Gated Communities in the USA

Term Paper 2005 21 Pages

Economics - Other


Table of content

1. Introduction

2. Defining community

3. The different types of gated communities
3.1 Lifestyle communities
3.2 Prestige communities
3.3 Security zone communities

4. Reasons for the development of gated communities in the US

5. The consequences of the emergence of gated communities

6. Conclusion.


Eidesstattliche Erklärung

1. Introduction

International visitors, rising crime, and increasing economic class differences in the growing cities are not only an American issue. France, England, Switzerland, South Africa, Australia, and Sweden are only a few among the countries worldwide which are concerned with gated communities. But since gated communities are a typical form of suburban living and suburbia is rooted in the United States I want to focus on this country.

Different forms of gated communities are spreading rapidly. In the suburbs, as well as in inner-cities, but also as entirely new cities the spaces they characterize are larger and larger and also the life of more and more people. What had so far only been known from mega cities of the Third World or as a phenomenon of the apartheid in South Africa, is common anywhere today. Historically, spatially separated communities are actually nothing new in Europe or the US. Even in the middle ages monasteries and castles served as separation, and Tuxedo Park in New York was already fenced in 1885. However, the current development in the USA is new in terms of its variation and quantity and is therefore a relevant subject to research for urban studies.

Gated communities and their origin, development and spreading are a topic on which only little research has been conducted so far. In the past 15 years the boom of fenced neighborhoods in the United States has not only caused a dramatic change in American city landscapes, but has at the same time contributed to the development of a new, suburban society which deliberately wants to separate itself from the city, i.e. public life. Due to the decreasing quality of public service in many cities in the USA an alternative, private form of local government has established alongside the gated communities; often it has already substituted public communities in their function. With regard to these fundamental changes, it is astonishing that the matter of closed settlements has so far been subject to research only to a small extent. Studies, which deal with gated communities with regard to segregation of society and the fragmentation of the city connected to this, have only been carried out for few years.

At this point I would like to remark that it is not always easy to distinguish precisely between gated communities and upper-class public communities. Sometimes it lies in the eye of the spectator when exactly one can speak of a gated community and when not. Thus I will only pay attention to those forms of living that can be clearly identified as gated communities with the help of the criteria defined later on in my term paper. I will leave out those that show no physical entrance restrictions and are simply used as vocational homes, i.e. are not used permanently.

Before portraying the three different types of gated communities, namely lifestyle communities, prestige communities, and security zone communities, I will first define the term “community”. Next I will look at the reasons for the development of gated communities in the United States. Finally, I will illustrate the consequences of the quick and wide-spread emergence of gated communities. My intention will be to analyze this phenomenon of suburbanization critically by focusing on the origin of private neighborhoods and their physical and functional characteristics. I will conclude by deciding, whether we lock crime out or whether we lock ourselves out when choosing to live in a gated community.

2. Defining community

Developers and residents alike often talk about a feeling of “community” that is provided by gated communities. The search for community is always part of the hope for a better life inside the gates and walls. It does not matter whether the residents’ major motivation was security, privacy or status to move to a gated community – the search for a friendly and cohesive community is part of the motivation in most cases. But what exactly is community? Community is a vague term, full of history, moral connotations, nostalgia, and romanticism. However, scholars of community all agree upon the following facts: community entails sharing; members of a community generally share a certain territory which functions as defining the boundaries of the community. Historical names, housing types, walls, and gates are examples of this element. The second element of a community are the shared values among its members which serve to define identity and commonality regarding, for example, racial or ethnic background, income level or class, religion, and history and traditional celebrations. Another element is the shared public realm functioning as a common ground for interaction. Public parks, open spaces, streets and sidewalks are good examples here. Moreover, community members often share a common political and economic life and thus a shared destiny. Civic associations, voluntary neighborhood groups, the CC&Rs (to be explained below), and homeowner associations are examples for the element of a shared destiny.[1] A community can consist of only one house block or be as large as a region. Everyone is part of many communities, one overlapping the other. In America community is more than a set of local social relationships though. It is also a political instrument and a collection of social principles, formed in one territory.

3. The different types of gated communities

Gated communities physically restrict access so that places which are normally public are privatized. They differ from apartment buildings with guards and doormen, which exclude public access to the private space of lobbies and hallways. Instead, gated communities exclude people from traditionally public areas like sidewalks and streets. Not all walled neighborhoods with security guards look alike or serve the same market in the same ways; in fact they serve very different housing markets. Whereas in the past centuries private homes locked away from the surrounding world were simply rather uncommon ways of housing, in more recent times different types of gated communities can be found depending on the people living in it. Although this division is logical and necessary, all gated communities share certain features: They build physical barricades to limit the right of entry and they make community space private.


[1] Blakely/Snyder. Fortress America: Gated communities in the United States, p. 31-33


ISBN (eBook)
File size
435 KB
Catalog Number
Institution / College
University of Mannheim
Gated Communities Stadtökonomie



Title: Gated Communities in the USA