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The Rise of Gated Communities

There is then an urgent need for societies to realize the profound effects these new urbanistic developments can have in their cities, in order to mitigate the potential consequences of an involuntary segregation

Lucía Urrutia | 23/4/2015

Among high perimeter walls, 24-7 security guards, nice roads and an array of fairly similar houses; the inhabitants of gated communities have a sense of common identity that is provided by the comfort of concrete walls. Gated communities are nothing more than modern housing in the form of a residential community such as a condominium, housing estate or villa. In the last decade or so these kinds of housing or urbanistic developments have increasingly become a global trend. From Pakistan, Malaysia or India to Mexico, Brazil and Argentina, the rise of gated communities have come to shape society as we know it.

Although the first gated communities started gaining notoriety in the United States back in the 80´s, their global popularity did not peaked until the last decade or so. Nowadays, gated communities have come to embody some sort of new lifestyle many people aspire to attain or be part of. This popularity is due in part to the successful marketing campaign that has been carried out by urban developers and real estate corporations. Often times, condominiums or urbanizations market their urbanistic projects as secure spaces free from all the real world things that make us uncomfortable. Inside the walls of these properties there is no poverty, delinquency, noise, dirt or chaos; on the contrary, the image sold by real estate agencies and urban developers is that of a happy, perfect and safe environment where the grass is always green and problems do not permeate into the lives of those who live inside these gated communities.

While some people actually buy into this idea of perfection and social stratification, there are others who actually see these forms of housing as a viable alternative to violence and the overall inefficiency of governments that are incapable of ensuring basic necessities like security or infrastructure in the form of roads, schools or recreational spaces. For instance, in cities like Johannesburg, South Africa, where crime rates are very high, the popularity of gated communities has been directly proportional to the increase of violence. More often than not, those South Africans with enough purchasing power decide to willingly remove themselves from the rest of society in order to protect themselves from any outside harm. Whatever the purpose might be, however, the truth is gated communities give us another small glimpse into the issue of inequality.

The contrast between those who live inside gated communities from those who live outside in the city is often times striking. While the popularity of this form of housing is making it possible for more middle class and working class families to afford purchasing a house inside a gated community, there are always those less fortunate who remain marginalized and are being pushed further into peripheries.

In an interview given to the British newspaper The Guardian, UN Habitat Chief Joan Clos stated that the rise of gated communities actually corresponds to a dystopian future of mass surveillance and profound unhappiness where its proliferation “is an expression of increased inequality, increased uneasiness in accepting diversity”. Moreover, in terms of the issue of security, Clos agreed that the increase of gated communities globally indeed corresponds to an overall inefficiency of governments to provide security; yet the UN Habitat Chief strongly pointed out that

“The gated community represents the segregation of the population. Those who are gated are choosing to gate, to differentiate, to protect themselves from the rest of the city. This is contrary to the vision of a democratic and open city […] when this unfairness takes root in the population, it can create a sense of fear, a sense that we don’t trust each other. The outcome is that the urban pattern becomes more segregated, more differentiated. This is not socially admirable or economically productive”

Thus, the problem is that this kind of communities -whether purposely or not- end up widening stratification and deepening social class divides. While it is understandable that people all over the world (especially in highly violent and insecure cities) recur to this form of housing in order to feel more secure, we cannot lose out of sight that the proliferation of gated communities can end up dividing the social fabric into centers and peripheries where income disparities, inequality and social stratification will be clearly demarcated by walls.

Hence, there is then an urgent need for societies to realize the profound effects these new urbanistic developments can have in their cities, and also a need for governments to implement better security and urban planning strategies in order to mitigate the potential consequences of an involuntary segregation that could lead to a severe social dislocation if it is not addressed before it is too late.

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