Walls that exclude
06/03/2004 NST-PROP By Salleh
THERE is a growing number of Klang Valley residents who are moving out of
their homes in the "open" and settling into gated communities with their twin
attributes of privacy and security.
As innocuous as this may sound, sociologists who call the creation of such
enclaves "fortressing" say such developments further reinforce the disparities
that exist in society. They explain that people who have homes outside these
walls might feel a sense of exclusion and some measure of alienation.
Despite the increasing popularity of gated communities in the country, there
has been no study on their numbers and impact on society at large. In the
United States, about eight million people live in such residential schemes
as at 2000. Its popularity is underlined by a survey conducted in southern
California in 1990 where more than half (54% per cent) of those polled said
that they wanted a home "in a gated, walled development".
Although gated communities vary from one another, their common denominator
is their air of exclusivity. In a publication titled Fortress America
released in the US some years back, its authors said that such developments
create physical barriers.
"They privatise community space, not merely individual space. Many gated areas
also privatise civic responsibilities such as police protection and communal
services such as street maintenance, recreation and entertainment."
The question is, if what happened in the US a decade ago becomes the norm
in our shores in the near future, won't this be a step backward in our effort
to create a Malaysian community?
Those who favour gated communities deny that their relocation into these protected
enclaves constitute a withdrawal from society at large. They maintain that
they are merely protecting their families from the widespread social disorder
and chaos of "life in this city".
If the trend of building gated developments gathers steam and the demand from
purchasers keeps growing, what is to prevent gated communities today from
becoming gated cities tomorrow? Instead of just creating or building a single
development behind walls, why not build entire cities or municipalities?
A recent report in the Los Angeles Times said in the past, out of 471 municipalities
in California, the three cities of Rolling Hills on the Palos Verdes Peninsula,
Hidden Hills near Calabasas and Canyon Lake in Riverdale County lie behind
security gates. Although the number is small, the fact is more cities want
to join this list of "gated cities'.
Edward Blakely, dean of School of Urban and Regional Planning at the University
of Southern California, said a gated city is "the final act of secession from
the wider community and a retreat from the civic system.". I couldn't agree
A retired supervisor of Orange Country in the US described the situation rather
bluntly. He said he was worried about the rise of "elitism and a parochial
approach to life". He stressed that the community as a whole must be committed
to programmes that serve the disadvantaged, the needy and the poor.
"If we circle the wagons to protect our quality of life, it would not be democratic
A good friend, Kassim, who sells fried kway teow at his stall a stone's throw
away from Kuala Lumpur city centre, was therefore not far off the mark when
he said: "The people who live behind walls and gates are turning their backs
on poor people like us. This is very unMalaysian."
As it stands today, there is, as yet, no specific statute governing gated
communities. Another friend informed me that such a law may soon make its
way to Parliament. As to what the law contains, he is not at liberty to say
since the draft is still covered by the Official Secrets Act.
If you are in the market for a piece of investment in a gated community, perhaps
you should wait until the law is in place.