Trayvon Martin case: social problems still present in gated communities

An academic expert on “place-based crime prevention” talks about the role the gated community might have had on the Trayvon Martin case:

The answer is, according to Schneider, that there are no easy answers. “It’s hard to make a generalization,” he tells me, pointing out that there are many different types of gated communities catering to all parts of the economic and social spectrum. Some of them are walkable; some are not. Some are racially mixed (as is the Retreat at Twin Lakes), and some are not. Some are relatively affordable — you can find gated trailer parks – and some are filled with McMansions. Many of them are indistinguishable from any other suburban neighborhood. Did the built environment play a role in Martin’s death? Add it to the list of things we can never really know for sure about this terrible case.

As for whether gated communities deliver on one of their main selling points — protection from crime — Schneider says that research to date has been inconclusive. “It’s not a panacea,” he says about erecting gates. “You’re just as likely to be burgled by your next-door neighbor, especially if there are teenagers.” Criminals from outside are also quick to figure out how to get in. “They learn the code from the pizza guy,” says Schneider. “The effects of gating decay over time.”

Gated communities exploded in popularity in the United States during the end of the 20th century, but Schneider points out that they are an old phenomenon. “We used to call them castles,” he says.

Here is the conclusion to this article:

If the case of Trayvon Martin has shown us anything, it’s that a society’s problems — inequity, racism, and fear among them — have no problem getting through the gates.

Even if social problems do end up affecting gated communities, academics tend to argue that people buy into and want to live in these communities because they perceive them to be safer. This supports a classic sociological axiom: “If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences.” Realistically, while these communities are said to be “gated,” they are rarely as restrictive as castles could be and are often fairly open to people who want to pass through. I wonder if these communities would be better off to get rid of the gates (in whatever form they take) and simply build their development in a more inaccessible place, such as a location that only has an entrance to a busy road (cuts off pedestrian traffic) or is located in a wealthy or out-of-way area (which limits vehicular traffic).

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