Guest Editorial by Cherie Wicks
From the inside looking out the window of a gated community home, it's likely that you feel safe within the confines of its borders, confident that the walls surrounding you are for your own protection. The ne'er-do-wells are locked out and and the upstanding citizens are comfortable locked in. That is, after all, how gates work, right? Or is it? Recent research suggests that this may not be the case: the assumption that living in a gated community decreases the potential for crime and increases overall safety is a dangerous misconception. There are many factors for a homeowner to consider before deciding to dwell within a gated community, to ensure that he or she ends up on the right side of the fence.
Though the concept of gated communities can be traced back to the days of kings and queens and Medieval knights, at which time the gate separated the royal family from the peasants outside the walls, gated communities first gained popularity in the United States in 1985, when apartment complexes and tract housing communities within highly populated areas began setting up walls around their properties. The trend later spread across the country, gaining popularity in states in the regions of the Southwest and Southeast.
The contemporary gated community falls into one of three categories: elite community, lifestyle community or security zone communities. Each classification of community panders to a specific demographic. The lifestyle community mainly includes retirees and offers property activities, social events, and celebrations that the owners pay dues for. Lifestyle communities have been known to set an age minimum for potential buyers to ensure that integrity of the community's concept is held in strict regard. The aptly named elite community allows only the rich and famous to cross its iron gates. A community such as this uses income and notoriety as criteria for selecting inhabitants and tends to have the strictest of security measures in place. The last category currently houses roughly 3 million American families, the security zone community.
Within the security zone gated community, the tenants are responsible for patrolling the area and reporting possible criminal activity, which some feel ignites more of a fortress environment rather than a subtle sensation of safety. Of the three community categories, the security zone community is the only type of gated environment that does not include an active guard at the gate. Naturally, it is this kind of community that is under safety scrutiny.
Research published in an issue of Justice Quarterly last year reported that burglaries in communities like these have in fact decreased, but that law enforcement saw an unanticipated spike in the ominous, yet ambiguously titled "intimate partner crime" compared to areas outside the gates, suggesting that the walls may work for keeping would-be criminals out, but that they also may be locking something nefarious in. Additionally, cities like Miami have reported that though crime reports involving burglary and auto theft drop immediately after the installation of a gated community, when compared to other non-gated area, the long-term difference is meager.
Are gated homes safer? The answer is both yes and no. Gated communities have the possibility of making a neighborhood safer, but like with most things in life, there is no guarantee. Whether you prefer a home that is behind gates or not, it is recommended that you use supplemental security measures to stack the scales in your favor. Utilize security precautions unique to your home, like those found here, and you won't have to question whether the community gate will hold.