Academic journal article The Geographical Bulletin

Gated Communities: Institutionalizing Social Stratification

Academic journal article The Geographical Bulletin

Gated Communities: Institutionalizing Social Stratification

Article excerpt


Much interest has been generated in recent years concerning "gated communities" and other types of privatized residential spaces. An abundance of theories and evaluations from varied professional perspectives has flourished in these rich soils. While there is a dearth of empirical studies thus far, theories still in development provide a range of perspectives for consideration. The foci for the most recent studies range from an increased concern about metropolitan fragmentation to political incorporation. At one end, socio-economic and demographic segmentation and segregation have been criticized as leading to a further fragmented social structure. I suggest that this process is exacerbating social ills by creating pockets of economic, cultural, and social within-group homogeneity, leading to social, cultural, and structural dissimilarities between communities. Notions of social fragmentation can be better understood in the context of poverty and deprivation, otherness, being a minority member, racial discrimination, and class-based segregation (Altinok and Cengiz 2008). Conversely, others have idealized privatized spaces as public/private Utopian partnerships that reduce crime, and increase security while holding down public infra-structural costs, and enhancing tax revenues by increasing property values.

Many communities have privatized civic responsibilities, such as police protection, and communal services, including education, recreation, and, in some cases, entertainment, (Blakely and Snyder 1997b; Le Goix 2006). Though gated communities have been considered by some municipal governments and planners as a form of secession from the larger society (Cashin 2001; Damstra 2001) others have suggested that gated communities are particularly desirable for local governments (McKenzie 1994; Le Goix and Callen 2008). This seems to hold truer in areas where suburbanization, lower densities, the growing costs of infrastructures, and a continued reduction of fiscal resources are part of what McKenzie (1994) has put forth as the pre-eminent urbanization paradigm between developers and local governments. In these cases, the gated communities arguably serve as a benefit for public authority, "whilst the Property Owners Association (POA) is granted certain autonomy in local governance, and especially in financing the maintenance of urban infrastructure" (Le Goix and Callen 2010, 106).

There has recently been a significant increase in the number of gated communities. In the 1970s, there were approximately 2000 gated communities in the U.S. In the early 2000s, this number had increased to over 50, 000 developments, with more being built every year (McGoey n.d.). This equates to approximately 6% of national households. "One-third of all new homes built in the United States in recent years are in gated residential developments" (Low 2001, 46). The numbers vary greatly, depending on the source. According to the 2000 U.S. Census, 16 million people, or approximately 7 million households, live in gated communities. This number is two to four times greater than the 4 to 8 million reported in the Architectural Record (Diamond 1997).

Much of the research into gated communities thus far has been carried out by sociologists and anthropologists who have focused on the residents of these communities. Urban and regional theorists, meanwhile, have attempted to link the emergence of gated communities to wider processes of economic and urban restructuring associated (in some cases) with globalization (Low 2003). Caldeira proposed that "[t]he Garden City model, modernist design and city planning, and now the fortified enclaves. are part of the repertoire from which different cities around the world are now drawing" (1996, 320) for the new age of urban structure and planning.


Gated communities have been defined from a variety of perspectives, but most share certain commonalities. These include physical barriers to entry and movement (the creation of boundaries of exclusion), the privatization and communal control of public spaces (if in fact communal public spaces exist), and in some cases, the privatization of public services (or the transferring of certain responsibilities of "communities" away from direct pubic intervention) (McMullen n. …

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