By Gunaprasath Bupalan
Concepts of gated communities differ from country to country, in terms of characteristics and particularly in terms of purpose; be it security, culture and prestige.
In this modern era, gated projects appear in many countries and it generates much interest (and sometimes concern) among the communities around the globe.
Most people understand “gating” a residential area to be a move that provides territorial exclusivity in response to crime or security fears. The term gated community is always synonymous with barriers. Barriers may provide some sense of protection and safety to residences as it reinforces traffic division and clear borders that are not open to public.
In some countries, the emergence of living within barriers is argued as a failure by the government to provide adequate security for neighbourhoods.
In China, the development of gated communities has seen the rise fenced neighbourhoods that look more like fortresses rather than residential enclaves. These developments are often viewed as the government’s failure to safeguard the people from the rising crime rate in the country.
In fact, the evolution of gated community developments in China initially came into existence to distinguish the higher income society from others.
In Singapore, the resident association of various development projects, especially strata titled properties such as condominiums, are identified as subsidiary proprietors who collectively own, enjoy and are responsible for the upkeep of common facilities such as lifts, parks and recreational facilities that are in their estate.
Gated communities in Malaysia began more than two decades ago, in the early 1990s. The earlier emphasis of these initial gated communities were a combination of security, privacy and an affluent lifestyle proposition.
In the early 2000s, the sudden increase in “ad-hoc” guarded neighbourhoods schemes changed the residential development landscape in Malaysia. Due to the soaring crime rate in many urban areas, residents of existing open neighbourhoods decided to cordon of access by building barriers or walls around the residential peremeter.
The middle-income suburban residents began to jointly restrict their neighbourhood access and modify their housing status into guarded community schemes. Residents then, through their Resident Association (RA), engaged an independent security guard company, constructed guard houses, erected boom-gates, and a in some cases, included CCTV systems around the perimeter.
While this may seemed a good idea at the time, the question that arises now is if truly reduces crime or promotes it?
Questionable security guards
Good policing is safe policing, and good policing comes at a price. Since the dawn of retro-fitting gated communities, security companies have been mushrooming too – some genuine, some not.
Enggaging a good security company is definitely crucial but achieving this may be difficult for RA due to the lack of funds and participation from fellow residents. This forces them to hire lower grade security, with personnel that either sleep on the job, do a slapshhot job on patrolling and a list of other negligent activities.
Even worse, is a situation where these companies have been set up by thugs themselves. Beyond being in cahoots with robbers, the also employ thuggery tactics when there is a complaint against them or when a resident is unsupportive of their efforts. Stoned cars and deflated tyres are not unheard of in these situations.
So, are you paying for security or are you paying protection money? The scenario sounds familiar doesn’t it.
If like me, growing up in a tough neighbourhood like Klang, you would have come across similar tactics in your schooling days. Back in school we had several different gangs approach us to ask if we wanted to join them. For a small sum of monthly protection money, they would offer to protect us, but in some cases, if you declined to join, they had ways to ensure that their protection was in your best interest.
I never partook in such idiocy as my ideology was simple, why pay for a service you don’t need in the first place? I could protect myself if it came to it, but I wonder how bad it must have been for those who couldn’t.
I believe it is a similar concept here. There are those who feel they need protection, those who don’t, and those who possibly feel thay are being forced into accepting this service.
But there are two sides to a coin. At certain housing projects that have been changed to a guarded community, RAs have managed to garner 100 percent participation, their scheme has been working with nearly zero percent crime. The secret was the consensus.
The unsupportive neighbour
You simply can’t force someone to participate and pay for a service he or she doesn’t want. Most of the time, there will be several residents who just refuse to pay that monthly RM50 or RM100 to contribute to the security and services.
This is more evident in housing areas that have totally block off inner roads and inconveninced houses that ulitise this route as alternative access to their homes. In their minds, this alternate access can be potentially used as a quick exit in a hospital emergency or allow an ambulance or fire truck to get to you sooner. So it is not a simple case of non-conformity.
Lack of community spirit
It can be argued that the root cause of all of the above is lack of community participation. Before the age of urbanisation, dwellers in a village would look out for each other and rush to the defense of a neighbour. Sadly, this hasn’t translated to city life. But why not? Communities can organise a security plan and RAs should organise monthly security briefings.
Residents on the other hand, should also cooperate and participate in these gatherings to ensure proper communal living is practiced within their society and familiarity to the new security features, personnel and procedures.
In conclusion, I think that retro-fitting a guarded community, while being a noble concept, needs full participation in order to work. Despite what the local councils may say, I believe that at least 90% concensus is needed and all in favour should pay their security fees on time.This will ensure that funds are collected beforehand to pay the security company promptly, and empower the RA to hire genuine security guards.
Gunaprasath Bupalan is the executive editor of Property360 Magazine and Director of publishing firm TerraValue Sdn Bhd