Nicholas Reville
Holmes Wilson

Why We Oppose Gated Communities in Worcester

The CHW strongly believes that gated communities are a threat to Worcester. By physically separating residents from the city or town in which they live, gated communities reduce the residents' civic involvement and disrupt the social contracts that cities and towns are built on.

In conventional city neighborhoods, more powerful, well-organized groups use their resources to improve city life for everyone. If crime is an issue, groups will bring their concerns to the police department, city officials, and public forums. Changes that arise benefit the entire community.

However, the privatization of a neighborhood that occurs in a gated community disrupts this ideal. From the residents' perspective, problems and issues exist either 'in here' or 'out there'. Residents may become isolated and alienated from the city, and when they worry about their neighborhood, they are only worrying about themselves. The gate itself is a response to urban crime, but a response that only benefits the residents of the development.

This would not be an issue if every one in our society wielded equal power. The problem is that residents of these gated communities tend to be the more affluent, more influential members of a society. When they feel that they have solved the crime problem with a gate, when they are comfortable that their own family is safe, they can put the matter to rest in their minds. The reality, however, is that the rest of the citizens, particularly the ones who are least empowered, cannot.

This isn't to say that residents of gated communities aren't just as caring, concerned and socially active as the rest of us. In some ways, they're even more active than most people. They took a step to deal with a social problem, and it's a perfectly understandable step to take. The problem arises when residents become citizens of their private community and forget that they are also citizens of a wider community, one that can't solve its problems with a gate.

Of course, individuals and developers are free to build and live in gated communities and individual gated communities have only limited effects on a city. However, the real danger is that gated communities will become common in Worcester and fragment our city. As well-to-do families and individuals move into gated communities, traditional neighborhoods weaken, and more affluent families feel that the only way to maintain their standard of living is to move into a gated community themselves. Additionally, developers are more likely to build developments with gates and add gates to existing developments if they think gates make their developments more attractive. Even the presence of one gated community can make other developers feel that they are at a competitive disadvantage without a gate. This effect 'snowballs' and the impact on the city can be dramatic.

Gated communities are also a significant threat to urban development and may undermine current goals and initiatives. Gating implies that there is a significant crime problem in Worcester which, for the most part, is not the case. Worcester is a safe, open city and this is a significant attraction for prospective residents and businesses. The presence of gated communities may mislead people that are considering moving to Worcester about crime in the city and could act to deter them. Growth is crucial to Worcester's short and long term futures and should not be threatened by misrepresentation. Furthermore, proliferation of gated communities could act as a self-fulfilling prophecy that drives crime rates up as traditional neighborhoods deteriorate.

Public officials and private citizens alike should carefully consider these issues when existing developments propose gating or new developments plan to build gates. "Wexford Village" is Worcester's only gated community and we hope that by acting now, we can prevent more from being built. Worcester is growing and improving because of concern and interest of its citizens. Gated communities threaten that citizen involvement. This, in turn, threatens Worcester's future.


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