The trouble with walls

Lynne McTaggart

Henderson, the second largest city in Clark County, Nevada, has been burdened with heavy expectation ever since former President John F. Kennedy, in a throwaway comment, referred to the then sparsely populated upstart — a stone’s throw from Las Vegas — as a “city of destiny.”

Within the next half century, Henderson swelled to the size of St. Paul, Minnesota, transforming itself into a middle-sized American city. “A place to call home,” is the town’s homespun motto, placed on the home page by the mayor himself.
Actually, no one is particularly welcome unless you already happen to live within its gates, and even then, chances are that a massive wall stands between you and all your nearest neighbors.
Henderson is home to Green Valley, one of the United States’s burgeoning number of “master-planned,” gated communities, serving a population of 60,000 – the size of many middle-sized towns — and constructed with the primacy of the individual specifically in mind.
Walls of precise design and construction have been placed between dwellings, at the end of backyards, between sections of the community and, most of all, between the community and the outside world. Bans in place prohibit residents from altering the walls in any regard, even those on their property.
Besides the gated entrance, high-end properties also come with their own security guard, and no one is admitted without a security check. Stores, parks, sidewalks, playgrounds, open spaces, even the local school all rest within its walled center, serving their exclusive community.
An explosion of walls
Green Valley is one of the world’s fastest growing types of neighborhoods. Presently, some eight million Americans live in gated communities; eight of every 10 new urban building projects are gated, particularly in the West and South, and in suburbs outside large urban sprawls.
One half million of the country’s gated communities reside in California alone; some 40 per cent of new homes in California are built behind gates or some sort of security device.
This trend is not unique to America. Gated communities are now popular in diverse areas such as South Africa, the Middle East, and the United Kingdom.
Although residents cite crime and security as the main reason for living behind a wall or gate, research into the effect of gated communities shows that they have a marginal effect at keeping crime at bay. The best two studies, carried out by the police in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, comparing the rates of all manner of crime before and after a neighborhood closed off its streets, found no significant difference in levels of crimes against property or person.
Auto theft, burglary, and other types of crimes at first drastically fell, but quickly returned to previous levels once criminals got used to getting around the gates.
The second study examined the crime rates of several closed neighborhoods with that of Fort Lauderdale as a whole found that gates made no real difference in deterring certain kinds of crime. Although crimes against the person were lower within the gates, incidence of burglary or car theft fell in the first year and then rose to the equivalent levels of areas outside the gates.
Recent incidents within Green Valley’s walls include serial rape, domestic murder, various robberies, teen drug dealing and consumption, chlorine-gas pollution from a nearby industrial plant – in short, all the problems of ordinary, ungated suburban neighborhoods.
In fact, even the most elaborate security in gated communities has not worked as well as simple Neighborhood Watch schemes, which have been shown to decrease robberies and burglaries by 24 and 33 per cent, respectively, according to a study by Florida International University.
And those who live in the more exclusive, high-end communities — where most gated communities are situated — experience negligible crime in ungated areas.
Keeping out outsiders
The real point of a gated community is to shelter its inhabitants from outsiders, write Edward J. Blakely and Mary Gail Snyder in their book Fortress America:  Gated Communities in the United States: “Traffic equals strangers, strangers are bad and bad means crime.”
What many people claim to seek, behind a locked gate, is an old-fashioned neighborhood – that place where their kids can play safely in the streets, the parks and schools are safe, and the neighbors wave at each other over the garden fence.
Yet that is exactly the reverse of what a gate achieves. A gated community is very like a state that has seceded from the Union – supplying its own services and security, answerable to very little outside its walls, encouraging its inhabitants to abdicate any civic responsibility to anything on the outside.
Gated communities and many modern subdivisions have transformed the notion of “community” into “exclusive country club.”
Our idea of community is now largely one that must consist of sameness in order to work.
There is no evidence that sameness, in the form of a gated community, creates a better neighborhood or more “social capital” – the sociological term for community spirit and togetherness; as Harvard’s Robert Putnam, author of Bowling Alone, points out, America possesses the lowest social capital in its history. The gate in fact prevents social capital from flourishing precisely because it encourages an in-group and out-group.
The most powerful way to create a vibrant, open neighborhood is to move beyond the tendency to cluster together in similar groups and to find community in the space between – the space of interdependence where all of us join together in our common humanity and common purpose.
As Robert Frost wrote in his famous poem, Building Walls: Something there is that doesn’t love a wall. That something, clearly, is a neighborhood of human beings.

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Lynne McTaggart

Lynne McTaggart is an award-winning journalist and the author of seven books, including the worldwide international bestsellers The Power of Eight, The Field, The Intention Experiment and The Bond, all considered seminal books of the New Science and now translated into some 30 languages.

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11 comments on “The trouble with walls”

  1. For all of you who said to stay out of politics:
    I'm not talking about politics or the proposed wall in Mexico in this blog - I'm talking about polarization, an 'us and them' mentality. That is very much my subject, the subject of The Bond and the focus of The Power of Eight®. For all of you who signed up for the Masterclass: I promised you some instruction about how to get along with people who do not agree with you and those who send you negative energy, and vice versa. So if you are interested in breaching the divide and overcoming polarization, stay with me, take the class, and stop getting caught up in individual political agendas. That's not what this course - or indeed I - am about.

  2. If someone feels safer living in a gated community, then they should. They should not be judged as being "out of touch". They may feel safer going for walks or walking to see friends, or just sleep better. I do not live in a gated community, our area is pretty safe, but I still have the door locked at all times as there are a lot of people out and about that are on meth, alcohol, or just mentally challenged. We each need to protect ourselves as we see fit, for some that is a gated community. As for the blog about fences, we should look at all issues, be enlightened, not take offense because something was posted with which we disagree. Don't bury your head in the sand. Be aware of diverse opinions. Also you don't have to read any postings, just delete if you don't have the time or want to be informed of contrary opinions. Looking forward to the "Power of Eight" group and the diverse views.

  3. I didn't see anything that Lynn wrote that said we don't need protection from evil. The article was informative because it mentioned the studies that showed that these gated communities are not keeping people safe , and so we have to come at this from a new perspective. I don't believe this is political. This is common sense. When something isn't working the way it was meant to, we have to think again. This can mean throwing out these outdated ideas, such as walls keep us safe. If that were the case then why were people much safer ,more than 50 years ago? This is when we had communities that helped one another. Yes, times have changed. That doesn't mean we can't look back and discover what was working then, but isn't now. I welcome the chance to think about this and gain new perspective about what needs to happen, not only to keep people safe, but to help people feel safe and prt of community.

  4. Thank you for your response Lynne. My apologies for 'assuming'. Lesson learned.

  5. I think we are all developing ptsd around the word ‘wall’! I have to admit I was a little nervous when I saw the title of the blog that Lynne was going political on me, so was relieved when I realized she wasn’t actually writing about the wall in the news. Can’t wait for the Masterclass to hopefully learn ways to deal with the toxicity in our political system.

  6. Powerful work Lynne and well cited. The future of Humanity lies in precisely the opposite direction to communities based on exclusivity, materialism and fear. I love your articles with their political courage and vision you lovely, lovely lady!

  7. EVERYONE has a right to write about what they want to write about and say what they want to say. The rest of us have the choice to read or not read, listen, or not listen. No one was forced to read this casually or as part of a class. And the subject was not hidden by a misleading title. This is not the time in our world for good people to be silent. and facts matter, we should not be afraid of them even if we do not agree

  8. Thanks Lynn. I get it! Humanity needs to bridge the divide everywhere. Your Intention work is just that, to join with others holding the same outcome bringing love, peace and harmony to the individuals in need. That is what the world needs right now to break down the barriers. We do that one person at a time! And it starts with us.

  9. Thank you so much for your reply, Lynne putting it all into context. So many have so much to learn about putting their own agendas and prejudices on to others instead of looking at the bigger picture.
    Away to join our weekly intentions.

  10. Yeah! Good for you Ms McTaggert!!
    I'm so tired of people crying "politics" when facts are stated. Facts can make one uncomfortable! Good job reaching out as is the actual truth of the work! [ I would've prob said Get the H. away from me you cheezecaking slime ball fake-o! haha!]
    Love to

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