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Gated Communities

Thursday, December 13th, 2012

Living in a gated community is supposed to be a big plus. I am currently trying to adjust to that lifestyle, and I can’t find it.  When I leave in the car, I have to wait for the gate.  When I come back, I better have the remote with me or I will have to pull around to the keypad at the main entrance (which is not the most direct route to my house) and enter the “secret code”–and then wait for the gate.  If I want to go for a real walk without doing laps (which has all the allure of watching paint dry) I have to have a key.  If I don’t, I am locked in. This gate has way too much control of my life, and I dislike it intensely.

I suspected this would be the case when I agreed to live here for a year, but it’s still good to check it out.  Okay.  I’ve checked it out.  This gate sucks.  Lucky for me, it’s a temporary problem.

My simmering resentment of this gate has brought some interesting insights.  Gates have two purposes–to control what gets out and to control what gets in.  In the developer’s zeal to keep “the bad things” out around here, we are all essentially kept in–or at least required to wait while access to the rest of the world is granted.  How many of these “gate” situations am I adding to my life without really thinking about them?

When I first started living here, I would just walk inside the gate because that was the obvious solution to the gate’s existence.  When I did that, I let my everyday world shrink big time. That was a very scary realization.  There I was, giving up access to things that should be in my life because of some artificial and arbitrary restricted access.

I also started seeing the world just outside the gate–which has similar houses, the same police protection, etc.–as “dangerous” simply because they were outside the gate.  Did the crime stats support that.  Of course not.

The gate also severely limits who can come into my life while I am on the premises.   My friends and family have to fiddle with the keypad or call from the phone at the gate to have us let them in.  One brother used to stop at my house when he was in the neighborhood and leave his business cards in funny places if I wasn’t home.  Now, he’d have to leave it at the gate.  Delievery drivers who miss the few hours when the gate is open on  business days either have to come back or make me come get what they were supposed to deliver.  I am not seeing this as a big advantage.

Why do we have this gate?  It’s supposed to make us more secure.  The “bad people” can’t get in so we are supposedly safer.  There may be a few residents who love the “exclusivity of it.”  I am not in that camp.  We’ve created our own little ghetto.  What is the point?

There are good places to use gates.  You need to keep the cows in.  You need to keep the baby out of the stairwell.  You need to be sure your inventory is not at the mercy of anyone who decides they need that size lumber or stone or motorcycle or bonzai tree.

But this idea that we can be kept safe from Life by a couple of gates is just plain wrong.  It’s easy to start believing that you need that protection, that going out into the world is too dangerous to attempt.  This kind of thinking–more than the real physical aging of our bodies–makes us “old.”  We worry about safety and seek the predictability of the status quo instead of searching for new adventures and fresh things to experience and learn.

It’s true, the world can be dangerous.  But it can also be wonderous and full of excitement.   Besides, that gate isn’t all that effective. An article on the International Foundation of Protective Officers website looked at whether gated communities deter crime.  Studies they cited found only a small benefit, mostly related to car thefts.  The article noted that Neighorhood Watch programs are far more effective.

But Neighborhood Watch efforts can’t be packaged in slick real estate advertising.  So we buy into that new development with the gate because of a real estate sales pitch and stop worrying about getting to know our neighbors and staying aware of what’s going on around us when we are home.  And think we are safer when we aren’t!

Gated communities are just one more way to complicate our lives while reducing their richness.  Knowing your neighbor is a whole lot more fun than waiting for a gate. Think twice before you go for the gated community–whether you’re 55, 85, or 35.