Side Streets: Why do some in Colorado Springs want to live behind walls, gates?

By Bill Vogrin Updated: November 24, 2013 at 3:17 pm • Published: November 24, 2013 | 8:45 am 0
photo - The Kissing Camels in Garden of the Gods Thursday, February 7, 2013. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette
The Kissing Camels in Garden of the Gods Thursday, February 7, 2013. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette

For years, Kissing Camels and Crystal Park were the only gated communities in the Colorado Springs area.

But since housing began to boom in the 1990s, more than 30 neighborhoods have been built where residents are segregated behind guardhouses or electronic gates.

They stretch from Black Forest Reserve and Flying Horse to the north to the Retreat at Rockrimmon, La Posada Del Sol and Cedar Heights in west-central Colorado Springs to Stratton Preserve, Broadmoor Heights and others in the south.

There are gated communities in Briargate and Springs Ranch. In fact, they are scattered all over the area.

It made me wonder why so many people want to live behind walls and gates.

So I called a couple of experts to find out what spurred the surge - John Harner, a professor of geography and environmental studies at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, and John Maynard, an urban design expert and principal at NES Inc., the land planning firm.

It's a trend, I learned, that started in California before spreading to Colorado and the rest of the country.

And I was surprised to learn it's not confined to the United States. Developers in Latin America are taking gated communities to extremes I never imagined.

"It's been a trend nationwide over a period of 20 years or more," Maynard said. "The issue is security, or perceived security."

Maynard said developers have found gates and fences profitable additions to their projects.

"There is a market demand for gated communities," he said. "Especially in high-end subdivisions, it's worth a substantial amount of money as to the value of a house."

The trend has been debated in academia, and many critics denounce the gates as contributing to the decline of the communities where they are built.

On one hand, many argue it's driven by a perfectly legitimate concern to protect private property and if people can afford them, then why not?

"But some critics say 'gated community' is an oxymoron," Harner said, stressing he was not expressing his personal opinion. "They say if you are gating yourself, you are not part of the larger community."

He said those critics blame gates for creating more distance between wealthy residents who can afford the gates and the rest of the community.

"People who are critical say it's just another form of segregation," he said, adding that they are viewed as an extension of the suburbs that flourished around American cities, often as wealthier whites moved from minority populations in lower-income urban cores.

"I don't think the gated communities have a racial element," Harner said. "It's more socioeconomic. It's mostly the wealthy creating these communities, setting themselves apart."

Harner attributes their popularity to paranoia among homebuyers.

"It's fear-based," he said. "And fear sells. The whole thing is driven by a sense of security, or the perception of security."

He said in Latin America - particularly Mexico and Brazil - developers are building neighborhoods with private police forces, water treatment facilities, electric generating plants and more.

In the U.S., it's not uncommon to have guards, as at Kissing Camels and Crystal Park, but not utilities.

Maynard said there's even a newer trend: faux gated communities.

"They put in a guardhouse structure and not actually build a gate," Maynard said. "It looks gated, but it's not really."

In fact, he recently designed a project exactly like that in Briargate.

Others in the region have gates at the main entrance but unattended, obscure entrances.

Whether guarded or gated or fake, expect the trend to continue as development resumes with the improved economy.

"Generally, it will be with high-end housing, particularly in elderly, age-restricted housing, or active-adult communities," Maynard said. "It's peace of mind, as much as anything.

"People want to know their homes are secure."

-

Read my blog updates at blogs.gazette.com/sidestreets

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