gated communities as barometers


According to Atkinson & Blandy:

“Gated communities represent a new or at least relatively novel form of housing development in the European context and their number is increasing. With growing consumer and media interest the US and South African models of such development may form templates for understanding this direction in preferences, primarily directed by fear, privacy and predictability. What is less clear is why such development is growing in societies characterised by lower prevailing crime rates and higher levels of social cohesion. In this sense perhaps gated communities might be seen as barometers indicating the future shape and scale of social forces linked to social fear and aspirations toward ex-territoriality (Bauman, 2000). In this sense the significance of gated communities lies less in their number and more in what they say about a wider bundle of social pressures now directing where and how people live.” (p.184)

“The club good of security and neighbourhood services represented by gated communities resemble new medieval city-states wherein residents pay dues and are protected, literally as their ‘citizens’. With the growth of these gated mini-states, the argument has been that gated residents should not have to pay twice for services they already receive. This may ultimately have the effect that entitlements to vital aspects of citizenship, such as security, welfare and environmental services, become based on which neighbourhood one lives in.” (p.185)

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


Gated communities separate the home environment from the city


Jill L. Grant explains: Gated communities seek to create safe and quiet private realms that separate the home environment from the city…. In Canada, gated communities have private streets that limit connections to public streets, restrict parking, and often set very low speed limits. Canadian enclaves also usually lack such urban infrastructure as sidewalks. Some larger gated projects in the United States have commercial centers and schools within them: They may share the features of small towns and even seek municipal incorporation (McKenzie 1994; Tessler and Reyes 1999). Design standards are high and often allow a limited palate of colors and forms. The developments presume that residents will own and operate cars. Qualification requirements and narrow pricing ranges ensure a homogeneous population in terms of class, interests (such as golf), and age.” (p.487)

“Private governance proves endemic in new residential developments in the United States (McKenzie 1994, 2005) and appears to be increasingly common in Canada as well. The contemporary city, as Christopherson (1994) suggests, is based on control and separation, with the neighborhood defined as a protected private haven in a potentially dangerous environment. Privatization offers a measure of control that may appeal to nervous residents. In part, this accounts for the lure of both New Urbanist communities
and gated enclaves.” (p.492)

In a sense we can see gated and New Urbanist developments as alternative responses to the perceived crises of contemporary living. Consumers seeking new homes engage in a search not only for somewhere to live, but also for a neighborhood where they might find civility, community, identity, and character. Developers of enclaves and traditional communities try to sell these commodities.
Concerns about civility characterize a society in which murder, violence, rape, and other crimes flood the headlines in the daily news media and television shows about the police, the court system, and forensic pathology top the ratings. Fears about crime and “bad behavior” motivate the desire to find urban forms that might control behavior. The promise that good urban form can recreate the safe and comfortable town or village of days gone by, where people knew each other and felt secure, proves extremely alluring (Grant 2005a). New Urbanism seeks to tame behavior by making visitors feel that they might be observed at any time and by employing devices such as front porches and community retail to create interaction points for residents. Reconstituting the form of the traditional town or village aims to resocialize urban residents to appropriate behavior.” (p.492)

The search for community has deep roots in North America (Talen 2000). A perceived loss of connection with others and the hope of confronting difference in ways that avoid conflict contribute to the search for integrated social environments.” (p.493)

“In a context of increasing social polarization and global urbanization, enclaves create space for inclusive communities of like-minded souls. Beneath the veneer of a tolerant society that celebrates diversity may lurk a disdain for difference that drives gated development.” (p.496)

Ref: Jill L. Grant (2007): Two sides of a coin? New urbanism and gated communities, Housing Policy Debate, 18:3, 481-501

Gated communities – Atkinson and Blandy


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

Neoliberalism and gated communities


In an article that considers “how the global and the local interconnect in producing gated communities” (p.576), authors Jill L. Grant & Gillad Rosen compare gated communities in Israel and Canada. They make a number of interesting points about gated communities, neoliberalism and globalism (and the local expression/experience of these trends).

For example, they point out that “Although we find forms of enclosed neighborhoods on all of the populated continents, establishing the generative influence of global forces and political ideologies on local conditions cannot be assumed. Ancient history reveals, for instance, that people who never met independently invented comparable urban forms, from courtyard housing to grid street layouts to central urban squares. Similar climatic conditions and political requirements might lead people in disparate geographies to make similar choices about building patterns.” (p.575) According to Grant and Rosen, “Although academics often interpret gated communities in reference to the postulated influence of international politico-philosophical dispositions vaguely generalized as “globalization” and “neoliberalism,” it remains for students of urban practice to demonstrate through empirical analysis that substantial links indeed exist.” (p.575)

Neoliberalism and globalisation

They explain: “Neoliberalism refers to an economic philosophy that since about 1979 has become the hegemonic ideology of Western political thought. Associated with the writings of economists Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek, and implemented ruthlessly by political leaders like Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, neoliberalism favors the logic of the market over government intervention (Harvey 2005; Hackworth 2007).” (p.576)

“As several scholars have noted, though, invoking neoliberalism as a generalized explanation of complex urban phenomenon may be tenuous (Larner 2000, 2003) or even dangerous (Peck 2007). Neoliberalism is not monolithic (Keil 2002). Rather, as Peck (2007, 807) says, it is “a complex and evolving political process, involving the restless remaking of the socioinstitutional landscapes of the city.” Peck and Tickell (2002, 383) suggest that as a process, neoliberalism appears in “historically and geographically contingent forms.”” (p.576)

The spread of neoliberalism is only one among several global trends. Globalization generally refers to the international movement of people, goods, and ideas across continents. The neoliberal discourse of free trade and individual autonomy coexists with changing forms of social control and management of borders, as Van Houtum and Pijpers (2007) discuss for the European Union. Barber (1995) notes that in the era of “McWorld,” ideas travel quickly and become homogenized across cultural groups. Thus in light of perceived threats and a vigorous media anxious to sell air time by sensationalizing tragedy and fear, affluent residents in many cities and nations harden their community edges with walls and guards (Ellin 1997; Flusty 2004). Marcuse (1997) has called gated communities evidence of the kind of fragmentation that occurs in postmodernist globalization. By generalizing the form to its constituent elements—gates, fences, guards—analysts isolate an international trend toward social inequality expressed in class entitlements that are spatially patterned in exclusive enclaves.” (p.576)

“Local ideologies, historical circumstances, and experiences of integration or segregation may generate varied ways of expressing, rationalizing, and producing gated forms.” (p.577)

“Global forces affect the local through mechanisms such as the transnational connections of local elites or the persuasive influence of international media communicationsLocal actions influence global processes by producing concrete products—like gated enclaves—that embody and manifest neoliberal premises and thus produce exemplars for comparison. As developers in countries around the world produce gated enclaves, they simultaneously reproduce locally significant understandings of people and space and reinforce the transmission of global values, ideology, and products.” (p.577)

Segregation: neoliberal influences (consumer choice) and protection from otherness

Grant and Rosen’s discussion of these segregated spaces (in Canada and Israel) highlights certain trends that interest me – namely the influence of neoliberalism (in a localised form) and the ongoing negotiation of self-other. They write:

Respondents told us that the primary characteristic of the desired resident is affluence. An Israeli respondent suggested that the “state must not be communist” and revealed the explicit message of neoliberalism: Let the market rule in housing choices. Traditional animosities of Jew versus other give way to a purported universal harmony united in class consciousness within the new enclave. Those who wish can buy into the community, joining an exclusive and modern club that discriminates only by affluence. Market justifications appeared quite frequently in interviews in Canada as well.” (p.579)

“As Flusty (2004, 83) argues, contemporary consumers want “protection from unpredictable and potentially unpleasant encounters with otherness.”” (p.579)

“A Canadian development industry representative explained why gated projects have become popular by suggesting, “The fact that there are gates at the entrance to this project almost automatically tells you that there is something inside that is special.”
Attractive gates render “the spatial inequities of this exclusion tastefully legitimized” (Flusty 2004, 86). Walls and gates can create a sense of visual identity for a development…. Like the traditional ethnic enclaves in Israel that reinforce collective values and interdict disruptive behaviors (Rosen and Razin 2008), Canadian gated communities employ symbolic enclosures and social control mechanisms (e.g., neighborhood or block watch) for surveillance. Fences or walls might be low and easily permeable, but they serve the function of marking space and defining inside from outside.
The irony that consumers’ desires for local identity results in the global mass production of quaint gated community packages escaped most respondents’ notice.” (p.580)

The manager of a retirement village of this kind in Israel stated: “The biggest advantage of these projects is the feeling of privacy, the services and amenities, and the ability to choose when one wants to be part of the community.” (p.581) (WOW! That’s an interesting comment within a consideration of the role of globalisation on communities like this)

“Security measures highlight power relationships and imbalances between those inside and those outside the enclave.” (p.582)

“In Israel, walls have been naturalized in urban form as a required response to an insecure environment.” (p.582)

“Concerns about social control appeared in interviews in both countries.” (p.582)

“Whereas Israelis can point to a legacy of conflict to explain the gates and walls, Canadians cannot justify their choices in the same way. With low crime rates and little overt social conflict, the producers of gated enclaves often minimize security issues (Grant 2005b), but the few Canadian enclaves with more robust security measures—home to extremely affluent persons—do take security seriously. The security discourse undermines the image of the enclave as a social community where people help each other.” (p.582)

“Matter-of-fact descriptions of  the gated community as “just a living style” or “personal preference” naturalize the segregation of wealthy residents in the contemporary city [the authors are citing respondents from their research]. Consumers choose within a marketplace of diverse options and decide that gated enclaves make sense.” (p.584)

Ref: Jill L. Grant & Gillad Rosen (2009): Armed Compounds and Broken Arms: The Cultural Production of Gated Communities, Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 99:3, 575-589

Abstract: “In recent geographic and urban discourse, neoliberalism increasingly appears as an explanatory framework for a range of spatial phenomena, including gated communities. This article compares the form and function of gated communities in Israel and Canada to illustrate how locally and historically contingent development processes and cultural understandings intersect and interact with globalizing practices and regional manifestations of neoliberal policies. In so doing, it explores the way that global and local processes collectively produce gated communities with varying regional expressions.” (p.575)

Reference is to: Ellin, N., ed. 1997. Architecture of fear. New York: Princeton Architectural Press

Flusty, S. 2004. De-Coca-colonization: Making the globe from the inside out. London and New York: Routledge

Marcuse, P. 1997. The ghetto of exclusion and the fortified enclave: New patterns in the United States. The American Behavioral Scientist 41 (3): 311–26.

walled in or walled out? – America’s gated communities


Opening the panel session,  “Gated Communities in America”, Edward J. Blakely asks “regarding gated communities …, Are you walling something in, or are you trying to wall something out?” (p.879).

Before handing this question on for discussion, though, he points out that these gated communities are largely to be found in “the high-concentration areas: Los Angeles, Phoenix, Houston, Miami, Chicago, New York,” and notes: “These are the areas that are having the most rapid in-migration. And the in-migration, particularly of people of color, has led people to say, “I’ve got to set a boundary. No longer can I just move out now. I’m going to put my stakes down here, and I’m going to control my territory.”” (p.879)

Mary Gail Snyder asks “Is there less crime? No. Do people feel them to be more secure? Yes, until they’ve actually moved in. That’s the short answer to that question. Fear of crime—physical security concerns—is one of the primary motivations for people moving into gated communities, but it’s not the only motivation. When people are talking about how secure they feel in their gated communities, they’re talking about freedom from exposure to canvassers or strangers of any sort.” (p.888)

Blakely, similarly, notes: “It’s interesting, this perception issue. As a matter of fact, we found that, because people felt so comfortable, they lost track of who most criminals are—usually the young person who brings another young person, who’s a friend, into the place. There’s a gated community in Southern California we were in with a population of 30,000 people and a crime rate that is slightly higher than in other cities of 30,000.” (p.889) He also observes: “But to be quite frank, there are fewer crimes directly against people. You don’t get mugged on the street, and auto theft goes down because it’s harder to get the automobile out past the gate. But residents drive their automobiles out, so you might as well steal it in the shopping center. Wait until it gets out from behind the gate. Why penetrate the gate to steal the automobile?” (p.889)

Approaching this discussion from a different angle, Gil Chin observes: “we would say easily, “Yes, I’m a member of the global community,” but in the meantime, in our local community, we are building walls. And I think to a certain extent this reflects American politics and foreign policy. I have observed increasingly that the United States as a nation is building a wall around itself. This is the country that is most difficult for foreigners to get into. And with the conservative politics of some people, I think people in the community may feel it is okay to have our own wall around us. So gated communities reflect national politics.” (p.890)

During the session, Richard Legates declared: “I guess I came to this panel with a knee-jerk dislike of gated communities. Nothing here has made me like them any better, particularly, but I have been educated. It’s much more a symbolic issue than I had thought. It seems to me the objections I had to gated communities were primarily around class segregation, racial segregation, private appropriation of public space, and then just sort of a cultural dislike of privileged, scared, conservative communities. I think those impressions have been borne out. On the other hand, the gate seems to be almost irrelevant in a lot of ways.” (p.894)

Ref: (emphases in blue bold) Robert E. Lang & Karen A. Danielsen (1997): Gated communities in America: Walling out the world?, Housing Policy Debate, 8:4, 867-899

This article revisits and reproduces the Friday, November 7, 1997, Panel Session: “Gated Communities in America” “Planning in the Americas” Conference, Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning, November 6–9, 1997, Fort Lauderdale, FL (moderated by Edward J. Blakely). It is this session that is referenced above.

On children raised in gated communities


Introducing the Panel Session: “Gated Communities in America”, Lang and Danielsen state: “[Gary] Pivo …considers the symbolic impact that gated communities have on children who pass through the gate on a daily basis. He is concerned that symbolic distinctions between life within the walls and life outside will produce adults who disengage from civic participation in the larger community. He also raises an interesting sociological question concerning whether children raised in gated communities will develop a sense of very hard lines between their class and others.” (p.874)

Pivo himself said: “Can I say something here about children and symbolism, because I’m concerned about the wall and the gate as a physical symbol? I’ve recently been reading the work of some childhood development people on the problem of porno shops in neighborhoods.
What they were talking about in particular is how kids use images to define the kinds of people that are okay and not okay and how they use their neighborhood territory quite a lot for collecting these images. I’m afraid that children who are raised going through a gate four times a day with their folks in the car will develop a much stronger “in-crowd, outside-group” mentality.” (p.896)

Ref: (emphases in blue bold) Robert E. Lang & Karen A. Danielsen (1997): Gated communities in America: Walling out the world?, Housing Policy Debate, 8:4, 867-899

This article revisits and reproduces the Friday, November 7, 1997, Panel Session: “Gated Communities in America” “Planning in the Americas” Conference, Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning, November 6–9, 1997, Fort Lauderdale, FL (moderated by Edward J. Blakely). It is this session that is referenced above.

New urbanism and gated communities


Considering development trends in the postmodern city, Jill Grant explains “The traditional suburb is oriented to the car and family. / In many areas, however, alternative development approaches appeal to consumers. Among the options are New Urbanist developments and gated communities. While New Urbanism and gated enclaves reflect divergent planning principles, development practice reveals that they tend to occur in the same general areas and that they create residential environments with a great deal in common. Moreover, they respond to similar perceptions of crisis in the contemporary city” (p.482)

She acknowledges that: “Many would argue that New Urbanism and gated communities are in some ways opposites. For instance, the Congress for the New Urbanism (2005) suggests that in deciding which communities constitute authentic New Urbanist projects, the first premise is to “[r]ule out any project that is gated.” Because New Urbanism seeks to embrace the city, New Urbanists see gated communities as enclaves that shut the city out—and therefore as anathema. While New Urbanism advocates diversity and mixing, gated projects promise homogeneity and separate residential uses behind a veil of privilege.” (p.483)

However, Grant also points out “when we study New Urbanism and gated projects in Canada, we discover that despite their physical differences, they share many features and occupy common regions. Both types of projects reveal popular strategies that developers use for packaging new suburbs as attractive commodities. Both respond to the same fears and concerns about the contemporary city. As Sandercock suggested, “The current popularity of both the ‘new urbanism’ and gated communities is the latest manifestation of [a]…denial of diversity and fear of difference” (1999, 13). Both reflect a popular search for civility, character, and authenticity in the urban environment and a reliance on surveillance for social control in the contemporary city (Christopherson 1994). Like other planning movements of the previous century, New Urbanism and gated enclaves respond to the perceived loss of a sense of community in industrial cities (Morris 1996; Talen 2000). The desire for an imaginary or imagined community without conflict leads consumers to look for sanitized and nonthreatening suburban environments of the kind promised by these contemporary movements (Christopherson 1994; Knox 2005; Kohn 2004).” (p.893)

Turning more specifically to the Canadian context, Grant writes that “both project types most commonly represent affluent communities that adopt private design strategies to address public policy problems. Following Newman’s (1973) model, they employ design methods to reinforce social control and establish defensible space. Rather than offering general solutions to the crises that afflict contemporary urban [-p.894] development, these approaches meet the needs of particular niche markets in high-growth urban regions. As Giddens wrote, “In modern social life, the notion of lifestyle takes on a particular significance. The more tradition loses its hold, and the more daily life is reconstituted in terms of the dialectical interplay of the local and the global, the more individuals are forced to negotiate lifestyle choices among a diversity of options” (1991, 5). New Urbanism and gated developments represent lifestyle options for those with the resources to choose the kind of places they want to inhabit: domiciles for the successful.” (pp.893-894) Interesting!!!

Ref: Jill L. Grant (2007): Two sides of a coin? New urbanism and gated communities, Housing Policy Debate, 18:3, 481-501