Academic journal article Southeastern Geographer

Gated Communities and Housing Projects: The Control of Public Space in San Juan

Academic journal article Southeastern Geographer

Gated Communities and Housing Projects: The Control of Public Space in San Juan

Article excerpt

This paper studies two specific ways in which gated communities are created and regulated in Puerto Rico. Through a series of restrictive urban planning public policies, access to spaces that were thought of as public were transformed in ways that still affect the flow of people in urban areas, particularly the San Juan Metropolitan Area. These policies and the particularities of building gated communities in Puerto Rico will be analyzed, as well as the patterns of privatization of public spaces in the Island. An interpretation of how the conceptions of public and private spaces informed these policies in a Caribbean setting and its effects on social polarization will be part of the discussion. The different effects these planning policies have on the spaces occupied by the low income sector of the population will be compared to the effects on those people in the middle to upper classes.

Este articulo estudia dos maneras especificas en las que estan creadas y reguladas las urbanizaciones cerradas con acceso controlado en Puerto Rico. A traves de una serie de politicas publicas restrictivas de planificacion urbana, el acceso a espacios que se consideraban publicos fue transformado en maneras que afectan el flujo de personas en las areas urbanas, particularmente en el area metropolitana de San Juan. Esas politicas y particularidades en la construccion de comunidades cerradas en Puerto Rico, asi como los patrones de privatizacion de los espacios publicos en la isla, seran analizadas. Una interpretacion de como la concepcion de los espacios publicos y privados explican estas politicas en un entorno caribeno y sus efectos en la polarizaron social, sera parte de la discusion. Los diferentes efectos que estas politicas de planificacion tienen en los espacios ocupados por sectores de mas bajos recursas de la poblacion seran comparados con los efectos en personas en las clases medias y mas altas.

KEY WORDS: Puerto Rico, gated communities, public housing, urban geography, social polarization

INTRODUCTION

During the last decade of the 20th century those of us who were living in Puerto Rico at the time were able to experience changes in the perception of what public space is, or at least of what it should be. Through a series of restrictive public policies regarding urban planning, access to spaces that were thought of as public were transformed in ways that still affect the flow of people in urban areas, particularly the San Juan Metropolitan Area. More importantly these policies, although aimed at different types of public spaces, were evidently designed at maintaining the lower income sector of the population away from those spaces claimed by the people in the middle to upper classes.

This paper deals with two specific ways in which gated communities are created and regulated in Puerto Rico. As much of the literature about gated communities suggest, the creation of these kind of spaces are usually ways in which one sector of the population excludes another from what they consider "their" rightful space due to fear, prejudice or mere convenience (Davis 1990; Smith 1997; Low 2003). The situation in San Juan was not much different with regards to the motivations for these policies, yet there were two particular ways in which spaces were controlled that greatly differ from the gated community-by-design that is more common in places such as the United States.

The two policies that will be the focus of this paper are: 1) the gating of communities that were not designed as gated communities when they were built; and 2) the gating of public housing projects through the use of police and military force. As the reader will find out, these two policies were not working independently, on the contrary, they were complementary and they both had the aim of keeping the poorer sectors away from the spaces claimed by the more affluent ones. A brief analysis of these two policies and the particularities of retrofitting existing communities with gates in Puerto Rico will follow, as well as an analysis of privatization of public space in the Island and a brief interpretation of how the conception of public and private spaces informed these policies in a Caribbean setting. …

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