Fortress America: Gated Communities in the United States / Edition 1

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Overview

Gated communities are a new "hot button" in many North American cities. From Boston to Los Angeles and from Miami to Toronto citizens are taking sides in the debate over whether any neighborhood should be walled and gated, preventing intrusion or inspection by outsiders. This debate has intensified since the hard cover edition of this book was published in 1997. Since then the number of gated communities has risen dramatically. In fact, new homes in over 40 percent of planned developments are gated n the West, the South, and southeastern parts of the United States.

Opposition to this phenomenon is growing too. In the small and relatively homogenous town of Worcester, Massachusetts, a band of college students from Brown University and the University of Chicago picketed the Wexford Village in November of 1998 waving placards that read "Gates Divide." These students are symbolic of a much larger wave of citizens asking questions about the need for and the social values of gates that divide one portion of a community from another.

A survey of the social impact of these growing communities.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"This book is the first major study of the development and social impact of this phenomenon that has major implications for urban design. It is... important reading for all involved with and concerned about cities." —Steven Tiesdell, University of Aberdeen, UK, Journal of Urban Design, 12/13/2000

"Well-grounded in the social science literature on community, FORTRESS AMERICA is a frightening book, a mustread for all those interested in our nation's cities, suburbs, neighborhoods, and communities. Blakely and Snyder take the reader on a well-crafted and lively tour of gated communities in the United States." — Society

"A thoughtful, low-key book that mirrors the quiet but important trend toward fenced neighborhoods....The authors have a clear and consistent viewpoint...and end with rational, realistic suggestions for building better communities without erecting fortresses.... The book offers a calm and reasoned tone for a revolutionary tendency and deserves a wide audience." — Publishers Weekly

"Fortress America illustrates some powerful contemporary social impulses by collecting a wealth of evidence about gated communities and testimony from their residents." — The New York Times Book Review

"This is the first comprehensive survey of gated communities and their impacts, and immediately becomes the starting point for research on this important subject....This is a major contribution to the study of contemporary landscapes, communities, and settlement patterns, especially urban geography, urban sociology, and environmental psychology. Very highly recommended." — Choice

"[A] thorough, well-argued book... Its moral tone, sense of justice, and relative lack of political jargon allow it to be recommended for general readers." — Library Journal

"FORTRESS AMERICA has much to recommend it. It is the first book devoted entirely to the study of the gated community phenomenon, the social and political ramifications of which should not be taken lightly.... Blakely and Snyder raise some fascinating questions that deserve attention." — American Political Science Review

"In short, this book is the first major study of the development and social impact of this phenomenon that has major implications for urban design. It is therefore important reading for all involved with and concerned about cities and urban design." —Steven Tiesdell, University of Aberdeen, UK, Journal of Urban Design, 9/1/2000

"required reading for the anti-gate set." —Evan Halper, Los Angeles Times, 5/28/2002

"This is a well written book about a topic of growing importance in both the professional press and public debate." —Roderick J. Lawrence, Switzerland University of Geneva, Open House International, 6/1/2002

"This is a major contribution to the study of contemporary landscapes, communities, and settlement patterns, especially urban geography, urban sociology, and environmental psychology." —P.O. Muller, University of Miami, CHOICE, 6/1/2005

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Some social revolutions slam into our consciousness with banner headlines and others creep in insidiously as a series of small surprises. Gated communities have been around since the early 1980s and definitely belong to the latter category. Despite the dramatic title, college professor Blakely and doctoral student Snyder have written a thoughtful, low-key book that mirrors the quiet but important trend toward fenced neighborhoods. "The real issue," they write, "is not about the actual gates and walls, but why so many feel they need them." They collected material directly and simply by going to communities and talking to residents, and by mail surveys of homeowner associations. With three million households and about eight million people currently barricaded, a variety of approaches to gated living were available for study, though the reasons residents chose them always centered around fear of crime and attempts to produce economic and physical security. Early chapters trace the evolution and history of the phenomenon, and later discussion presents homeowners' defense of secession and exclusion of others from their economic and social privilege. The authors have a clear and consistent democratic viewpoint, however, and end with rational, realistic suggestions for building better communities without erecting fortresses. The subject may lack the glamour of more dramatic and trendy social problems, but the book offers a calm and reasoned tone for a revolutionary tendency and deserves a wide audience. (Oct.)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780815710035
  • Publisher: Brookings Institution Press
  • Publication date: 8/1/1999
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 224
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.51 (d)

Meet the Author

Edward J. Blakely is Dean of the School of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Southern California. His previous books include Planning Local Economic Development (Sage, 1994) and Separate Societies (Temple, 1993), winner of the 1994 Paul Davidoff award for the best book in planning. Mary Gail Snyder is at the Department of City and Regional Planning at the University of California, Berkeley.

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Table of Contents

1. Forting Up 1
2. The Search for Community 29
3. Gates to Paradise: Lifestyle Communities 46
4. I Have a Dream: The Prestige Communities 74
5. Enclaves of Fear: Security Zone Communities 99
6. You Can Run, But You Can't Hide 125
7. Not-So-Brave New World 144
8. Building Better Communities 161
Appendix 178
Notes 180
References 194
Index 203
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First Chapter

1

Forting Up

The setting of boundaries is always a political act. Boundaries determine membership: someone must be inside and someone outside. Boundaries also create and delineate space to facilitate the activities and purposes of political, economic, and social life. Using physical space to create social place is a long and deep American tradition.

Gated communities, one of the more dramatic forms of residential boundaries, have been springing up around the country since the early 1980s. Millions of Americans have chosen to live in walled and fenced communal residential space that was previously integrated with the larger shared civic space. Civic space is more than a political or jurisdictional construct. It is a manifestation of society, culture, and the shared polity.

In this era of dramatic demographic, economic and social change, there is a growing fear about the future in America. Many feel vulnerable, unsure of their place and the stability of their neighborhoods in the face of rapid change. This is reflected in an increasing fear of crime that is unrelated to actual crime trends or locations, and in the growing number of methods used to control the physical environment for physical and economic security. The phenomenon of walled cities and gated communities is a dramatic manifestation of a new fortress mentality growing in America. Gates, fences, and private security guards, like exclusionary land-use policies, development regulations, and an assortment of other planning tools, are means of control, used to restrict or limit access to residential, commercial, and public spaces.

Americans are electing to live behind walls with active security mechanisms to prevent intrusion into their private domains. Americans of all classes are forting up, attempting to secure the value of their houses, reduce or escape from the impact of crime, and find neighbors who share their sense of the good life. The new fortress developments are predominantly suburban, with a growing number of urban inner-city counterparts. They are, however, more than walled-off areas and refuges from urban violence and a rapidly changing society. They are also a search for sociospatial community--the ideal community that Americans have sought since the landing of the Pilgrims.

Gated communities are residential areas with restricted access in which normally public spaces are privatized. They are security developments with designated perimeters, usually walls or fences, and controlled entrances that are intended to prevent penetration by nonresidents. They include new developments and older areas retrofitted with gates and fences, and they are found from the inner cities to the exurbs and from the richest neighborhoods to the poorest. Their gates range from elaborate two-story guardhouses staffed twenty-four hours a day to roll-back wrought-iron gates to simple electronic arms. Guardhouses are usually built with one lane for guests and visitors and a second lane for residents, who may open the gates with an electronic card, a code, or a remote control device. Some communities with round-the-clock security require all cars to pass the guard, issuing identification stickers for residents' cars. Others use video cameras to record the license plate numbers and sometimes the faces of all who pass through. Entrances without guards have intercom systems, some with video monitors, that residents may use to screen visitors.

The residences we are discussing are not multi-unit, high-density apartment and condominium buildings with security systems or doormen in which gates or guards prevent public access to lobbies, hallways, and parking lots. Gated communities are different: their walls and fences preclude public access to streets, sidewalks, parks, beaches, rivers, trails, playgrounds--all resources that without gates or walls would be open and shared by all the citizens of a locality.

We estimate that more than 3 million American households have already sought out this new refuge from the problems of urbanization. In 1985 gated communities existed in only a handful of places. Today they can be found in every major metropolitan area. These developments in part reflect the notion of community as an island, a social bulwark against the general degradation of the urban social order; they also reflect the increasing attempt to substitute private controls for public organization, for the joint responsibilities of democratic citizenship all of us share. Gates and walls are not necessary or natural consequences of these social trends, or causes of them; they are, rather, a dramatic manifestation of them.

Gates and fences around our neighborhoods represent more than simple physical barriers. Gated communities manifest a number of tensions: between exclusionary aspirations rooted in fear and protection of privilege and the values of civic responsibility; between the trend toward privatization of public services and the ideals of the public good and general welfare; and between the need for personal and community control of the environment and the dangers of making outsiders of fellow citizens.

The gated communities phenomenon has enormous policy consequences. It allows some citizens to secede from public contact, excluding others from sharing in their economic and social privilege. This result raises an ideological question that prompts polarized viewpoints. Are gated communities a metaphor of the exclusionary fortress, creating walls between citizens, or are they refuges from the forces that threaten family, economic security, and quality of life?

Underlying our study is the question of how gated communities reflect community and citizenship in America. The real issue is not about the actual gates and walls, but why so many feel they need them. What is the measure of nationhood when the divisions between neighborhoods require guards and fences to keep out other citizens? When public services and even local government are privatized, when the community of responsibility stops at the subdivision gates, what happens to the function and the very idea of a social and political democracy? Can this nation fulfill its social contract in the absence of social contact?

The Evolution of Gated Communities

Gated and walled cities are as old as city-building itself. In England the earliest gated communities were built by the occupying Romans around 300 B.C. Roman soldiers were given land and estates in tribal areas after their term of service in the army in order to buttress and stabilize Roman order in the vast and sparsely defended countryside. Roman families clustered near or within the manor precinct and erected walls and other defenses. Contrary to popular belief, the walls around these settlements were seldom to protect against external invaders but rather to guard against the local villagers who might turn on the baron at any moment. Tribespeople often rebelled against their masters for real and imagined grievances. Later, fortresses also served to protect against invaders or internal warring factions.

Thus the systems of walls and class division was deeply ingrained in England. Successive kings Henry I, Richard II, and Charles II holed up in the Tower of London to protect themselves against either rebellious nobles or hostile and dangerous villagers. London had no police force until the eighteenth century, so people of means forted up to protect themselves and their clans from the savagery of the local population. The heritage of this system can still be seen on the English landscape in the walled abbeys, manors, and castles.

Walled and gated military settlements were also built in the New World, with the earliest being the Spanish fort towns in the Caribbean. Not until the latter half of the nineteenth century did the first purely residential gated neighborhoods appear. Upper-income gated developments like New York's Tuxedo Park and the private streets of St. Louis were built in the late 1800s by wealthy citizens to insulate themselves from the troublesome aspects of rapidly industrializing cities. During the twentieth century more gated, fenced compounds were built by members of the East Coast and Hollywood aristocracies for privacy, protection, and prestige. But these early gated preserves were different from the gated subdivisions of today. They were uncommon places for uncommon people.

Gated communities remained rarities until the advent of the master-planned retirement developments of the late 1960s and 1970s. Retirement developments like Leisure World were the first places where average Americans could wall themselves off. Gates soon spread to resorts and country club developments, and then to middle-class suburban subdivisions. In the 1980s, upscale real estate speculation and the trend to conspicuous consumption saw the proliferation of gated communities around golf courses that were designed for exclusivity, prestige, and leisure. The decade also marked the emergence of gated communities built primarily out of fear, as the public became increasingly preoccupied with violent crime. Gates became available in developments of suburban single-family tracts and high-density urban apartment complexes. Since the late 1980s, gates have become ubiquitous in many areas of the country; there are now entire incorporated cities that feature guarded entrances.

Because gated communities in their contemporary form first began in resort and retirement areas, they are most common in the Sunbelt states of the Southeast and Southwest. Thereafter they began to appear in metropolitan areas in all parts of the country. They came later to the Northeast, Midwest, and Northwest, where the trend toward gating is now growing rapidly. In absolute numbers, California and Florida are home to the most gated communities, with Texas running a distant third. Gated communities are also common around New York City, Chicago, and other major metropolitan areas, but they are found nearly everywhere--in Oregon, Washington, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Arkansas, Massachusetts, Hawaii, Kansas, Missouri, Michigan, Nevada, and the District of Columbia suburbs of Virginia and Maryland. Because they are primarily a phenomenon of metropolitan agglomerations, they are rare in largely rural states like the Dakotas, Vermont, and West Virginia (see figure 1-1).

Although early gated communities were restricted to retirement villages and compounds for the super rich, the majority of the newer settlements of the 1970s to 1990s are middle to upper-middle class. Higher-end tracts in planned communities are now commonly gated. Gates are more common in larger tracts because there are more units over which to spread the cost of walling, gating, and constructing and staffing guardhouses. For similar reasons, they also are more common in townhouse and other higher-density developments, where unit costs are often low enough to place gates within the reach of the middle class. However, gates are not yet commonplace for the lower end of the income spectrum, even in California. We estimate that one-third of the developments built with gates are luxury developments for the upper and upper-middle class, and perhaps another third are retirement oriented (see figure 1-2). The remainder are mostly for the middle class, although there are a growing number of working-class gated communities.

We estimate in 1997 that there are as many as 20,000 gated communities, with more than 3 million units. They are increasing rapidly in number, in all regions and price classes. A leading national real estate developer estimates that eight out of every ten new urban projects are gated. Suburban fortified developments are also proliferating. In 1988 one-third of the 140 projects in development in Orange County, California, were gated, double the proportion just five years earlier. In 1989 a construction company in the area reported three times the demand for gated communities as for nongated communities. In the nearby San Fernando Valley, there were approximately a hundred gated communities in existence by the end of the 1980s, nearly all built since 1979. A 1990 survey of southern California home shoppers found that 54 percent wanted a home in a gated, walled development; the question had not even been asked a handful of years earlier. On Long Island, gated communities were rare in the mid-1980s, but by the mid-1990s they had become common, with a gatehouse included in almost every condominium development of more than fifty units. Chicago, suburban Atlanta, and nearly all other large U.S. cities report similar trends.

Economic and social segregation are not new. In fact, zoning and city planning were designed, in part, to preserve the position of the privileged with subtle variances in building and density codes. But gated communities go further in several respects than other means of exclusion. They create physical barriers to access. They also privatize community space, not merely individual space. Many gated areas also privatize civic responsibilities like police protection and communal services such as street maintenance, recreation, and entertainment. The new developments can create a private world that need share little with its neighbors or with the larger political system.

The first step in creating this private world is controlling access to it. From the beginning, the suburbs have intended to separate their residents, first from the city and later even from each other. Over time, developers have devised many means of controlling access. Street design was the original and favored technique for providing exclusivity and privacy in the suburbs. Michael Southworth has documented how developers progressively sealed off suburban residential areas by altering the old grid street patterns, moving from the gridiron to interrupted parallels, to loops and lollipops. These street patterns thwarted easy automobile access and created successively more self-contained, self-focused, and unconnected subdivisions that made it easier for residents to control their own space. The move away from the grid was an intentional device, similar to the gate today. Convoluted dead-end streets limit access and restrict who enters the area by acting as a deterrent to all nonresidents--casual visitors as well as criminals (see figure 1-3).

Many other forms of control of access and space, less tangible than street design, have been developed over the decades. These have included single-use zoning and inaccessibility to public transit. As the suburban form developed, one of the most important changes besides street patterns was that public buildings and public spaces no longer anchored the center of a town. The new, solely residential developments were designed to focus inward, emphasizing private over public space. Private backyards and fenced-in areas shielded neighbors from one another. The carport or garage replaced the porch in the front of the house, reorienting the dwelling unit to its rear, away from the street, neighbors, and other people. With the decline of public space, increasingly sophisticated and complete private subdivision amenities emerged as a replacement for the common street front and easy communications across porches and front yards. Gating of this inwardly focused residential space became a natural and almost predictable development along the continuum of ever-reduced inter- and intra-communal communications.

Today gates and walls, much more hard and fixed barriers than street patterns, control entrance and egress in suburban subdivisions and urban neighborhoods around the country. Along with the trend toward gating in the suburbs, city neighborhoods are also using barricades and gates with increasing frequency. In neighborhoods built on the old grid pattern, street closures attempt to simulate the suburban pattern by altering access. It is there, in the older neighborhoods retrofitted with gates, that we see the intention behind gates most clearly, much more clearly than in pristine new subdivisions built with guardhouses. Gates are a more intense and obvious method of controlling access than the older, more subtle suburban designs, but they are not an entirely new phenomenon. They are the outgrowth of decades of suburban design and public land-use policy. Gates are firmly within the suburban tradition: they enhance and harden the suburbanness of the suburbs, and they attempt to suburbanize the city.

The Suburbs as Utopias

Gated communities are part of the trend of suburbanization, and their roots lie in the same urban design tradition. The suburb is a distinctly American form, but its roots can be traced to nineteenth-century England. The artificial village features we find in planned unit developments are vestiges of the development of English country homes in the industrial era. Emulating the landed country gentry, merchants and industrialists built small country estates in or on the fringe of remote villages that lay along the new paved highways developed during the reign of George III. Those same towns received the first rails as well. Over time, more rapid transportation opened country living to people with money, not merely those with landed wealth and inherited social position.

In the United States, a similar pattern of transportation improvements spelled the end of the walking city and fostered the growth of the suburbs. And while the associations of peerage disappeared in the New World, the trappings of class and status remained. Only prosperous, established citizens could afford to commute to the city. The earliest developer-planned suburb, New Brighton on Long Island, offered what suburban developers still advertise: "the means of withdrawing from the labor and anxiety of commerce to the quiet of their own families."

Suburbs are not a recent innovation of market-driven developers. They have a long utopian history of famous designers and visionaries attempting to create the good life and the good society. Intentional community design can be traced back to Robert Owens in the late eighteenth century. Owens and his French contemporary Charles Fourier were among the first in the Western tradition to suggest that the place-form could affect human emotions and influence social systems: "The ideas informing the communal life style--perfectibility, order, brotherhood, merging of mind and body, experimentation, and the community's uniqueness--all represent its intentional quality, with harmony as their principal theme: harmony with nature, harmony among people, and harmony between spirit and the flesh."

Later, in the nineteenth century, designers such as Frederick Law Olmsted and Frank Lloyd Wright created utopian environments around curvilinear streets or cur-de-sacs, building self-contained, separate developments with carefully constructed identities (see figure 1-4). The earliest suburbs offered the same features that attract residents today: quality housing, security, proximity to city amenities, and exclusivity.

No architect had more influence on the American suburban form than Frank Lloyd Wright. His house form--a single-story, servantless dwelling of grace and elegance--created the archetype for the suburban home and made it the preferred and envied housing type of middle-class America. Frank Lloyd Wright designed it, Norman Rockwell articulated it, and the movies and television popularized and glamorized it. This style of housing allowed middle-class mobility with comfort and efficiency and provided for easy subdivision assembly on a large scale based on a master plan. The Wright suburban form found its way into "modern communities" designed by Olmsted and others in Berkeley, California, Tarrytown Heights, New York, and Riverside, Illinois. Their streetcar suburbs were in turn the precursors to the auto suburbs of Levittown and the modern bedroom communities.

The suburb, sign of middle-class rank and position, has been city-averse from its beginning. The English merchant, the American industrialist, and later the middle-class American worker all were trying to escape the city. In the case of the English, the flight to the suburbs was an escape from the unhealthy and uncomfortable dirt and congestion of industrial London. But even as the suburbs might be an escape or a respite, London was still perceived as the action center, and suburban dwellings were second homes, used for weekend and summer retreats. As Samuel Johnson said, "When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford."

The American suburb is very different in character and intention. Unlike its English predecessor, it became the primary residential locus very early in the industrialization process. The American merchant class could not afford two dwellings. Moreover, land in this country was cheap and open space plentiful. Thus, while industrial development spawned urbanization, it also created suburbanization as a component of this process. As early as 1815 a new middle class was emerging and finding its way out of the central cities. Brooklyn Heights, for example, was a suburb away from Manhattan, as were most of the Bronx, Long Island, and Yonkers. By 1911, three years after manufacture of the first mass-produced Ford began, 38 percent of New York's lawyers already lived outside the borough of Manhattan.

The creators of the suburbs did everything they could to dissociate their developments from the city. Names of developments were usually built around words like "park," "forest," "river," "hills," or "valley," mixed with "view," "park," or "estates." The resulting Forest Parks and Green Valley Estates were meant to conjure up bucolic rural imagery and only coincidentally to reflect the actual landscape.

As Kenneth Jackson documents, the flight to the suburbs has been going on for decades, although it has sometimes been masked by aggressive annexation strategies that incorporated suburbs into the city limits. Nowhere is this more clearly manifested than in Los Angeles, where the old city names of Hollywood, San Fernando, Pico, Westwood, and Studio City have more civic identity than the city that annexed them. But the era in which suburbs were incorporated into growing cities is long over, and the physical, social, and economic distinctions between city and suburb are sharper than ever. A majority of Americans now live in suburbs. Driven by lower costs and the desire to avoid low-income minorities (who are equated with crime) and other urban problems, the expansion of the suburbs is likely to accelerate as development moves ever farther out, supported by and leapfrogging beyond the new economic centers of the edge cities.

The suburbs are meant to fulfill a number of aspirations: they should offer close proximity to nature; they should be safe; they should have good education and good kids in the schools; they should shelter residents from social deviance of every form; they should be clean and friendly; they should keep out or limit anything that varies from their physical form and architecture. But suburbs are no longer as uniform or as racially and ethnically sterile as that ideal. Demographic, social, and cultural changes have permeated society, and the suburbs are changing and diversifying. As the suburbs age and become more diverse, they have encountered problems once thought of as urban: crime, vandalism, disinvestment, and blight.

"Suburban" no longer automatically means safe, beautiful, or ideal. The automobile, the rising middle-class minorities of Asians, Hispanics, and African Americans, and equal housing access laws have made it difficult for the white middle class to find refuge in suburban distance alone. And no place is truly safe. If security cannot be found in location alone, perhaps it can be found in a development type--the gated community. And perhaps the much-longed-for community of face-to-face contact in a defined neighborhood territory can also be found behind walls.

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