Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Gated tribes

People seem to be trying to recreate tribal communities in the modern world:

In cities and suburbs from New York to Los Angeles, wealthy homeowners no longer are the only ones retreating behind gates. The desire to lock out the outside world cuts across all income groups, according to the first Census Bureau survey to measure how many Americans live in walled or gated communities.

"We think of affluent people and mini-mansions in exclusive enclaves, but we don't think about the multifamily, higher density, lower-income residents also being in that type of development," says Tom Sanchez, an associate professor of urban affairs and planning at Virginia Tech. He analyzed the data for the university's Metropolitan Institute.

Many sociologists bemoan the growing popularity of gated communities. They say they're exclusionary, elitist and anti-social. Most of that criticism targets the wealthy. But the new data suggest that a desire for such separation exists among all economic classes.

The popularity of gated communities is on the rise nationwide, according to developers and housing experts. In a nation still confronting post-9/11 jitters, living behind walls and knowing your neighbors create a safety zone for many. Security is also a top concern for baby boomers as they head toward retirement.

"It's spreading to the middle class," says Ed Blakely, co-author of Fortress America: Gated Communities in the United States and the dean of the Milano Graduate School at New School University in New York. About 40% of new homes in California are behind walls, he says. Most subdivisions approved by Palm Beach County, Fla., in the past five years are gated.

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