Why live in Celebration, Florida when you can live in a Disney gated community within the resort?

Celebration, Florida gets a lot of attention as a Disney-designed New Urbanist community but there are more exclusive Disney housing options: living in a big house within a gated community inside the resort.

Walt Disney Co.’s gated community known as Golden Oak—named after the company’s California ranch—is the only place in the world where you can own a home within Disney-resort boundaries. Some 980 acres are being carved up for as many as 450 homes on the Lake Buena Vista site, a few within eyesight of the famous Cinderella Castle fireworks.

Homeownership in the development starts at $1.7 million, and homes have sold for more than $7 million. Extras include property taxes and annual fees as high as $12,000 to cover perks, which include park passes, door-to-park transportation, extended hours for visiting attractions such as the Magic Kingdom and Epcot, and a 17,000-square-foot clubhouse with a restaurant and concierge. Residents also will have access to some of the amenities, including the spa and dining rooms at the $370 million, 444-room Four Seasons resort expected to open in Golden Oak next summer…

Many homes include nods to Mickey Mouse and friends. (Disney is willing to overlook trademark violations inside the home.) The ceiling of one of Mr. Bergami’s guest rooms has a tray ceiling in the shape of Mickey’s head. Doors have carvings of the castle, Donald Duck and Goofy.

Homeowners also have the option of adding “hidden Mickeys”—as the features are known—in everything from kitchen backsplashes to stair railings. Builder Chad Cahill included an estimated 75 hidden mouse ears in a showcase home finished earlier this year. Some are tough to spot, so when the furnished $2.7 million home sells, the new owner will receive a map of the locations.

See a 2012 post about the construction of this gated community. Sounds like the gated community is all about giving the wealthiest Disney fans what they want: an immersive Disney home just a short distance away from the Disney gates.

A thought about these wealthy Disney fans: are they easy to spot at the Disney parks? We spent a day at the Magic Kingdom in Florida last year and I was struck that the people around us looked like a broad slice of middle-class America. Granted, it is not cheap: single-day tickets were over $90, the food was moderately expensive (not as bad as I thought it might be), and many people have to travel far and pay for airfare, a hotel, and a rental car. Of course, there are lots of other things to spend big money on (for example, giving your small daughter the full princess experience), but I don’t remember seeing people who were flashing wads of money and really expensive clothes or other goods. Perhaps this says more about Americans trying to downplay their wealth (we’re all middle-class) or the findings that most millionaires don’t act like stereotypical millionaires.

Gated crime-free “private city” under construction in Guatemala

A new gated community under construction in Guatemala is upfront about being exclusive and crime-free:

Guatemalan developers are building a nearly independent city for the wealthy on the outskirts of a capital marred by crime and snarled by traffic. At its heart is the 34-acre (14-hectare) Paseo Cayala, with apartments, parks, high-end boutiques, church, nightclubs, and restaurants, all within a ring of white stucco walls.

The builders of Paseo Cayala say it is a livable, walkable development that offers housing for Guatemalans of a variety of incomes, though so far the cheapest apartments cost about 70 times the average Guatemalan’s yearly wage. It’s bordered by even costlier subdivisions begun earlier. Eventually, the Cayala Management Group hopes to expand the project into “Cayala City,” spreading across 870 acres (352 hectares), an area a little larger than New York’s Central Park .

Cayala’s backers promote it as a safe haven in a troubled country, one with an unusual degree of autonomy from the chaotic capital. It also embraces a philosophy that advocates a return to a traditional concept of a city, with compact, agreeable spaces where homes and shops are intermixed.

Detractors, however, say it is a blow to hopes of saving the real traditional heart of Guatemala City by drawing the well-off back into the urban center to participate in the economic and social life of a city struggling with poverty and high levels of crime and violence…

Pedro Pablo Godoy, one of the 25 architects who worked on Paseo Cayala, said it is the first project in Guatemala that adheres to New Urbanism, a movement that promotes the creation of walkable neighborhoods with a range of housing types and commerce.

Sounds like a fairly typical gated community that may simply be unusually frank about the reasons it is built and why wealthy residents would want to live there: to avoid the problems of society. I imagine some New Urbanists would not anything to do with such a project that is hardly about mixed-income development or being integrated into the fabric of normal society.

While we could focus on the exclusiveness of this new development, it would also be interesting to study whether and how a community forms in such a setting. It sounds like the developers expect some sort of streetlife, partly due to the architecture and design as well as a younger generation they are hoping to attract that want a lively urban setting. Will this actually occur? Will the perceived safety lead to more vulnerable social interactions? If so, what will this community end up looking look?

This also is reminiscent of plans to build several cities in Honduras that would have their own government and oversight.

Some residents opposed to Section 8 vouchers being used for large homes in South Florida gated communities

Here is another side effect of the sluggish economy and housing market: some big homes in South Florida are being rented with Section 8 vouchers.

Housing advocates and the government view the turnabout as a win-win for homeowners and the poor, who have access to safer communities and better schools.

But some neighbors are aghast.

After a single mother and her nine children rented a house in the exclusive Isles neighborhood of Coral Springs, the homeowners association adopted an amendment to its governing documents stating: “No Section 8 or government leasing assistance is permitted.”

The association is threatening eviction.

Federal law does not expressly outlaw such bans. But the prohibition can’t be used as a pretext for other illegal acts, such as denying housing to people because of their race, gender, national origin, disability or number of children.

The Sun Sentinel examined federal housing subsidy data from housing authorities in Broward and Palm Beach counties and found 230 homes commanding rents of $2,000 or more, up to $3,375 a month, from Section 8 families. Typically, tenants pay about one-third of their income toward the rent and the government pays the rest.

Most of the homes were basic, modest-looking residences in unassuming neighborhoods. But about a dozen were far grander, upscale houses concentrated in Broward County’s western suburbs, including Coral Springs, Miramar and Cooper City, where one six-bedroom rental is worth $500,000.

I can’t say I’m surprised by the response of some of the gated community residents: they moved to these communities in part so they might never have to run into people with Section 8 vouchers. It doesn’t sound like this is widespread just yet but I can imagine the headline years later: racial and economic integration was achieved in South Florida through a terrible housing market that limited the ability of wealthier residents to keep out poorer residents.

Portraying fear and multiculturalism in the Australian suburbs

An Australian playwright talks about what he saw in the suburbs that prompted him to write his first play titled Little Borders:

Several years ago, my family home in Adelaide was knocked down and rebuilt. The suburb was once a new development, built onto what had originally been swampland. Over the years, the house had begun to sink; the kitchen was slightly lower than the adjacent rooms, and a crack ran through the length of the ceiling. Despite the suburb’s swampy foundations, our street was pristine. It was quiet, lined with trees, and curved alongside a man-made lake. People jogged. They walked their dogs. They smiled at strangers.

While our family home was being rebuilt, we moved to a rental property in a nearby suburb. The house was on a main road. We woke up at night to the sound of motorists loudly hammering their horns. My brother and I started walking to the corner store barefoot, in board shorts, to buy frozen peas and schnitzels.

We came home one day to find the house across the street sealed off by police tape, with hazmat-suited officers wandering in and out. The same prostitute kept making conversation with me at the bus stop. She was very friendly-and liked that I was half-Maltese, as she herself was born in Greece and was planning to return there later that year – but it was still a bizarre culture shock.

When we finally moved back to our rebuilt home, I remained fascinated with the idea of suburbs that are geographically close, but socioeconomically divided. I overheard our smiling, jogging, dog-walking neighbours talking in racially incensed language about the new residents of the housing commission homes down the road, reminding each other to lock their cars at night.

At the same time, both major political parties were battling it out over the issue of asylum seekers, with each leader attempting to court votes by promising a stronger brand of xenophobia than their opponent. From both sides, the message was clear: Boat People are approaching fast, they pose a threat to our national security, and the only rational response is mass panic.

I became interested in exploring how these notions of class difference and fear of outsiders clashed with the image of Australia as an egalitarian nation that celebrates its multiculturalism. At some point in my research, I struck upon the idea of setting the play in a gated community, which gave these issues potency, etching them into the physical world of the play. It was from this point that Little Borders really started to take shape.

This sounds like it could be an interesting play. I wonder how much it will be able to escape common cliches about suburban life that have been bandied about around in the United States since the 1950s.

The description of the suburbs quoted above does hint at the changes that American (and apparently Australian?) suburbs have experienced in recent years: they are becoming more diverse in terms of race and ethnicity as well as social class. Of course, there has been an uptick in gated communities as some suburban residents don’t look on these changes fondly and there are still profound divisions between certain suburbs.

A question: are there any plays that see suburbs as good places? For example, you could flip the above story a bit and suggest that suburbs that were once closed off to “others” are now slowly opening up which means new opportunities for some. The suburbs will likely never be ideal but there have been some notable changes in recent years.

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).

Lost in the Trayvon Martin story: the mindset behind gated communities

Lost in the Trayvon Martin story is the location where this all occurred: a gated community. While these are common in some places, particularly in Florida, one author explains the unique mindset in gated communities and how this might have contributed to the situation:

From 2007 to 2009, I traveled 27,000 miles, living in predominantly white gated communities across this country to research a book. I threw myself into these communities with gusto — no Howard Johnson or Motel 6 for me. I borrowed or rented residents’ homes. From the red-rock canyons of southern Utah to the Waffle-House-pocked exurbs of north Georgia, I lived in gated communities as a black man, with a youthful style and face, to interview and observe residents.

The perverse, pervasive real-estate speak I heard in these communities champions a bunker mentality. Residents often expressed a fear of crime that was exaggerated beyond the actual criminal threat, as documented by their police department’s statistics. Since you can say “gated community” only so many times, developers hatched an array of Orwellian euphemisms to appease residents’ anxieties: “master-planned community,” “landscaped resort community,” “secluded intimate neighborhood.”

No matter the label, the product is the same: self-contained, conservative and overzealous in its demands for “safety.” Gated communities churn a vicious cycle by attracting like-minded residents who seek shelter from outsiders and whose physical seclusion then worsens paranoid groupthink against outsiders. These bunker communities remind me of those Matryoshka wooden dolls.  A similar-object-within-a-similar-object serves as shelter; from community to subdivision to house, each unit relies on staggered forms of security and comfort, including town authorities, zoning practices, private security systems and personal firearms.

Residents’ palpable satisfaction with their communities’ virtue and their evident readiness to trumpet alarm at any given “threat” create a peculiar atmosphere — an unholy alliance of smugness and insecurity. In this us-versus-them mental landscape, them refers to new immigrants, blacks, young people, renters, non-property-owners and people perceived to be poor.

This account lines up with academic research on the topic: gated communities are intended to be safe places. They are generally in the suburbs and residents move there to feel more secure. While not stated explicitly, these communities are meant to help keep issues like poverty, race, social class, and crime outside the walls and fences.

Here are the three best works I know on the subject:

1. McKenzie, Evan. 1994. Privatopia: Homeowner Associations and the Rise of Residential Private Government. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.  

2. Blakely, Edward and Mary Gail Snyder. 1999. Fortress America: Gated Communities in the United States. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution.

3. Low, Setha M. 2003. Behind the Gates: Life, Security, and the Pursuit of Happiness in Fortress America. New York: Routledge.

One of the ironies revealed in these works is that these gated communities are rarely completely sealed off from the outside world. The ones that are tend to be the province of the wealthy and have very controlled entry points. For many gated communities, while there might be fences or walls, not all communities have manned gates and there are often multiple entrances into a neighborhood. So the gated nature of the community is more about a feeling of security than an actual sense that no unwanted outsider can get in.

In the end, gated communities do not necessarily lead to more violent action against outsiders. At the same time, the mindset in these communities is explicitly about safety and protection from the outside world.

“Gated communities for tourists” in Turkey

Gated communities are a common feature of American life but I was intrigued by comments from a sociology about “gated communities for tourists” in Turkey:

While economic consequences of holiday resorts are under discussion, some also underline the sociological outcomes. According to sociologist Özgür Sar?, who specializes in tourism sociology, many Turkish cities are closed to touristic activities.

“I did my field study in Konya, where many tourists come for Mevlana (the Muslim poet and Sufi mystic),” Sar? told the Daily News. “All tourist attractions are located around his tomb; there is nothing else for tourists in other parts of the city. This is the same in all cities of Turkey, even in Istanbul. The tourist route in Istanbul doesn’t go beyond Sultanahmet-Eminönü-Taksim route. So these areas also become gated environments, where there is no interaction with the locals.”

Sar? said most Turkish municipalities avoid bringing tourists and the local public together; and therefore keep touristic activities in one part of the city.

“Turkey has a conservative society and tourism means breaking the conservatism,” Sar? said. “Municipalities are concerned because they don’t want any unwanted incidents. On the other hand, they have to obey the instructions of the Tourism Ministry, so they prefer keeping touristic locations on one side,” Sar? said.

This highlights a larger issue: just how much should tourists interact with locals? It sounds like the lines are drawn more clearly in Turkey than in some other places and many tourists are supposed to “experience” the country within the confines of resorts. Of course, sociologists would note that these resorts offer only a very limited and likely consumerist view of whatever country is outside the resort. I imagine that tourists in these Turkish resorts still interact with at least a few Turkish residents who are performing service jobs within the resort. But if this is the extent of the interaction, it is hard to suggest one has truly experienced Turkey. And then we could ask how different the “gated” resort in Turkey is from the same kind of resort in Cancun and from all sorts of other beach locations.

Underlying a lot of the discussion in this article is that Turkey could grow the tourism industry and bring more money into the country. “Gated” resorts may bring in some money but it could be spread around more, possibly more to average citizens and less to resort corporations, if tourists visited more sites around the country.