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.