Gared Communities

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Gated communities in England as a response to crime and disorder: context, effectiveness and implications Sarah Blandy

Abstract

Gated communities, meaning residential developments which restrict access by non-residents and have a specifically collective legal framework, are a recent global phenomenon.  The paper discusses aspects of neo-liberalism which may explain their growth: increasing fear of crime alongside commodification, the movement from community to individualism, and from informal to formal systems of social control. Research into gated communities in England has shown that residents’ motives are varied and complex.  However, although security and fear of crime was an important issue, the major motivation for purchasers was maintenance of property values. The paper concludes that gated communities are not an effective response to current issues of crime and disorder in terms of physical security and collective efficacy; nor do they assist in regenerating deprived areas, or tackling problems of disorder on large social rented estates.  Indeed, any further growth in the collective fortification of affluent homes and retro-gating of social rented estates is likely to contribute to increased social divisiveness. Keywords: Gated communities; fear of crime; residents’ motivations; social divisiveness; collective efficacy

Introduction

This paper is based on a national study of gated communities carried out for the ODPM New Horizons programme (Atkinson et al., 2004) and on a small-scale project funded by the British Academy, researching new purchasers in a suburban gated community (Blandy and Lister, 2005).  It addresses the issues of why gated communities have emerged as a global phenomenon, and focuses on gated communities as a housing response to current issues of crime and disorder, questioning their effectiveness and bringing out the implications of the growth of this type of fortified housing development. In this paper I will adopt the definition used for the ODPM New Horizons research, which encompasses the two essential aspects of gated communities.  First, in physical terms, a gated community is a fenced or walled residential area, to which access by non-residents is either restricted or controlled by CCTV and/or security staff.  A gated community is served by private internal roads, and may include facilities such as a gym for the use of residents only.  This definition makes it clear that apartment or tower blocks are not included - developments only meet the gated community definition if space which would normally be accessible to the public is restricted to residents only.  The other essential part of the definition is legal: residents of a gated community are tied into a common code of conduct, and there is generally a degree of self-management of the development by the residents.

Context for the growth of gated communities

Initial theories about the global growth of gated communities included assumptions that this was in response to increasing crime and disorder caused by socio-economic restructuring; a reflection of a growing disillusionment with the ability of government to provide services and security; and/or a result of the globalisation of American taste and aspirations.  However, based on more recent research undertaken into gated communities in different countries, the current view is that gated communities are extremely diverse, and this diversity reflects the historical and other contexts of each country in which they appear (Blandy, 2006). This paper now looks at some of the underlying context and potential reasons for the growth of gated communities in England, before setting out our research findings.  Neo-liberal governments in the last quarter of the twentieth century have brought a move away from previous ideals of social justice and equality, from community to individualism, and a trend from informal to formal systems of social control. Values of consumerism and the...
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