Friday, May 7, 2010

Judyta Banach-“Behind the Gates: Life, Security, and the Pursuit of Happiness in Fortress America”, Setha Low-book review

Setha Low in her book “Behind the Gates: Life, Security, and the Pursuit of Happiness in Fortress America” interviews people and analyzes their reasons for living in gated communities. Her research that is mostly based on communities in New York, Texas, and California, gives the reader clear reasons of why people decide to move to these private enclaves. Although I never been to gated communities, this book showed me a well-defined picture of them.
A big house in suburbs, an expensive car, good job, and big family is an American dream that people living in America want to make come true. According to the author of the book gated communities first appeared in California and Texas, and now “…one third of all new communities in southern California are gated” (Low, p.15). Although there are many reasons of why people move to these communities, the biggest one is the need to feel safe and secure. These communities are usually surrounded by tall walls and gates, where security guards control who can enter the property. Setha Low states in the book that the freedom of the residents and the ease of resident’s access have to be limited in order to make these communities more secure and private.(Low, p.11).
Through out the whole book, the interviews with people living in these private enclaves, give the reader the answer to the big question of why move to gated communities. Sense of security, fear of other ethnicities, and a dream house from childhood, are the most popular reasons that people gave in their interviews. Young parents don’t have to worry about their children being kidnapped, there is less noise in these private neighborhoods, and older people don’t have to worry about maintaining the garden or the outside of their house. Although one might think that people living in gated communities know their neighbors really well, the reality is different. Because many people buy those houses or apartments to have more privacy, in many gated communities there is no interaction within the neighbors. One of the examples that Setha Low gives, is the interview with Andrea who lives with her husband in Manor House located in New York. Andrea agrees that she is not looking to make friends in her community, because she has a social life outside of it (Low, p.79).
There were a lot of interesting and surprising points in the book. The big one that caught my attention was how the houses and apartments are being control by the board. Even thought the residents have an option to be a board member, many of them don’t have time to participate or simply choose others to represent their community. In many cases people don’t like the decisions made by board but since they don’t have time to participate in decision-making they have to accept it. People like George who lives in Pine Hills, New York uses “you snooze you loose” tactic, where he explains that since he doesn’t have time to participate, he accepts boards decisions whether he likes or not. Another problem that people have with boards is that they have to ask for a permission to do anything outside their houses. Since the land is control by the board if residents want to change their landscape, they have to get approved first. Another interesting point made in the book is how people move to these private communities because of the fear of “others”. They want to be surrounded by people from the same class status. Many people that moved to gated communities liked their previous neighborhood, but in many cases the change of ethnicity made them move to these private enclaves.
Reading this book, the one thing that I noticed in relation with our class, was how people choose private enclaves that are surrounded by tall walls over more public ones where they feel unsafe. Although many of the residents agree that these walls don’t really serve as a protective barrier, they still feel safer when surrounded by them.

1 comment:

  1. From Alina: I completely understand what Andrea means when she does not want to make friends within her community since she has plenty outside of it. I used to feel that way about Hunter College..I figured I do not need to make new friends because I am living at home and not on campus and still hang out with my old friends. However, now I am changing my mind since I reliezed that I am graduating in a year and have barely made any "college friends" . I wonder if this character will feel regret in the future? In social psychology class I learned that the biggest indication of friendship is proximity to each other. I guess that this does not apply to everybody which is obvious because everybody is "unique in their own ways".