Why Walled Enclaves and Communities Offer Greater Security and Better Surveillance
The quest for security organizes modern life. In a world perceived as increasingly unstable and insecure, the hyper-regulation of boundaries and borders has become a dominant response. Boundary regulation in urban and suburban settings may be seen most clearly with the rise of fortified enclaves, such as gated communities, but little attention has been paid to the ways in which technological surveillance contributes to spatial exclusion by means of its integration into urban space and its enforcement of social norms. Surveillance technologies and their related discourses communicate a sense of social stability that fails to match the lived experiences of people in both public housing and gated communities. As with gates and walls, electronic surveillance may operate as a less visible but similarly political fortification of urban space. Surveillance can simultaneously demarcate and police residents as well as outsiders, all the while presenting durable barriers to social inclusion for marginalized groups within cities.
As discussed in an earlier post on identity theft, responsibility for security is being distributed to individual citizens, or insecurity subjects, to ensure their own safety through consumption. On the level of the home front, this compels many home owners to purchase elaborate alarm systems, surveillance cameras, and private security services. Others elect to move into private gated communities where these services come as standard fare, in addition to guarded entry points and high walls, of course. While people who cannot afford or choose not to consume such security products may be thought of as being “on their own,” others who depend upon state assistance, such as people living in public housing, are treated as if they are suspect to begin with and in need of paternalistic supervision. Nonetheless, few people living in these settings question these neo-liberal trends, and most people seemingly believe in the benefits of privatization and security interventions, even if they do not personally taste the promised fruit of these changes.
Remarkable similarities exist between the experiences of residents in low-income public housing and gated communities. Contrary to the popular discourse of surveillance as ensuring protection from external threats, in practice both groups feel subjected to undesired individual scrutiny and policing of their behaviors. One key difference lies in the relative mobility and minimal personal risk of gated community residents compared to those in public housing. For many living in public housing like MHADA in Mumbai, this is not a “choice” but a necessity. A second difference lies in the underlying logic behind surveillance in these communities: toward the enforcement of disciplinary state laws in public housing (for example, targeting residents who are attempting to “cheat the system” in some way) and toward the enforcement of conformity in appearance and behavior in gated communities. These differences are important because they underline the fact that while security regimes may be proliferating throughout society, the burdens of surveillance are not distributed equally.
Mumbai’s Fortified and Walled Enclaves Are New Urban Wall Posts of Fear
Fortified enclaves highlights the ways that built forms and social norms function politically to enforce socio-spatial segregation and to send clear symbolic messages about who does and does not belong. While design deterrents to social integration may take the form of gated communities or enclosed malls and office buildings, they can also manifest in the more direct, if less visible, forms of benches that cannot be slept upon, sprinkler systems that keep people away from buildings or parks, or inadequate public transportation systems. The naturalization of urban and suburban designs may simultaneously serve to maintain certain social orders and exclusions
while reducing public awareness of social problems.
Fortified enclaves may be interpreted as reactions to the unsettling of social boundaries–whether through demographic shifts, the development of political democracy, or other factors. The privatization of public space allows “new urban morphologies of fear” to acquire durable, material forms that threaten to attenuate democracy and delegitimize public institutions. Although many gated community residents are concerned about security, people also base their decisions on a range of other factors, such as property values, convenience, or the lack of nongated alternatives. This last point is especially salient in cities like Mumbai, Pune and Bangalore where gated communities account for one-third of all new residential construction. Even so, researchers have found that patterns of segregation, attenuated social life, and diminished property rights are enforced by such trends toward privatized gated living.
Many public housing complexes can also be thought of as modern fortified enclaves. Under the rubric of “defensible space,” architects and planners have designed such spaces with the goal of deterring crime. The key tenets of defensible space are:
(1) encouraging territoriality through the use of material and symbolic barriers, and thus catalyzing a sense of ownership by residents,
(2) providing clear lines of sight for optimal individual surveillance,
(3) creating aesthetically pleasing “images” to symbolically dispel any stigma associated with high-rise or other housing, and
(4) situating housing for optimal geographical juxtaposition with areas considered safe.
Since the introduction of the defensible space concept in the early 1970′s, there has been significant–and ongoing–controversy about the empirical validity of the findings concerning crime reduction. Beyond these debates over efficacy, some have offered counter evidence suggesting that one should not presume that crime is external to public housing in the first place or that residents will trust police officers, when they might have ample historical reasons not to trust them.
Still, planners and urban studies scholars continue to mobilize the defensible space concept, and housing and urban development (HUD) planners have intentionally designed spaces with these tenets in mind, thus obviating any perceived need for electronic surveillance systems in many locations.
Greater residential fortification and social and economic segregation are also coincident with recent developments in security cultures and pressures for people to become insecurity subjects. Rather than being the simple outgrowth of individual fears and demands, fortification and other security efforts become articulations of the simultaneous retreat from the welfare state and growth in the state’s policing and security functions. Seen from this perspective, alterations in spatial relations tie back in to broader political economies, state policies, and cultural beliefs; these changes may be grounded in and mediated by local contexts, but they signal shifts in cultural logic and institutional structures that extend beyond any individual city or community under study.
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