The pros and cons of gated
21/04/2007 NST-PROP Land Matters by Salleh Buang
Why do people really go for such
a scheme, and what can be regarded the "best model?
British law lecturer Sarah Blandy
of the University of Leeds in England knows all about gated communities (GC)
and their impact on our social fabric.
Ask her for an introduction to
it, and she'll most likely refer to her paper titled "National Study on
Gated Communities" that considers their physical as well as legal
In it, she says that such a community must be one that:
Has a fence or wall around the
Restricts or controls the
access for non-residents (via electronic means or with security staff);
Has private internal roads;
Subject residents to a common
code of conduct; and
Can manage itself.
Blandy drew her working
definition from a survey of a number of planning authorities in the United
Kingdom and through interviews with key national players, including officers
of residents' management companies, local authorities and the police,
besides neighbours or those living outside a GC.
Her study reveals that in the UK,
GCs are mainly small in size (containing less than 50 dwellings) and are
mostly located in the suburbs of town and cities.
Deeper into her work, things get
more interesting with some of her discoveries taking me by surprise. Among
them, her finding that contrary to general belief, "the major motivation"
for purchasers opting for a GC scheme in the UK is not security but
Other nuggets she uncovered that
contrast with some popular theories is that in the UK
The GC market is "driven by
developers seeking price premium", rather than by "purchasers demanding
for safety"; and
There is no conclusive evidence
that the enclosed nature of a GC or sell-management by residents actually
fosters or encourages a "sense of community".
On balance, Blandy believes GCs
do more harm than good, because:
They reduce public space and
the permeability of a city:
Their physical security
measures leads to "further social divisions";
Putting affluent households
behind walls produces a negative impact on poorer neighbourhoods - in
terms of urban sustainability, security and social integration.
While GC advocates maintain that
such developments do in fact "contribute to improved community safety",
academicians and policy makers maintain that they have "side-stepped
conventional forms of governance, both in terms of planning control and in
the provision of services".
"The likelihood of civic
disengagement by GC residents is real and should not be summarily
dismissed," they say, adding that if such disengagements remain unchecked,
segregation can deepen, if not by race, then certainly by social class.
In the United States, some
quarters also think GCs are potential threats to local fiscal autonomy
because GC residents "have to pay additional charges for the privatised
services rendered within their community". such as security, street
maintenance as well as recreation and entertainment upkeep.
"Since their GC makes them pay
for these same services that the government is obliged to provide, they feel
they should be exempted - if not completely, then partially - from statutory
charges," claim the detractors.
Further fuelling argument for
payment exemption to the local authorities is a lack of clear policies on
GCs in the US that is further compounded by the "general ambiguity of
planners" towards them.
Coupled with the absence of local
and national guidelines, this has led to an undesirable state of affairs,
described as "policy vacuum" (Editor's note: In Malaysia, this has been
addressed by recent amendments to the Strata Titles Act 1985).
On our shores, local GC
developers too say that management corporations provide the same, if not
better, kind of service as the local authorities for which the residents
have to make additional payment.
However, they stopped short of
suggesting that this means residents should be discharged of their
obligation to pay their statutory charges.
Since January this year, I have
been very fortunate in being able to inspect various GC schemes around our
country together with a team of senior officials from the Office of the
Director-General of Land and Mines.
One of this team's principal
objectives is to determine the main characteristics of a GC and draw up the
criteria for the "best model" scheme.
Accompanied by representatives
from the Real Estate and Housing Developers' Association of Rehda, among the
first projects we visited were Desa Park City and Sierramas Resort Homes in
the Klang Valley.
While these two projects are
different in many aspects, they are both impressive and pricey - certainly,
they are beyond the reach of average Malaysian house buyers.
Desa Park City has visibly aged
over time, but nevertheless, I was impressed by its many attractive
features, especially its public park and commercial centre that permit
unrestricted access (only the residential precincts are completely gated).
For Sierramas, the latter still
appears refreshingly new. However, it is a large CF with public access
virtually denied unless a visitor is invited or has a legitimate reason to
After the Klang Valley, the next
two places the ministry officials and I toured were Taman Tambun Indah in
mainland Penang and Casa Grande on the island. The former is a massive GC
comprising over 300 bungalow plots while the latter is pint-sized by
comparison, with only 24 units.
Thereafter, we hopped over to
Sentosa Island in Singapore to see how our southern neighbour is developing
Sentosa Cove, a GC being built on reclaimed land.
On hand to give us a warm welcome
was its chief executive officer Gurjit Singh, who gave us a comprehensive
picture of how the development was conceived, planned and being executed.
Another scheme I saw was in Sabah,
where I was taken on tour of several GCs in the state capital of Kota
Kinabalu, including the famous Sutera Harbour.
Deep within this project is a
gated enclave known as "The Residency". Though still in its infancy, its
average size bungalow plots are being steadily snapped up by West Malaysians
despite price tags of over RM1 million.
At this stage, it's still too
early to spell out all the various components that can make up the best GC
model. Many questions remain unanswered and many issues are still
But, nevertheless, are we moving
in the right direction insofar as gated living is concerned?
Salleh Buang is a senior
advisor of a company specialising in competitive intelligence. He is also
active in training and public speaking and can be reached at email@example.com