Gated Communities Go West

Imagine a huge log cabin hugging a mountainside, with horses
running past the picturesque red barn. Strategically placed
ponderosa pines dot a perpetually green meadow. A stream meanders
through. Now what if that picture included a private club,
equestrian center, pool, golf course, and wireless internet? What
if next door were 30 other faux ‘western outposts’ just like yours?
And what if all of you were enclosed within one giant fence with a
security gate? Whether this appeals to you or not, brace yourself,
because this Disney-esque interpretation of rural living may soon
be coming to a countryside near you.

Gated communities have long held a reputation as promised lands
for well-heeled retirees: segregated, elitist, and pseudo-secure.
But this new type of community, where residents possess multi-acred
mini-ranches within the rigidly ruled and fenced-in fashion of
association living, has put a new spin on the gated community, and
on country living. As Florence Williams astutely observes in
High Country News: ‘The presence of a
gate for humans in the middle of range country poses the obvious
question: Why? Who lives ‘inside’ and who lives ‘outside,’ and
why underline the demarcation in such an in-your-face way?’

Inside Hamilton, Montana’s ‘Stock Farm’ development,
for example, you will find club membership initiation fees of
$125,000 and lots as expensive as $1.2 million (the cheapest
ready-to-move-in building — a two-bedroom cabin — sells for about
$800,000). Most residents are part-time, flying in on private jets
for golf tournaments and long weekends. Outside, in the
town of Hamilton, you will find a poverty rate of 16 percent and a
general bitterness toward the Stock Farmers, stemming primarily
from the newcomers’ disinterest in getting to know their neighbors,
as well as local resistance to change. ‘The resentment I feel is
part of a larger bag of resentments I haul around about the
increasing privatization of the West,’ one Hamilton resident told
Williams. But it isn’t just the West that is being fenced-in and
privatized.

The idea of the gated rural community, reports Roberta Fennessy
for
Urban, was spawned in Florida by Peter
S. Rummel, CEO of the state’s largest real estate operating
company. Rummel, not ironically, once worked for Disney as a
creator of the notorious New Urbanist mecca,
Celebration. Now, Rummel has taken planned
development to a new level by selling expensive pre-fab farms in
the swampy, isolated, mosquito-ridden panhandle of Florida. He’s
dubbed the concept — touted as a reconnection with nature —
‘New Ruralism.’

Unlike its counterpart, New Urbanism (which aims to mimic the
compactness, efficiency, and diversity of an old-time city through
transit alternatives, mixed-use areas, and mixed-income housing),
New Ruralism is heavily dependent on car use and is generally
reserved for the rich. Further, Fennessy writes, the influx of
people to remote areas poses serious challenges to existing
infrastructure. Roads, water, sewage, and even basic amenities like
gas stations might not exist and many fear a new type of unwieldy
rural growth. Environmentalists are up in arms, too. Because these
communities are frequently located next to parks and wildlife areas
and are extensively fenced, they can block public access to
trailheads, hinder the creation of future trails, and seal-off
wildlife corridors, Fennessy reports. The impact on biodiversity
and water quality remains to be seen.

The whole idea of planned communities is to avoid the negative
consequences of growth and development. Hope for New Ruralism,
then, may lie with cooperation between public and private, and new
and old, in order to preserve what draws people to the country in
the first place: quiet, wild, open spaces.

Go there >>
Behind the Gate

Go there, too >>
Country Living’s New Price Tag

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