What is it about gated communities that sends us into orbit?
Calgary Planning Commission (CPC) just approved the construction of a “gate” in the southern Calgary to keep the hoi polloi out of Mahogany Manor despite the fact that the Planning Department recommended refusal.
The “gate” is actually a seven foot high solid wall made of “rocky mountain rustic masonry and boulders” pierced by two vehicle gates and a five foot high pedestrian gate made of slatted black wrought iron.*
It’s part of what the developer calls the “Island Collection”—two exclusive private islands on which it will build multimillion-dollar single family homes to create “Calgary’s most remarkable new address.”
The residents of the Island Collection will alight on their doorsteps after they swipe a cardkey or click a remote control to get through the gates, drive over a private bridge and out on to a man-made island in the middle of a man-made lake.
Full Disclosure: Mr Soapbox sits on CPC. He and two of his fellow commissioners rejected this application, but were in the minority. The “Dissenting Commissioner” (as he is referred to in the press and around the Soapbox household) said that the gate was nothing but a marketing ploy.
The developer agreed.
The desire to “fort-up”
Humanity has been “forting-up” (to use a term coined by Jillian L Golby) since 300 BC but gated communities are a relatively new phenomenon in Canada.
There are three types of gated communities: “lifestyle” communities like retirement villages with self-contained organizational and recreational facilities; “prestige” communities which lack life-style amenities but ooze status and distinction; and “security zone” communities where rich and poor alike erect barricades to keep out the criminal element.
The Island Collection with 22 custom estate homes complete with personal docks, private beachfront and lake access falls comfortably into the “prestige” gated community category.
Safety, security, community
Gated communities appeal to the public because they promise safety, privacy, exclusivity, sameness and community. Let’s take that from the top, shall we.
The promise of safety is an illusion.
With the possible exception of car thefts, gated communities experience the same crime rates as ungated communities.
Why? Because the only way to get into a gated community is with a cardkey or an access code and the residents cheerfully hand these out to their friends and relatives as well as the little people who trim their shrubs, clean their houses, kill their pests and deliver their pizzas.
The Island Collection will provide an intercom system for guests and service providers to alleviate the problem of the porous gate. But it will allow entry to garbage trucks, recycling and emergency crews through a keypad access and/or a lockbox system and strobe sensors (whatever they are) so the porosity concern remains.*
Oh, and on the issue of community, while residents of gated communities experience a closer sense of community—the shared communal space on “our” side of the wall belongs to “us” not “you”—this doesn’t mean that they actually know their neighbours any better than the rest of us living out here in the wild and woolly world outside the gate.
What’s the big deal?
Gated communities offer sameness, homogeneity and predictability. For some reason this is viewed as a positive attribute. Steady on Ms Soapbox, don’t get snarky.
So what’s wrong with homogeneity and predictability? If people can afford to live in a “prestige” gated communities why should the “hypocritical hand-holding nannies” at City Hall be allowed to stop them?
Gated communities have a detrimental impact on the city.
Golby says the fortification and privatization of communities is harmful to the prosperity and growth of a city. As the wealthy shift to privatized infrastructure and services, they abandon their responsibility for public infrastructure and services. This increases the burden for the middle and low income classes.
Gated communities have a detrimental impact on society.
A gated community is an elite homogeneous population that focuses inward. It turns its back on urban problems and blinds itself to social issues beyond the gate. The result is increased social fragmentation and alienation.
Gated communities in Calgary
Ignoring the general concerns with gated communities, consider this.
City administrators and the public worked for years to create a long term vision for Calgary. The result of their hard work is captured in the Municipal Development Plan (MDP). The MDP strives for integration, creating neighbourhood bonds and community interconnectivity.
And yes, while Calgary Planning Commission has some discretion, it should not have exercised it here. The “gate”—which is actually a rock wall—tears apart neighbourhood bonds and community interconnectivity by creating a “separate, exclusive and isolated community” that turns its back on the rest of Calgary and all who live here.*
Remember the 2013 flood? One wonders whether after the next natural disaster Calgarians will pile into pick-up trucks to help their neighbours living in the Island Collection…no wait, they won’t be able to get past the gate. They don’t have a cardkey.
*Report to CPC Dec 4 2014 DP2014-4179