The Talk
Your caste or mine?

Open the gates

Private-communities_1The Trayvon Martin tragedy has become rich fodder for newspaper editorials, Sunday sermons, political science papers, and blog postings like this one.

It has the full range of contemporary hot buttons: racial attitudes, class divisions, vigilantism, even hoodie as signal of gangsterism.  

It also put a little sunlight on another topic worthy of discussion: the rise of so-called "gated communities."

In 1970, there were about 10,000 private communities in the U.S., housing about 2 million people. 

In 2009, more than 60 million Americans lived in about 300,000 gated communities with an estimated value approaching $4 trillion, almost 20 percent of the value of all U.S. residential real estate.

Whether these communities were established to preserve real estate values, to deter crime, or to create a haven for like-minded people, gated communities represent a separate world from the larger political system.

They provide many of their own services, such as security and trash collection, control access to public spaces, and set their own rules.  Their residents tend to focus on life within the gates rather than on issues within the larger city or town.

Gated communities have, almost by definition, an aura of “exclusiveness” that exaggerates differences between residents and non-residents.  In separating themselves from the larger community, they send a signal to others that they’re “different,” implicitly “better,” and certainly on a different social track.    

People on different sides of the gate have fewer interactions with each other, which inevitably  reduces trust to the lowest common in-group denominator. 

If we only trust people who are just like us, we will only associate with our own kind, which will make us even more suspicious of others.  And round and round we will go in a vicious circle.

Trust that makes no room for the Other is no trust at all.  It’s symptomatic of a society on the verge of a nervous breakdown. 





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