Friday, November 28, 2008

Gated communities (by Suzie)

            In a recent thread, someone talked about “gated communities” as synonymous with bastions of rich, racist whites. I’ve heard that a lot in the years that I’ve lived in gated communities.
            To those who say gated communities are elitist and exclusionary, I’d counter that expensive housing keeps poor people out of those neighborhoods, whether there’s a gate or not. I understand that gated communities may function in different ways around the world. In my county, however, they don’t appear to exclude people of color, or hinder people on foot or bicycles.
            In the United States, a lot of retirement centers and apartment complexes are gated, and some residents have low incomes. I live in a sprawling apartment complex separated from other sprawling apartment complexes by fences or small lakes, otherwise known as wetland areas or drainage ponds. Because my complex is near a university and three large hospitals, most of our residents are students or people who work at the university or the hospitals. I moved here because it’s close to the cancer center where I’m a patient. Because it’s a newer complex, the design was the most disability-friendly. Income varies here, and a lot of people have roommates. There are people of different ethnic backgrounds. None are rich, unless they’re anthropologists who have come to study us.
           My ZIP code includes poor neighborhoods with high crime. If people get enough money, they move to an apartment like mine. If a bag of money fell out of the sky onto my lap, I’d buy a house. Few people volunteer to live in high-crime neighborhoods just so they can build community spirit.
           The owners of apartment complexes may install walls, fences and gates in hopes of attracting people who fear crime. But they have many other reasons. In complexes with a lot of young people, for example, a gate can reduce the number of out-of-control parties.
           At my complex, people enter the gate either with a key card, or by calling a resident to buzz them in. Like many gated complexes in my county, our gate is open half the time, and there’s no guard sizing up people to see if they belong.
           Two weeks ago, our gate was broken once again, and young men with guns (such a bad combination!) accosted a woman in the parking lot, stealing her car. Some people say gates don’t provide any extra security, and that may be true. I haven’t examined the studies. Nevertheless, I'm glad the gate got fixed.