise be public spaces has driven wider debates about the relative influence of gated communities on social life in urban areas which have, particularly in the European context, been associated with the diversity and democracy of the street. This raises a broader question about the implications of forting up for the character of Western urban life. If we take away freedom of access to the street what does a city become? For example, some commentators have that this form of hyper-segregation and fortification represents a new and critical moment which has transformed cities with earlier histories of open and democratic public spaces into a series of enclaves which protect affluent residents, while leaving an envious and poorer class of residents outside these protected bubbles.” (p.300)
“Gated communities are also notable for their growth in societies characterized by lower prevailing crime rates and higher levels of social cohesion. In this sense such ‘communities’ may be seen as social barometers indicating much deeper undercurrents of social fear and aspiration toward ex-territoriality as the signifier of membership to an affluent and secure class. In this context the significance of gated communities lies less in their number and more in what they say about a wider bundle of social forces that are directing where and how people live. Nevertheless, the continued growth of gated communities suggests that they are an increasingly significant proportion of dwellings, both responding to and perhaps also generating anxiety.” (p.301)
Ref: R. Atkinson, S. Blandy (2009) Gated Communities/Privatopias pp. 297-301 International Encyclopedia of Human Geography