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

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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.

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On children raised in gated communities

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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.

Suburbia is a collective effort to lead a private life

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“Blakely and Snyder raise the question, “Can there be a social contract without social contact?” We respond by noting that gated communities operate by an implicit social contract—they serve to minimize unsolicited social contact. Gated communities represent the continued evolution of an Anglo-American movement toward private environments that originated in mid-19th century Britain (Fishman 1987; Lang 1995). The paradox of how [-p.875] suburbanites form a social consensus around so anticommunitarian a belief as privacy is captured in Lewis Mumford’s observation that “suburbia is a collective effort to lead a private life” (Mumford 1938, 412).” (pp.874-875)

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

Reference is to: Fishman, Robert. 1990. Megalopolis Unbound. Wilson Quarterly 14(1):25–45.

Lang, Robert. 1995. Hallowed Homes: The Religious Origin of Suburban
Domesticity in 19th-Century Britain. Paper presented at the annual meeting
of the American Sociological Association, Washington, DC, August 17–20.

Mumford, Lewis. 1938. The Culture of Cities. New York: Harcourt, Brace.

Aversion to conflict in gated communities

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Hmmm this interested me, too…. Quoting Robert E. Lang & Karen A. Danielsen:

Blakely and Snyder find that those living in gated communities seem reluctant to confront one another on relatively trivial matters. For example, one woman would rather have a security guard ask children to stop playing basketball than confront them directly. This aversion to conflict may [-873] represent a larger suburban behavioral pattern. In an ethnography of a New Jersey suburb, Mary Pat Baumgartner found that third parties were used to resolve virtually every dispute between neighbors (Baumgartner 1988). In gated communities, such third-party interventions are made remarkably efficient when handled by a community association with the right to fine people who do not act according to community standards. In the past, suburbanites used gentle nudges to prod neighbors to act responsibly—when their grass grew a bit too high, for instance. Now a representative from the community association comes by to precisely measure grass and, for a fee, will mow lawns that have grown unruly. The whole process formalizes a social exchange that has historically been informal.” (pp.872-873)

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

Reference is to: Baumgartner, Mary Pat. 1988. The Moral Order of a Suburb. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.
Blakely, Edward J., and Mary Gail Snyder. 1997. Fortress America: Gated Communities in the United States. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press and Lincoln Institute of Land Policy
(and the panel discussion including Blakely and Snyder upon which this article is based)

Gated communities in America

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private enclaves, Robert E. Lang and Karen A. Danielsen explain that “In the current development parlance, [-p.868] such places—referred to as “gated communities”—have a precise sense of whom, or more accurately what, they seek to wall out: uncertainty.” (pp.867-868)

“Why are Americans increasingly resorting to walls and gates as a solution to perceived social problems? Perhaps they are reacting to a general societal angst or a direct concern for their personal safety. Whatever the cause, gated communities are certainly gaining in popularity.” (p.868)

“Gated communities represent a major reordering in the physical, social, legal, and civic arrangements by which Americans live (Stark 1998). The conversion of public to private space, inherent in gated community development, drives the process. Because gated communities are private, community associations within them can exercise tight control over residential life.” (p.868)

“In part, gated communities represent a reaction to the postwar evolution of suburbia (Danielsen and Lang 1995). Suburbs seem much less “suburban” today than when they were largely bedroom communities. The suburbs now have it all: business, retail, entertainment, sports arenas, and, increasingly, low-income housing and minority populations. Suburbs have morphed into a new urban form that features all the elements of a traditional city, but in a low-density cityscape (Fishman 1990; Sharpe and Wallock 1994). Gated communities also typify sunbelt urban growth: the very places where America’s new urban form first emerged. Gated communities offer their residents the perception of a safe haven in the new, often chaotic metropolis.” (p.869)

“In gated communities, the walls are there to sharply delineate status and provide security, rather than signify a collective understanding among equals. [/] What erects these walls, as emerges from Guterson’s interviews [in his study of Henderson’s Green Valley], is a free-floating anxiety about the world beyond them.” (p.870)

Apparently, Guterson “argues, “If the traditional American town of the past existed to produce a commodity—shoes, bath towels, sheet metal, whatever—then in Green Valley and other masterplanned towns of today the community is a commodity” (Guterson 1992, 60). Gated community developers work hard to create a “brand name,” using the same marketing principles that any other company uses to sell a product.” (p.870)

According to Blakely and Snyder, “the walls and gates effectively ward off many daily intrusions, such as unexpected visitors at the front door. It is this security from nuisance that gated-community residents apparently cherish most. The proliferation of rules and controlled access create an environment with few of the surprises or random encounters characteristic of traditional urban life.” (p.873)

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

Abstract: “Gated communities—enclaves of homes surrounded by walls, often with security guards—are becoming increasingly popular in America. This article introduces and analyzes findings of a Fannie Mae Foundation–sponsored panel on gated communities held at the 1997 Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning annual conference. A key finding is that many people choose to reside in gated communities because they believe that such places reduce risk, ranging from the mundane (e.g., unwanted social exchanges) to the high stakes (e.g., declining home values).
In many ways, gated communities deliver what they promise, by providing an effective defense against daily intrusions. However, some of their benefits entail a high social cost. A sense of community within gated communities comes at the expense of a larger identity with the region outside. Gated communities manifest and reinforce an inward-focused community culture, where the tension between the individual and society tilt toward self-interest.” (p.867)