Gated Cities of Today? Barricaded Residential Development in England

Article excerpt

This paper reports on research which examined the prevalence and rationales underlying the growth in gated residential development in England. The research also set out to consider the immediate and likely future impacts of such development. Policy debates regarding socio-spatial segregation and the encouragement of social mix to promote sustainable communities have generally ignored the upper end of the housing market and clustering of affluent households which are perceived to produce few negative externalities or problems for residents. We argue that gated development appears to provide a socially problematic form of residential development which 'excludes' but nevertheless, in certain cases, appears to deliver a semi-autonomous form of neighbourhood governance. The research found around 1,000 gated developments in England at a time when the Government aims for new development to provide socially diverse neighbourhoods as the hallmark of future community sustainability. We conclude that this initial profiling of gated communities highlights the need for a debate regarding the relative social costs and benefits imposed by gating.

The growth in the number of gated communities in the UK has been seen by some as negative and a reinforcement of existing social segregation in British towns and cities (Minton, 2002). The proliferation of gated communities has increasingly been observed in contexts outside the traditional stamping ground of highly privatised societies like that of the USA (McKenzie, 1994; Blakely and Snyder, 1997; Low, 2003) and societies experiencing high crime such as South Africa and Brazil (Galdeira, 2000). Gated communities in the USA house around 9 million people (Blakely and Snyder, 1997) with more recent research findings indicating that over 7 million households (about 6 per cent of the national total) live in housing in walled developments (Sanchez and Lang, 2002).

This paper argues that gated communities are now common enough to form a symbolic challenge to the ethos of British planning and to urban policies currently seeking to deliver sustainable, open and socially diverse neighbourhoods. Chris Webster, considering the future of gated communities in England, commented that 'gated communities are not yet a visible part of the urban landscape in Britain outside parts of outer and inner London' (Webster, 2001, 156). He has argued that such communities form part of a wider 'club' realm which steps between private and public domains and to which planners need to direct attention. Webster went on to suggest that 'we will see many of them in the years to come' (Webster, 2001, 150) but acknowledged that they were currently seen as 'freak' developments' that housed the super-rich or influential, such as Margaret Thatcher's house in London and the Wentworth estate in Surrey that housed the exiled Chilean president Pinochet. Our evidence suggests that these developments are growing in number as well as providing an aspirational residential model to which greater numbers are attracted and able to afford. Determining the value of such development is now an issue of growing importance.

It is important to be clear about what is meant by 'gated communities' (hereafter GCs). Such 'communities' consist of residential development that restricts public access through walls, gates and sometimes security systems that may use guards and/or closed-circuit television (CCTV). They are also founded on socio-legal constitutions which differentiate them from, for example, towerblocks with concierges or single houses with gates. These conditions form binding contracts on owners and create arrangements of private neighbourhood governance wherein the safety that a GC may provide is exchanged for some loss of personal autonomy. Gated communities create vehicles for micro-government in which civic goods, such as security and environmental services, may be provided privately. Since GCs are privatised spaces, a socio-legal formulation is needed to extract service charges in order to pay for such services. …