GATED COMMUNITIES: Privilege or Necessity?


L. Kurt Engelhart

Concerns for security The fear factor Our Town and the Trojans
Two strategies Security and quality of life Effect on community
Conclusions Email Response

Concerns for security

Many people are very concerned about security lately, yet not everyone responds the same way to perceived threats. As indicators surround us, convincing us that our property or even our lives may be in danger, some actions of our neighbors may be worthy of emulation. However, other behavior may be the result of some moral or social disease in the community itself. The individual property owner or community citizen has a difficult decision. Should one run with the herd on such issues, or should one question whether some common behavior may in some way be dangerous to everyone?

The fear factor

Gated communities, one type of response to threats to communities, have drawn a great deal of attention over the past few years. Many factors combine to convince communities they have something to fear. Economic conditions have created a frightening gap between those who are obviously succeeding and those who are obviously not succeeding in satisfying the American Dream. As socially accepted occupations dwindle, socially distasteful occupations arise to disturb the complacency of those who have it made.

Our Town and the Trojans

In the midst of this confusion of factors, some community centers are choosing to try to isolate themselves from the larger communities around them. They all mention that security reasons drive them to such action, but the attempts at isolation have taken two major forms. In the first case, a community builds a fortress around itself, including inside all the amenities that make its particular lifestyle enjoyable, and excluding everything that the community's most powerful citizens find distasteful. We might call this the Trojan approach, because, like the builders of ancient Troy, the privileged surround themselves with multiple circles of the less privileged, creating increasing levels of protection against the outside world. At some point an impenetrable stone wall surrounds all those who are citizens separating them from noncitizens, who are left to fend for themselves in the cruel world.

However, in the second case, which we might call the Our Town approach, a community finds itself threatened by something like a natural disaster. Like a small town on the banks of the continually shifting Mississippi River, these citizens throw up levees, or occasionally move the entire town, to protect the citizens and their lifestyle from the surging destruction. This describes the posture of those communities that join forces against crime and other seriously disruptive influences.

Two strategies

In the latter case, the Our Town community, we can characterize the behavior as based on a defensive strategy. Although paranoia may arise in response to some threats, it is not the driving force motivating these citizens to action. These people through no fault of their own find themselves in the midst of a threat that will destroy all of them if they simply act individually. On the other hand, acting together, they can survive most natural or social disasters.

In the former case, the Trojan community, their behavior is based on an aggressive strategy. Their intent is to use their wealth and power to protect themselves from a world they profoundly distrust. They believe themselves to be entirely self-sufficient and they bring everything necessary to their fantasies into the cocoon with them. Surrounded with layers of dispensable humans, they will never have to touch the elements of the world that can burst their illusory bubble. Leaving their enclave in bulletproof, chauffeur driven cars, or even helicopters, they travel only to other isolated areas that provide the same security. If destruction threatened this community, the leaders would proclaim "Every man for himself!" and allow the hangers-on to perish. Read the chronicles of the Titanic for evidence of this phenomenon.

Security and quality of life

Let's look critically at the security and quality of life of these two communities. In Our Town, feelings of closeness, you might say equality, characterize life. Not closeness in a maudlin sense but in the sense that Our Town citizens see their individual destinies bound together, with each individual dependent on the group, and vice versa. Even in times of stress these citizens will express the satisfaction that such connections bring to everyone's lives. Is this what we mean by quality of life? Or do we mean the illusion of material well being that the Trojans enjoy, mostly in the isolation of their alarm-wired homes?

An especially interesting question concerns the coexistence of both types of groups within the same broader community. Frequently one segment of a community has the resources to afford the Trojan lifestyle, while the rest of the community does not. Let's set aside the issue of why the more affluent might feel the need to protect themselves from the less affluent. Let's assume there really is a threat common to both segments that results in different responses due to a major difference in wealth and power. Let's focus on the effect of the Trojan strategy on Our Town.

Effect on community

You are sure to recognize this phenomenon: one citizen calls on his neighbor for help in an emergency, only to find the neighbor has barricaded himself in his home. "Look," the neighbor says through a small hole in the door, "we both knew about this problem long ago. I had the foresight to protect myself and you did not. Why should I now suffer for your error?" The Our Town citizen responds, "I don't like living in a fortress, and besides, cooperation can overcome this danger for everyone." "I don't have the resources to protect everyone from the dangers in the world," says the Trojan, "I'm afraid you are going to have to learn how to protect yourself, something I learned long ago. If you don't survive the experience, well, it's not my problem." Slam!

The general feeling about this common situation is that the Trojan is not just a passive, secure participant. Most people see the isolationist as contributing in a negative way. The Trojan is helping to create the emergency. Our Town's citizens not only have to deal with the impending threat but they must do it with the most valuable resources in the community withheld from them. Being placed in such a position is, in fact, the greatest threat to Our Town. The aggressive strategy of the Trojan, isolationism, has from the beginning been contributing to the seriousness of the threat.

When the citizen of Our Town builds gates, the motivation is different. Like the community on the Mississippi, Our Town residents build gates to control floods. The flood threatening many communities consists of two kinds of traffic: automobiles and drugs. Typically, the Trojan fortress shelters the perpetrators of these threats, while the Our Town community has to deal with the unfortunate effects. The Our Town response to this threat is not isolationist. They do the best they can with the resources at their disposal to protect the lives of their citizens. Their protection may even extend to cover the privileged members of the community but they get little help from the Trojans.


So, we can see that not all people respond the same to threats to security, and citizens may not know the best ways to respond. Although economic conditions can create threats that cause citizens to isolate themselves in gated communities, concerned citizens follow two distinct strategies: the Trojan and the Our Town approach. The Our Town approach is strategically defensive while the Trojan approach is strategically aggressive and assumes the right to use wealth and power to protect the privileged, although isolation of the privileged does not improve the overall security and quality of life of the community. In fact, isolationist strategies may cause the very threats the community dreads. However, the Our Town approach is not in the end isolationist and may even protect the very citizens who create the threat. Our Town obtains satisfactory security only with great sacrifice and without the help of the most valuable assets in the community.

Trojans believe they do not need Our Town to satisfy their own needs for security. They also believe they could not count on the Our Town resources, even if they did need them. They distinguish themselves from Our Town in such a way that their self esteem would suffer if they felt mutually interdependent with the Our Town community. This feeling of the Trojan community reduces everyone's quality of life.


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