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Housing Segregation: Ghettos and Gated Communities

Introduction

Gated communities provide their residents with certain exclusivity. They are chosen even before they move in, so that an appropriate environment for a particular neighborhood is maintained. As this type of community is so selective of its inhabitants, it makes segregation inseparable from its image in society. They can be called golden ghettos, because of their secluded nature and wealthy people living there. However, being so isolated from the rest of the community makes this social group paranoid in terms of identifying all strangers in their neighborhood as potential criminals. It also contributes to a challenging coexistence of different social classes and exacerbate the already powerful stratification.

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Main body

According to Clement and Grant, “gated communities or enclaves are enclosed residential developments with shared private streets and restricted access entries” (2012:43). They began reappearing throughout the country relatively recently. The cost of housing is one of the major factors that keep most people at distance from those communities. It is high due to the amenities that such neighborhoods have to offer to its residents: good schools, parks, hospitals, and shopping facilities. As Miles stated, “you can gate without putting in gates – property prices, residents’ associations and just knowing one another’s business act as effective barriers to outsiders” (2011:32). Showing ghetto residents amenities they cannot have, pushed those further away from pursuing their dream about a better quality of life. The insecurities and paranoia that the rich are trying to hide by creating a secluded community are a weak base for building a neighborhood. Instead of bettering their lives to some extent they are making things worse, by distancing themselves from the rest of the people.

The fear and resentment of the lower and middle class make the rich put up those walls to be somehow protected, barricading themselves from the world. According to Polanska, “gated housing affects … the function of cities and creates socio-spatial segregation, keeping out those who cannot afford to live behind gates and walls” (2010:299). Residential segregation is what does not allow African Americans to have any chances for a better life, no matter one’s personal achievements or traits of character. Clement and Grant added, that “fear of crime and violence added to the appeal of protected enclaves in the United States” (2012:44). However, they are not protecting their inhabitants from cruelties of everyday life; they slowly contribute to their paranoia of being followed, or about to get mugged. Gating does have a certain appeal because of its exclusivity; being a resident of such a community makes one stand out and feel unique. As the data shows, these are perhaps the only advantages of gated communities, so it is best if this trend does not grow bigger (Polanska 2010:308).

Due to different social backgrounds, and therefore different education, the income inequality between ghetto inhabitants and those of gated communities is another factor that shapes the existing stratification. Not all minorities can afford going to a good school or a prestigious college, as some type of segregation also takes place at those institutions. Since the higher education facilities minorities are likely to attend do not have a rich reputation, chances that the residents can get decent jobs with high salaries are low. According to Krivo and Kaufman, “the ability to obtain more financially and socially advantageous housing is strongly influenced by the social and historical situations of racial and ethnic groups” (2004:587). Traditionally, blacks and Hispanics own property that values less than that of the white population. Moreover, the whites’ prejudice against having other races’ representatives decreases the demand for owning a house in a non-white neighborhood. As it has been noted, “the result is diminished value and lower appreciation of owned housing and greater difficulty in finding better quality dwellings. These problems are the most severe for blacks” (Krivo and Kaufman 2004:588).

As the value of housing is being elevated, the income remains the same for minorities: even white lower-class families are more superior to middle-class African-American ones. As Gilbert claims, they are trying “to separate themselves from the less privileged” (2017:3). The mechanisms that can help fight inequality in housing include differences in market appreciation, inheritance levels …, and the social class origins of minority versus majority-white households”, according to Krivo and Kaufman (2004:602). The current level of inequality in housing can have certain consequences for the well-being of household members. The research shows that “housing wealth provides households with economic resources, such as protection against inflation, a hedge against catastrophic events, and access to low-cost home equity loans” (Krivo and Kaufman 2004:602).

The race of the neighborhood’s residents also plays a crucial part in the stratification that has only grown stronger over time. With modern technology at hand, it has become even easier for white people to accuse minorities of an alleged crime or suspicious looks and banish them from the community. According to Kurwa, “recent scholarship has highlighted the ways that digital platforms have automated inequality and reinforced race and gender stereotypes” (2019:113). It is needless to say how technologically dependent people have become; therefore, the appearance of apps that can make matters worse for segregation creates potential damage.

As Kurwa has stated, talking about an app for the neighbors’ communication, Nextdoor, is “a tool used to build a digitally gated community” (2019:112). Designed for the residents to feel united and keep an eye on the everyday issues of the area they live in, it quickly became a means of private amateur investigation. It allowed to practically spy on people without their consent because they seemed suspicious to some residents. According to Kurwa, “these efforts are an expression of continued white preferences for segregation. Black residents moving into white suburbs are consistently greeted with hate crimes” (2019:112). He adds that “recent scholarship has highlighted the ways that digital platforms have automated inequality and reinforced race and gender stereotypes, but on Nextdoor, … users may produce it themselves” (2019:113). Moreover, it is important to mention, that the use of this app involves every user in surveillance, so one will be constantly watched by the others.

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According to Bickford and Massey, “a combination of low white rates and high black rates … maximizes the potential for ghetto expansion” (1977:1029). The majority of African American population that is forced to live in ghettos with practically zero amenities, also wants what is best for them and their families. They are trying to improve their social status by moving to nicer neighborhoods and using all of their possible income to fulfill that goal. However, according to Kurwa, “people of color are often viewed as criminals in their own homes and neighborhoods, and this shapes the interactions they have with their neighbors” (2019:114). It seems that it is impossible to overcome the set stereotypes that the white population strangely stays close to. What makes it even harder is that the children’s peers at school often discourage them from succeeding academically as they realize it is extremely difficult to get to better neighborhoods. That also can contribute to ghetto residents’ anger towards the gated communities’ inhabitants, as they understand how limited their options are.

Kurwa is also concerned with the power of the app, saying it “may have significant racial consequences: instances of minority movement to white neighborhoods” or vice versa (2019:114). According to Grusky and Hill (2018), ghettos are no better than colonies; colonies of economic, political and social character, and their residents are victims that cannot escape. Constantly feeling excluded the ghetto inhabitants may develop resentment towards the upper class to the extent when they get violent. Even trying their best to fit on or even to be a part of a gated community their chances to succeed are highly unlikely. Exacerbating this situation with constant allegations based solely on racial identity, upper-class residents are deepening the stratification and making the gap between the two societies wider.

Unfortunately, many white people that live in those communities still think of black people as of potential criminals. Grusky and Hill claim that “even when confronted with the … evidence that they were wrong, users refuse to see Black people in their neighborhood” as decent citizens (2018:115). The fact that whites at gated communities allow themselves to spy on a suspicious person without his knowledge or consent reflects their lack of value for that person. This action is more often fueled by racial animosity and the feeling of one’s inner superiority. Their accusations of alleged criminal activity or any other reason for his inability to fit in that society are always followed by pushing the person out. In the question of housing, residents from ghettos are always “disadvantaged by varied forms of discrimination targeting various kinds of people, usually by race”, according to Troutt (2018:1179).

In the case of gentrification (when white people move to minority neighborhoods), it does not get any better for the residents. Research shows that “white newcomers to non-white neighborhoods also bring their preferences about neighborhood characteristics. They may use surveillance and policing to assert those expectations” (Kurwa 2019:115). The rich try hard to secure their position and undermine the smallest opportunities for lower-class residents to improve their status and living conditions. Even those who live in non-white neighborhoods, feel threatened on their own territory as new rules and regulations are being introduced and the property value grows.

The stratification in the U.S. is tightly intertwined with class and race inequality, as people that belong to minorities group have a hard time pursuing the goal of being on a higher level. Their inability to get the education they want or live in a better neighborhood is largely limited by their status and class, as well as several other factors. The college admission often depends on students’ social background; applying for a job one has to have graduated from a respectful higher education institution. A decent job that provides a resident at least some sort of status may be a ticket to a better life, but it still does not give any guarantees.

One cannot be sure that he will be included in elite society or be pushed out of it because of his background. What is more, gated communities destroy social cohesion and create an unhealthy atmosphere inside. Excluding themselves from a normal interaction, they create this bubble, that at the same time protects them from their fears and worries and prevents them from having a relationship with someone. The children that would be raised in this type of community will be less open to the conversation; they will suspect people around them in various deeds. In general, people from such communities are more prone to developing far fewer relationships of all kinds.

People in gated communities are predominantly white and generally have more opportunities and privileges than those that live in ghettos. Those people face inequalities and unfairness every day and not all of them have the power or enough resources to win at this. This is why there is a real need for change in policies that are connected to this problem. The problem of segregation does not necessarily lie in the rise of gated communities. On the contrary: the recent boom of gating should be perceived as a symptom of a much bigger problem. It also highlights that something needs to be done on a much higher, municipal level to deal with this issue once and for all. Perhaps, lowering the plank at college admissions and job interviews may help, as that will give the ghetto residents more opportunities for getting a quality education and receiving better jobs. Lack of power and low social status still play a big role in lives of working-class, as they are denied in things like good accommodation or prestigious schools. The fact that they cannot contribute to the image of certain colleges or neighborhoods with a worthy reputation in society makes it difficult for them to survive.

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There have to be changes in potentially racist behavior in gated communities. The government has to come up with a punishment or regulation system for this matter so that the rich do not overstep the boundaries. Segregation of any kind has to remain in the past; until that happens, the U.S. has no right to call itself a non-racist country. Promoting tolerance everywhere, from social media to television, the government forgets to check what is really going on in the country. The most important places to keep an eye on and constantly evaluate the situation there are ghettos and gated communities. That is because both of them represent society at a certain extreme: a secluded group of people, with their own rules and regulations and living conditions.

Conclusion

Gated communities should be educated on being accepting when it comes to race or social status, as these factors cannot change life in this society for the worst. Ghetto residents, in turn, should encourage their younger generations to get higher education in a respectable institution to acquire a better status and a decent job. The housing conditions for ghetto inhabitants must be altered so that they can afford nice accommodation for themselves and their families. Universities and colleges need to start accepting applications of students based on their scores at the exams and their knowledge, not the prestige of their families. Balancing out the factors that contribute to the development of segregation and, therefore, stratification in the U.S. will help with keeping the violence rate and possible rioting at minimum. Not only promoting tolerance but also pursuing social, economic and racial equality through real actions, will the U.S. become a truly great country.

Works Cited

Bickford, Adam, and Douglas S. Massey. “Segregation in the Second Ghetto: Racial and Ethnic Segregation in American Public Housing, 1977.” Social Forces, vol. 69, no.4, 1991, pp. 1011-1036.

Clement, Raquel, and Jill L. Grant. “Enclosing Paradise: The Design of Gated Communities in Barbados.” Journal of Urban Design, vol.17, no.1, 2012, pp. 43-60.

Gilbert, Dennis L. The American Class Structure in an Age of Growing Inequality. SAGE Publications, 2017.

Grusky, David, and Jasmine Hill. Inequality in the 21st Century. Routledge, 2018.

Krivo, Lauren J., and Robert L. Kaufman. “Housing and Wealth Inequality: Racial-Ethnic Differences in Home Equity in the United States.” Demography, vol. 41, no.3, 2004, pp. 585-605.

Kurwa, Rahim. “Building the Digitally Gated Community: The Case of Nextdoor.” Surveillance & Society, vol. 17, no. 1/2, 2019, pp. 111-117.

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Miles, Alice. “It Matters if You’re Black or White”. New Statesman. 2011, pp. 32-33.

Polanska, Dominika V. “The Emergence of Gated Communities in Post-Communist Urban Context: and The Reasons for Their Increasing Popularity.” Journal of Housing and the Built Environment, vol. 25, no. 3, 2010, pp. 295-312.

Troutt, David D. “Cities, Fair Housing, and Gentrification: A Proposal in Progressive Federalism.” Cardozo Law Review. Vol. 40, 2018, pp. 1177-1205.

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