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The pros and cons of gated living
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 attributes.

In it, she says that such a community must be one that:

  • Has a fence or wall around the residential area;

  • 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 status.


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 be there.


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 unresolved.


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


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