The Function of the Gates: The Social Construction of Security in Gated Developments

By Grant, Jill | The Town Planning Review, July 1, 2005 | Go to article overview

The Function of the Gates: The Social Construction of Security in Gated Developments


Grant, Jill, The Town Planning Review


Drawing from case studies of communities with access-controlled developments, the paper explores the ways respondents talk about the functions of gates in access-controlled developments in Canada. Security may be less overtly a motivation for gating in Canada than investigators report for other countries. Planners and elected officials usually deny security justifications for gates. Respondents marketing or inhabiting enclaves are conflicted in their sentiments about the relationship of gated projects to security concerns. Pervasive assumptions about class and status and about the significance of life cycle status in shaping behaviour appear to influence explanations for the appearance of gates in Canada.

The new gated community

Centuries ago, people lived within walled towns to protect themselves from attack. After centuries of relative urban security, enclosed settlements have a new life. What are the functions of gates in contemporary enclaves? This paper explores the answer to that question with a study of gated developments in Canada.

Gated communities have become a topic of considerable research interest, especially as they appear in more countries, and as their total numbers increase. A recent study in the USA suggested that four million households live within accesscontrolled developments (Sanchez and Lang, 2002; Sanchez et al., 2005). About iooo gated developments have been documented in Britain (Atkinson et al., 2003). Enclaves also appear in Argentina (Thuillier, 2003), Australia (Hillier and McManus, 1994), the Bahamas (Gonzalez, 2000), Brazil (Caldeira, 2000; Carvalho et al., 1997; Faiola, 2002), China, Costa Rica (Rancho Cartagena, 1999), Indonesia (Leisch, 2003), Lebanon and Saudi Arabia (Glasze and Alkhayyal, 2002), Portugal (Raposo, 2003), South Africa (Gated Communities SA, 2003; Jurgens and Gnad, 2003; Landman, 2002), and Venezuela (Paulin, 1997), among other nations.

In the USA and Brazil, case studies provide well-documented evidence about the factors driving gating. The earliest book on the topic by Blakely and Snyder (1997) revealed the way that fear of crime and social segregation contributed to the proliferation of gated communities in the USA. Caldeira (2000) reported that growing lawlessness and lack of faith in government to protect the wealthy in Brazil encouraged people to move to large gated towns. High murder and kidnapping rates drive enclosure in many Third-World cities (Landman, 2003; Paulin, 1997). Low (2003) interviewed occupants of American gated projects to understand how they explain their choices - she argues that residents want to live where they can avoid crime and control public behaviour in their communities. These studies highlight security as a key motivator for people to move into gated developments.

Gated communities control access by placing gates across roads or employing guards to screen visitors.1 While parts of the USA and South Africa allow gating on public roads, in Canada gating principally involves private roads. Private communities have expanded in recent decades in the USA (McKenzie, 1994), and the same trend is influencing Canadian cities. Such private communities provide a suite of services and amenities for residents: in some projects, those amenities include gates (see Fig. i).

As Table 1 shows, recent research documented over 300 gated communities in Canada (Grant et al., 2004). Most of the gated enclaves are relatively upper class; many are targeted towards seniors or 'adults'. Relatively few Canadian projects employ guards. While public housing projects may be gated or barricaded in the USA and UK, all the enclosed projects identified in Canada are private communities.

By the late twentieth century, private communities had become an important part of the development market in North America (McKenzie, 1994), providing amenities and services to the residents within. In Buchanan's (1965) terms, such organisations are 'clubs' - neither fully public nor private. …

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