Gated Communities Go Global

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The rapid urbanization that’s taking place across the world is bringing people together into often uncomfortably tight quarters, but fear and the free market are making those urban centers ever more segregated. The United Nations estimates that nearly 70 percent of people will live in cities (pdf) by the year 2050. “We are more globally connected than ever,” Josh Leon wrote for Next American City, “but adjacent city blocks can be worlds apart.”

A culture of fear is separating people into two extremes of urbanization, according to Leon: isolated communities for the wealthy and slums for the poor. In 2007, the UN estimated that one out of every three city dwellers, or a billion people, live in slums.

Global epidemics and global terrorism are two problems that principally emanated from the slums,” urban theorist Mike Davis told Eurozine. Slums are often disconnected from the global economy, and as the residents struggle to get by, Davis says they often turn to fundamentalism, extremism, and criminality. At the same time, the wealthy try to ignore the problem by walling themselves off in gated communities. “If Southern California has any significance to the development of the world’s cities,” according to Davis, “it is as model for life in the protected enclaves.”

The influence can be seen clearly in Orange County, Beijing, a California-style gated community profiled by Daniel Brook in Good magazine that’s located 45 minutes from China’s Forbidden City. Private security forces and high security are ubiquitous throughout the development, possibly due to a “paranoia that comes from being conspicuously so much wealthier than one’s fellow Beijingers,” Brook writes.

The solution to the ever-growing segregation, Leon writes, is “a massive rethinking of local privatization and deregulation schemes which cater to the rich.” When the free market takes over urban planning, according to Leon, a system is created that inherently favors the rich and separates the poor. If that trend is allowed to continue through the current global economic crisis, many of the problems associated with slums will inevitably get worse.

For more on the culture of fear, read Fear Itself from the January-February issue of Utne Reader.

Image of the Andalucia gated community in Jordan.

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