Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Gated Cities of Tomorrow

Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Gated Cities of Tomorrow

Article excerpt

One of the defining characteristics of urbanisation in the last quarter of the twentieth century was the rapid spread of proprietary urban communities. A proprietary community is a privately owned and privately governed estate in which a group of households or firms share certain communal facilities which they pay for via ground rent, service fee or some other device. There are broadly three kinds-commercial, retail and residential. Private business parks and shopping malls are well established in the United Kingdom. However, private residential estates are still a novelty here. Consumers, retailers and local governments have broadly accepted the 'mailed' private high street. Within malls, communal infrastructure is supplied and regulated by private companies on the basis of payments made by retailers and recovered ultimately from customers. The mall is a remarkable example of urban re-engineering in which the old model of public-sector supply of public shopping space, financed via local taxation, is replaced by private supply financed on a voluntary basis.

This paper considers the parallel idea of private-supplied residential space. Its main purpose is to encourage and help structure debate about proprietary residential communities in Britain and elsewhere, believing that we will see many more of them in the years to come. Following this introduction, the next section reflects on the historical antecedents to modern gated communities, while the following section is a commentary on the 'urban enclosure' polemic, highlighting the extremes in the academic debate about private cities. The argument then turns to a presentation of reasons for supposing that gated communities might become more common in Britain and other countries where the trend is not yet well established. The penultimate section is a discussion of the efficiency of proprietary communities, drawing on theories of collective consumption and emphasising the importance of joint-consumption clubs within modern cities. The paper concludes with elements of a research agenda.

Private cities: Howard's other legacy

One hundred years ago Howard published his famous manifesto for 'garden cities'. Only one chapter out of 13 was devoted to elaborating the celebrated idea of a network of social cities. The bulk of the book is concerned with promoting the idea of 'private cities'. Howard was an inventor and had invented what he thought was a winning idea. It pulled together a set of ideas popular at the time, to come up with a practical solution for overcrowded cities in which efficiency was impeded by excessive land values and an under-productive labour force living in squalor. His solution decanted jobs and workers to new settlements privately built on low-value agricultural sites. They would be privately governed too. His social ideals were progressive but he expected the market to deliver his garden cities-indeed, Garden Cities of Tomorrow (Howard, 1992) was a prospectus for would-be investors.

A century later a version of Howard's private settlement dream is being delivered on a scale that he could never have imagined. In one sense modern gated communities might seem to have little to do with Howard's vision, inspired as it was by the egalitarian land-ownership ideals of Herbert Spencer and Alfred Marshall's call for the relocation of labour and labour-intensive firms out of big cities. However, Howard's use of Marshall and Spencer's ideas was instrumental and, together with Buckingham's inspirational model town, they were to Howard's garden city rather like three separate mechanical components in his other inventions-he was, as is well known, an inventor of machines. In his own words:

[The Garden City's] chief claim upon the attention of the public lies in the fact that it combines the important features of several schemes which have been advocated at various times, and so combines them so as to secure the best results of each, without the dangers and difficulties which sometimes, even in the minds of their authors, were clearly and distinctly seen. …

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