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Gated Communities - A World Phenomenon

Gated communities are residential areas within restricted access such that normally public spaces have been privatized. The earliest gated communities were ancient fortified cities. The first walled cities in the New World were Spanish fort towns in the Carribean. Later during nineteenth century, some residential areas were constructed with gates and private streets as in St Louis (Blakely & Snyder, 1997).

Typical unit in close neighbourhood in Portland Place in the 1930s

Typical entrance of Hutongs in China

While the United State of America (USA) is popularly credited with inventing and exporting Common Interest Developments (CID), there are signs that the American experience is part of a more general global secular trend. Private and public governments such as gated communities are springing up in various form in many countries and can partly be explained by the dissemination of international real estate practices. Many of this neighbourhoods are fenced or walled off as well as having a limited number of controlled entrances/exits, manned by security guards in most cases.

Gated communities is a world phenomenon. Everywhere cities around the world have this type of housing and the numbers are increasing especially in China, Mexico, Brazil, Britain, USA and also the developing countries. In China, the trend towards gated communities is accelerating, in response to changing laws and economic. In 2000, it was estimated that 8 million USA residents lived in communities within restricted areas. About 80% of new urban projects in the USA are gated. California leads the nation in gated communities where over 1 million Californians live inside walls However, it was reported that 1/3 of the developed gated communities are luxury developments for the upper and upper middle class, over 1/3 are retirement oriented. The reminder are mostly for the middle class with some working class community.

In South Africa, gated communities are often a response to high crime rates and the fear of crime. According to a survey for the period of 1998-2000 compiled by the United Nation Office on Drugs and Crime, South Africa was ranked second for assault and murder (by all means) per capita. Constantly high level of violent crime and the extensive media coverage of its result in significant increase in public feeling of security. For most urban South African, security measures in and around their homes is not enough. This makes the idea of ‘total security’ becoming very popular and led to increase of ‘ security villages’ and closed neighbourhood where additional walls are erected around their neighbourhood in the form of parameter fencing.

Security villages in Gauteng Province South Africa

It is also interesting to note that security villages and closed neighbourhood are mostly found in larger cities in South Africa such as Gauteng Province, which is the most urbanized province and also with the highest level of crime. Thus, gated communities in South Africa are one such popular alternative crime prevention and control.

In China, traditionally, the walls has always been important to underline the socials structure of the society and to make them tangible. The life of the nobleman unfolded within the confinement of the courtyard, life of the commoner was part of the crammed quadrants of the hutongs and every Chinese farmers were surrounded and protected by the Great Wall. Thus, being in the walled or fenced compound is part of the lifestyle of the Chinese community. The modern Chinese enclaves only took shape with the arrivals of the first group of westerners to Beijing, shortly after the reform. The expatriates were not allowed to settle in the midst of the Chinese population. Developer took this opportunity to build apartments to provide houses of western quality and comfort for the expatriate that were distinctly disconnected from the society. When prominent Chinese looking for privacy and luxury began to occupy these apartments, the Chinese gated communities became a reality.

Today’s Chinese housing areas are dominated by gated apartments and buildings and gated neighbourhood. The new housing development rules in China today is that all new residential developments must be gated. Some of the notable gated communities in China include Riverside Garden in Shanghai, Beijing Riviera, Oriental Grand Garden in Pudong and Vanke Garden City in Wuhan city which is developed by Wuhan Vanke Real Estate Co.

Modern gated communities in China

Research by University of Glasgow’s Department of Urban Studies in 1999 revealed that Britain is already home to hundreds of such housing developments that are known as fortress neighbourhood or security villages found in every area in the country. Dr. Rowland Atkinson form the university stressed that two factors were driving the tendency for housing development to be walled and gated. In places like inner London, where the crime rate is high, security is the main driven factor. In other areas where crime is not a big issue, the gates seems to en as badge of status. Fear of crime was one of the factor that promoted gated communities in Britain as reported by RICS. The rich are staying within the gates whilst the abandoned poor settled in ghettos. Gates, in Britain were seen as the ‘voluntary exclusion’ of the elites and the ‘involuntary of the excluded’.

In the Arab world, gated communities have existed since the discovery of oil, mainly to accommodate westerners and their families. In Saudi Arabia, the westerners were not allowed to live amongst the Arab people because of the vast different in culture of the westerners which form about 1/3 of the country’s inhabitants. These gated communities, known as the ‘expatriate compound’ have tight securities. After threat levels raised since the late 1990’s against westerners especially Americans, gates have become armed and all vehicles were inspected at the main entrance of the compound.

Gated Communities in Cairo

In Egypt, the expansion of gated communities began in the early 1980s when the government started to sell land for the construction of villages along the beaches of the Northwest Coasts (Meyers, 1999). Since than, more than 200 gated communities with high perimeter walls and controlled access have been established in the area. It has now spread along the coast of the Red Sea and along the beaches of Sinai. In 1990, similar developments have been observed around Cairo, inhabited by elites. Gated communities such as Dreamland, Utopia, Garden City, Beverly Hills are very popular amongst the wealthy Arabs.

The first gated communities in Klang Valley was Wangsa Baiduri in SS 12 Subang Jaya, Selangor Darul Ehsan developed by Emko Properties Sdn Bhd. The local authority when approving the scheme was ahead of time and what it approved was outside the prevailing laws and regulations at that time. Later in 1993, Kumpulan Sierramas (M) Sdn Bhd, subsidiary of Tan & Tan Development Sdn Bhd came out with a proper gated community emphasis on security and green streets concept in Sierramas. Subsequently, Country Heights Holdings developed Country Heights Kajang.

Gated units in Sierramas

Today, more and more developers became are in such developments which include semi-detached houses, townhouses as well as super link terrace houses to cater for bigger market. With better facilities provided within the scheme as well as good security, this type of development is now becoming almost common amongst developers in Klang Valley. Developers in the northern and southern states are also quick to catch the latest trend of lifestyle. The northern growth area of Klang valley with good transportation and highway linkages is the targeted area for gated communities development. Preferred areas such as the ‘expatriate enclave’ Mon’t Kiara (formerly part of Kampung Segambut Dalam) have been developed with many such schemes. The exclusivity and close proximity of Mon’t Kiara to Kuala Lumpur city centre is reflected in the premium selling price.

Gated communities in Mon’t Kiara area

What are the factors that attract buyers to the gated communities? The security element is said to be amongst the reason. With high level of crime in urban areas, more people are concern about security and the need to protect their family and property from threat of crime and gated communities is the logical choice for these people. However, such services are also provided within condominium and high end development, so could it be that gated communities offers more than just security?

A research done on Development of Gated Communities in Klang Valley by the author in 2006 revealed that the top three (3) reason for buying gated communities are security, privacy and prestige. Although security remain the top reason, it is also clear from the survey that prestige and privacy are also the main agenda for buying gated units. The security reason given by the respondents is indicative of the instilled element of ‘fear of crime’ in the mind of the residents also due to the high crime rate in urban areas in Klang Valley.

It was reported that the crime index at guarded and gated communities was minimal compared with other residential areas. Gated schemes such as Bandar Botanic, Aman Suria, Damansara Lagenda, Bukit Mayang Mas and the Kiara precinct of Bandar Sri Damansara has managed to keep crime occurance low compared with housing areas without such security feature. The mere presence of a security guard is enough to keep the criminals away form such areas. A neighbourhood which comes with such features surely add premium to the value of the property.

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