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Security Versus Status - The Two Worlds of Gated Communities

Security Versus Status - The Two Worlds of Gated Communities



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Published by Scott Schaefer

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Published by: Scott Schaefer on Nov 26, 2008
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D R A F TCensus Note 02:02
(November 2002)
Security versus Status:The Two Worlds of Gated Communities
Thomas W. Sanchez
Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech
Robert E. Lang
Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech
The term “gated communities” for most people conjures up images of exclusive developmentswith fancy homes and equally fancy lifestyles. At the gates stand guards who screen all non-residents or the uninvited. Much of the popular and academic literature on gated communities promotes this view (Garreau 1991, Blakely and Snyder 1997, Lang and Danielsen 1997, Stark 1998). These authors also focus on how some gated communities closely control the lives of residents, including such extreme examples as limiting the number of guests allowed to parties,or the types of vehicles that one can park in a driveway.Gated communities also make an easy target for social critics who can point to their walls as the physical manifestation of a longstanding exclusionary impulse among rich people to shut out theless fortunate (including a big chunk of the middle class) (Guterson 1992, 1993). Such criticismextends to popular culture, including an
episode several years ago where a monster eatsthose who fail to follow the homeowners’ association rules, or a recent
Twilight Zone
episodewhere unruly teenagers are turned into fertilizer.Yet the common perception of gated communities as privileged enclaves turns out to be only partly correct based on our analysis of the first ever census survey of these places. We insteadfind two very different worlds of gated communities. There are gated communities comprised of mostly white homeowners with high incomes that have a secure main entry —the kind of classicgated community in the public mind. But there are also gated communities that are inhabited byminority renters with moderate incomes. We believe that these two worlds reflect a divide
 2 between gated communities one based on status versus one versus one motivated by concern for security.
 The census classifies two types of gated communities: those that are simply walled, and placesthat are walled with access controlled. The census thus provides data on gated communities thathave defensible space (those with walls) and defended space (walls with access controlled entry).The difference is critical in terms of the demographic composition and regional distribution of gated communities.Using data from the American Housing Survey (AHS), this census note looks at who lives ingated communities and where these places are located. We find that:
The major divide in the types of gated communities is based on housing tenure: ownerslive in upscale and mostly white gated communities, while renters occupy more diverseand less affluent places.
Gated communities are more common in the new metropolitan areas of the Sunbelt, suchas Dallas, Houston, and Los Angeles.
Affluent African American homeowners are less likely to live in gated communities thantheir white and Hispanic peers. This finding is true even in metropolitan areas with largemiddle class African American populations such as Washington and Atlanta.
The 2001 American Housing Survey added 40 new questions ranging from types of homefinancing, country of origin for household members, and community attributes of the residentiallocation. For the first time, the national sample included questions that help to distinguish gatedcommunities and their residents, two of which are:“Is your community surrounded by walls or fences preventing access by persons other thanresidents?”“Does access to your community require a special entry system such as entry codes, key cards, or security guard approval?”Using responses from these two questions, we examined the characteristics of households thatlive in “walled” or “access controlled” communities. The following summarizes the results of the 2001 AHS national sample, focusing on regional and metropolitan differences, tenure status,race, ethnicity, socio-economic status, and household composition relative to walled and accesscontrolled communities. All of the variables analyzed were from the 2001 AHS.
We realize that the two concerns are not mutually exclusive. Upscale gated communities typically sell security, but the walls are often more a marketing tool to signify high status (Blakely and Snyder 1997, Lang and Danielsen1997). Downscale gated communities offer security as a more pragmatic response to high crime in comparable non-gated neighborhoods (Blakely and Snyder 1997).
 Regional and Metropolitan Distribution
Of the 119,116,517 housing units represented by the AHS, 106,406,951 were occupied year round with 7,058,427 (5.9 percent) households reporting that they lived in communitiessurrounded by walls or fences, and 4,013,665 (3.4 percent) households reporting that access totheir communities was controlled by some means. Only respondents who said they lived in awalled or fenced community answered the survey question about controlled access – whichmeans that nearly 60 percent of the walled or gated communities also had controlled entries. The percentages of walled or controlled access communities vary by region of the country withhouseholds in the West having a higher likelihood of living in walled communities (11.1 percent), followed by the South (6.8 percent), the Northeast (3.1 percent), and the Midwest (2.1 percent). The regional concentration of walled and gated households is also reflected at themetropolitan scale with Houston (south), Los Angeles (west), and Dallas (south) having over 1million walled residential units (see Table 1).
Table 1
% Access
Top 10 Metropolitan Regions
* % WalledControlledAtlanta 7.4%5.5%Boston 3.5%0.6%Chicago 5.3%1.3%Dallas 17.8%13.4%Detroit 2.3%1.2%Houston 26.7%21.9%Los Angeles 18.2%11.7% New York 5.2%1.7%Philadelphia 2.0%0.8%Washington, DC 4.3%2.6%* alphabetic listing based on 2000 population
Owner vs. Renter Household Characteristics
Contrary to the notion that primarily affluent homeowners live in gated communities, the resultsof the AHS survey show that renters are nearly 2.5 times more likely to live in walled or fencedcommunities and over 3 times as likely to have controlled entries. These renters includehouseholds in public housing projects which often have walled and gated design elements. Thesurvey data also shows that owners and renters have significantly different demographic profileswith owners more likely on average of being white compared to renters (86.4 percent comparedto 67.1 percent), with higher incomes ($73,548 compared to $35,831), older heads of households(52 years old compared to 42 years old), and having slightly larger households (2.7 personscompared to 2.3 persons).

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