Now, in the wake of the Trayvon Martin death in a gated community in Sanford, Florida, Blakely argues again that putting gates around residential areas to keep out the uninvited is a bad way of dealing with crime and community.
Between 6 and 9 million Americans are estimated to live in single-family homes in gated suburban developments. Gated communities are found in every socioeconomic class, says Blakely, now honorary professor of urban policy at the United States Studies Center at the University of Sydney, Australia.
Gates convey to those living behind them that their “home” extends all the way to the walls surrounding the compound. Because streets and parks are accessible only to those living within the community, they begin to feel more like private living rooms and are defended fiercely against intruders. When gates blur public and private spaces in this way, these communities can become dangerous for the people inside and outside them—and dangerous for the nation’s ideal of equality among its people.
Gates and security guards convey to residents that their preserve is outside the wider community's laws, says Blakely, who is probably best known for his role as recovery administrator in New Orleans after the hurricanes of 2005. "It is their kingdom; anyone who enters it is subject to new rules that transfer public authority to private individuals. This creates a tragedy of the commons in which vigilante security can be a result of residents’ mistrust of the suburbs from which they’ve been walled off."
In controlled spaces, he warns, "an 'us vs. them' mentality festers," and the notion of civic engagement shrinks. Cities, he says, need to ask themselves how democracy can function if some of its members develop a private space that operates in isolation."
Blakely's views are in concord with commentaries by a number of others, including a March 22 blog posting on Better! Cities & Towns by Robert Steuteville.
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