Gated communities: A spatial imprint of a mindset of exclusion
by Mirjam van Donk
ISSUE of gated communities is by all accounts a very emotive one.
Those in support of these neighbourhoods argue that enclosures
help to reduce crime and significantly enhance the quality of
life of residents. The arguments against gated communities are
many, ranging from the view that the enclosures violate human
rights to a concern with the long term socio-spatial implications
for South African cities.
communities are certainly popular, especially in Gauteng. A CSIR
review of gated communities conducted in 2002 found that Johannesburg
had the highest number of enclosed neighbourhoods in the country.
At the time, the city counted almost 300 enclosed neighbourhoods,
of which only 49 were considered legal and 188 were illegal closures.
The remaining 37 cases involved neighbourhoods whose approval
for closure had expired. With an additional 265 applications pending
at the time of the review, it is obvious that enclosed neighbourhoods
have a strong appeal. Neighbouring Tshwane counted 35 gated communities,
with 75 applications outstanding. Cape Town had 25 gated communities
and Mossel Bay 20.
rapidly growing post-apartheid phenomenon was brought to the attention
of the Human Rights Commission (HRC) last year. The HRC received
complaints that boom gates infringed human rights and in some
instances served to deny access on the basis of race. In response,
the HRC embarked on an investigation, which included public hearings
in September 2004. The purpose of the investigation was to assess
which, if any, human rights may be violated by the existence of
gated communities. Its findings have recently been released in
the report Road Closures/Boom Gates (available on www.sahrc.org.za).
Commission concluded that it does not support boom gates and gated
communities. For one, the use of road closures/boom gates has
the potential to – and does in practice – violate
a number of rights, such as the right to privacy, to human dignity
and to equality, freedom of movement and freedom of trade, occupation
and profession. Interestingly, the Commission also took a broader
view on what type of city is created by enclosed neighbourhoods.
According to the report: “… the effect and impact
of closures materially affects issues of urban mobility and functionality,
and militates against the original idea of a city as a place where
people could move around freely, engaging in business, social
activity and recreation as part of a collective.” In effect,
the Commission concluded, road closures/boom gates enhance social
polarisation and contribute to dysfunctional cities.
aspect the Commission did not mention explicitly is the fact that
enclosed neighbourhoods effectively lead to the privatisation
of public space. The roads in these communities are or have been
public roads, which are now only accessible to a very small proportion
of the population. In some cases, these are access roads, meaning
that road users are compelled to take longer, possibly more dangerous,
routes to get to their destination.
the not too distant future, the de facto privatisation of public
space possibly also means the segregation of public space. In
other words, the spaces inside the walls and boom gates are used
by the privileged few, whereas the spaces outside these enclosures
are for ‘them’ – the poor and unemployed, who
do not have the means to buy themselves a sense of security and
belonging. (Of course, there are also people who on principle
refuse to live in gated communities.)
essence, the dysfunctional spatial and social patterns of the
apartheid city are, in somewhat reconstituted form, reinforced
by the growing number of gated communities. Now it is no longer
the state that is driving this process, but private groups. In
the gated city, regulations equating pass laws are created and
enforced by private companies and residents associations. Although
wealth and status have officially replaced race as the key factor
of the inclusion/exclusion mentality underpinning gated communities,
there is no surprise here that the majority of those denied access
are black. Gated communities researcher Karina Landman has cautioned
that as well-organised and largely self-governed enclaves of wealth,
enclosed neighbourhoods can undermine and thwart the redistributive
thrust of municipal policies by refusing to pay taxes or levies
for citywide initiatives that they may not directly benefit from.
perhaps all this is a fair price to pay for an improved sense
of security (even if only for a small minority) and a reduction
in crime? Yet, although many of those in favour of enclosed communities
argue that these help bring about a reduction in crime, the HRC
could not find any conclusive evidence to support the introduction
of such restrictive measures. Instead, the Commission suggests
that more effort is put by citizens and their associations in
working together with the state, especially the police, to help
reduce violence and crime. Also, the Commission is of the view
that in many instances alternative measures can be explored, such
as traffic calming measures and closed circuit television, which
are less exclusive / excluding and intruding.
Commission also contests the dominant perception that South African
crime rates are unusually high. In fact, a UN International Crime
Victims Survey found that South African crime rates are not dissimilar
from a number of other countries in sub-Saharan Africa. However,
in comparison with other countries, South Africans – particularly
those of minority groups – reflect a high fear of crime.
To some extent, it is this fear that drives the emergence of gated
communities. But it is also fear of ‘the other’, often
masked as a vote of no confidence in the police and local government.
some, living in a gated community is about status and enhanced
property values. Even if in theory all communities can choose
to apply for enclosures, in reality gatedness has become the lifestyle
choice of the rich. As a lifestyle, it reflects a value base for
clearly demarcated parameters of in-/exclusion.
we want to live in cities that symbolise fear and exclusion? Once
barriers are up, it tends to be a lot harder to have them removed.
Do we want our cities to reflect well-resourced pockets of wealth
and privilege, well-protected from the ghettos where the majority
of South Africans live? Gatedness creates a false sense of reality:
it allows us to close our eyes to poverty and inequality in society,
embodied by people ringing the doorbell looking for a menial job
or asking for leftover food (who are not allowed into enclosed
neighbourhoods). And from an aesthetic point of view (which is,
of course, very subjective), do we really want our cities to reflect
these monocultures of development? But perhaps the most important
question is: what morality, what normative framework do we want
to see reflected in the way our cities (and its citizens) function
and develop? At a more personal level, how much do we reflect
on the cumulative and long term impacts of our individual choices
about residential location? At the end of the day, the growth
of gated communities is a response to a demand in the market that
arises from a specific mindset (values and attitudes) among middle