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The Phenomenon Of Gated Communities Cultural Studies Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Cultural Studies
Wordcount: 5538 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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This paper explores the subject of gated communities being a globally prevalent urban or quasi-urban form: which relatively recently have rapidly become widespread within Polish cities.

The author’s interest in studying the topic arose from a genuine concern over the future of metropolitan layouts and how they are worryingly being determined by the rising number of fortified enclaves. The tendency of enclosing communities does not only apply to new housing, but also existing streets, apartments built in the past, standalone buildings, and whole residential districts.

Blakely and Snyder (1999) describe these communities as a new form of discrimination, an economical one. Earlier, ones social status has been asserted by the architectural density of parts of the city and architectural ornamentation of the buildings. However, gated communities are heading one step further underlining the economical segregation by creating physical barriers defending the accessibility, privatise the public space and social living aspects such as safety (private security instead of police care), educational and communal service. More often inhabitants of those housing estates ‘sweep past’ through their secured public spaces to similar ones in their work place, mega stores, or recreational centres. Gated communities are creating a new, private world which turns into an insular environment (Zaborska 2006).

Alternatively, Jacek GÄ…decki (2009: 25) believes that a fine line should be established between global and local processes, as ‘there are GC examples which faultlessly adapt to their local: urban, social, economic and cultural conditions and are frequently well perceived.’

Using both descriptive and predictive approaches the subject has been investigated through gathered literature, resident interviews, analytical research of existing gated communities in Poland and case studies of existing gated communities in Poland, which the author has personally examined through frequent site visits and numerous examples of daily press columns in which the discourse has grown greatly over the past decade.

The reader has to acknowledge that the ‘bountifulness and ambiguity of local and international discourses illustrate that Gated Communities come into existence from diverse rationales and are creating different types of social realities (GÄ…decki 2009: 66)’

Therefore, the author’s aim is to prove that living in an enclosed community in Poland creates only an illusion of safety, and that building fortresses is turning away from the real problem. The middle class living amongst themselves stops grasping concerns the whole society should deal with. Building an enclosed world, ghettos available for selected citizens, elite housing estates, where admission is forbidden to lower social classes, which in effect could lead to the growing frustration among the lower class.


I got a letter today, a letter from a friend

He writes – mate, you’ve betrayed, gained a pile of cash and weight

You no longer travel by tram, times have changed

so much

I guess you don’t remember me anymore, apparently you live in luxury

You must have forgot, what’s a crowded bus like


Staszczyk, Z. (1997):

T.Love – Komercja (Commercialism)


The common definition of gated communities refers to a physical area seceded off its urban context with fenced or walled barriers and access routes patrolled by an around the clock security (Landman 2000). Although the elements separating these enclaves from the outside world are comparable, the basis for this happening is not common and is directly related to its setting (GÄ…decki 2009: 66).

Blakely and Snyder (1999) describing the growing number of enclosed communities in USA, named three types, different because of the inhabitancy motif and type of habitants:

• Lifestyle- inhabited by people living in a specified lifestyle (for instance: golf enthusiasts, retired people etc.)- designed for giving wealthier people amenities they could not find elsewhere

• Prestige- underlining the adhesion to a higher class

• Security- creating a feeling of physical and social safety

GÄ…decki (2009: 23) citing Landman uses the category of race and power when explaining the spread of GCs in apartheid. This is one of the most extreme examples, as these are a by-product of a totalitarian regime in which people were forced to separation rather than the indicated being a matter of choice.

However, the appearance and investigation of gated communities does not relate solely to North American countries. In 1980s and 1990s this new movement started reaching large European cities of Spain, France and Portugal, as well as South African, Chinese, Central and Eastern European metropolises (PolaÅ„ska 2010: 423). In the latter, the reason for gating enclaves happening and the urban economic transformation had a close relation to the 1989 collapse of the Communist-led administrations and socio-political transformation to post-communist / capitalist systems. The economic conversion from command economy towards a free market orientated, thereby the upward importance and rapid enrichment of middle and upper class citizens and more visible ‘cleavages between the rich and the poor’ (PolaÅ„ska 2010: 421), materialized in the ubiquitous quasi-urban form of Gated Communities.

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It has been over twenty years since the Capitalist system has been introduced in Poland. In numerous articles and publications, one can observe the tendency of typecasting the communist state as ‘the bad’ and the capitalist as ‘good’, whereas good and bad sides can be distinguished in both. Therefore, the past two decades and the current state’s condition needs reflecting upon some unfulfilled expectations and unwanted changes in society’s behaviours, inherently associated with its political transformation.

Architectural propensities of XX century Poland, before the 1939 Third Reich armed conflict and immediately following USSR aggression under the Ribbentrop-Molotov alliance covenant, were not exceptionally different from European tectonic tendencies. Instantly after the occupation of Warsaw, Nazi Germany introduced the Pabst Plan. Performed under the leadership of the newly appointed Chief Architect – Friedrich Pabst, the novel development plan anticipated demolition of the majority of the capital’s built environment to transform it into a provincial town with the sole purpose of being a centre for the German elite and a strategic transport hub. The five-year German occupation led to the demolition of entire neighbourhoods and Polish cultural monuments (NDAP: 2011), as well as the destruction of communities by forcing certain members of society into enclosed ghettos and slums.

The Country’s revival came with the end of II World War under the Soviet sphere of influence (Majewski, n.d.). This coincided with the introduction of socialist realism to Poland. Originated in 1930’s the soviet art movement – socialist realism – became the ‘only legitimate’ method of artistic creation exhibiting and applauding ‘comrade’ ideologies, thereby becoming one of the main Communist parties’ propaganda tools (MordyÅ„ski 2006: 4).

This politically radical movement has been initially introduced by BolesÅ‚aw Beirut – the first leader of the Peoples’ Republic of Poland and the head of state from 1947 – during the 1949 PZPR (Polish United Workers’ Party) Warsaw Conference, during which the ‘Six-year plan for Warsaw’s reconstruction’ has been announced.

The capital reconstructed during the interwar period has been described as unfortunate, because built to satisfy each tenement house owners’ ‘lust’ of wealth, whereas the owner himself, as an ‘exploiter and speculator’, peoples’ antagonist opposing the forming of the new Warsaw – as the capital of the socialist state. The proletariat supporters proclaimed patronage over the ‘oppressed’ workers’ class by putting the ‘perfect city plan’ into effect and improving their purportedly poor pre-war living conditions. State’s main objective became the salvage of its commons, forced to inhabit deprived of light basement apartments and top tenement stories facing ‘gloomy’ courtyards in favor of the ‘capitalist bourgeoisie’ all inclusive first floor flats.

The establishment of the society’s new socialist realism order depended upon undertaking drastic changes in the urban built form. A great number of survived historic tenement houses, which endured the II World War air bombardment of Nazi Germany planes and Pabst Plan cleansing, have been scheduled for demolition to make way for the implementation of ‘realistic works of architecture, corresponding to the high culture and art of socialism, material and spiritual needs of the nation’s development’ (MordyÅ„ski 2006: 3-4).

‘Interacting and radiating the whole country will accelerate and intensify the creative effort of socialist construction in the remotest and most neglected neighborhoods and parts of the state.’

Bolesław Bierut

From: Marzenie o idealnym mieÅ›cie – Warszawa socrealistyczna

(The dream of a perfect city – social realistic Warsaw) (2006)

(translation: Author)

However, the ‘decimation’ of a great part of eclectic, art nouveau and inter-war edifices was not the only transition the new socialist society had to face. Along with the introduction of the autonomous directive certain behavioural habits were planned to be imposed on future inhabitants.

It was believed that the cities’ urban built form needed to fulfil solely the realistic needs of their occupants. The capitalist individualism has been openly criticized, which became most apparent in both city planning and individual residential layouts.

‘The new Warsaw cannot be a repetition of the former. It cannot be only merely improved, or become a revised repetition of the prewar community of private interests of the capitalist society’

Bolesław Bierut (1949)

The dream of a perfect city – social realistic Warsaw (2006)

(translation: Author)

In this manner, the socialist realism clique endeavoured to create truly inspiring urban settings, spaces of communal interaction filled to the brim with public squares, culture houses, public dining rooms, arcades and colonnades, opposed to cramped tenement houses apartments’ void of cooking, laundry and drying facilities – emphasising the elevated ranks of its novel social movement with its monumentality, and at the same time despotically dictating national collectiveness.

Therefore the quest for rooting the national familiarity met with great public criticism. The social realist vision of a unified state has been withdrawn when the communist demiurges realised their failure in communicating socialist characteristics of processes occurring in life, or life processes that are not perfectly socialist. (Mordyński 2006: 5-8).

The social realist ‘thaw’ in the communist bloc countries followed the death of Joseph Stalin in 1953. Stalinist dictatorship, cult of personality and the total submission of USRR polity have been criticized by the new The Central Committee of Polish United Workers’ Party leader- Nikita Khrushchev. Berated form of mastery has been ‘sentenced’ to the Orwellian evaporation in the commander’s 1956 ‘Personality Cult and its Consequences’ paper, which called for the continuity of the autonomous state system, exclusive of the condemned citizen/fellow dignitary terror governance and ‘courteous’ coexistence of communist and capitalist worlds. (Tomaszewska: n.d.)

The reprove of the cult of personality along with the socialist functionalism ideology in search of an alternative to the extremely expensive architecture of socialist realism, unable to cope with the increasing demand for residential buildings, has found reflection in modernist planning and mass-produced prefabricated architecture. Thereafter, multi-storey concrete slab estates began to dominate the majority of Polish cities’ skylines, thus rising to the occasion and repairing the housing shortage situation, as well as becoming the novel urban form showcasing the socialist pursuit of civilians’ living conditions uniformity and standardization (Wieteska 2007). Ironically, the ‘example comes from the top’ saying was not applied in spreading the social classless ideology, where the party nomenclature voluntarily isolated themselves from the rest of the society by inhabiting closed off palaces and fenced edifices (GÄ…sior-Niemiec: 2007 et al.).

These estates were and still are in disrepute for their crowded layouts, poor quality concrete construction caused by the accelerated process of hardening and inefficient thermal properties (Semczuk: 2010). Despite this, one needs to acknowledge that its creation was the best solution at the time to the housing shortage in a country tumbled-down by perpetual wars and occupations.

The hitherto flourishing construction sector stalled due to 80’s economic crisis. Failure in repaying foreign loans taken in Western countries, by implication foreign debt growth, stalled a great number of domestic investments. Deteriorating housing market, working conditions and rocketing goods prices caused a flurry of protests, which subsequently led to the formation of the Solidarity union. This succession of events forced the Communist Party to conduct negotiations, resulting in the 1989 cessation of dominance and transfer of power to the reactivated chamber of deputies and presidency (Madej: 2005).

Transformation of the political system, foreign capital inflow and newly introduced law amendments, mainly citizenship and establishment freedom, allowed the replacement of the heavily indebted state-building co-operatives with private property companies. Moving away from the ubiquitous communist times typification, the diversity of available built materials and developed technology has allowed for the implementation of various architectural concepts (Communist time’s construction: 2010). Majewski (n.d) distinguished three stages in the history of Polish architecture after the fall of communism. In the first period, a vast quantity of buildings designed by Western architects was built. The small group of emerged developers sought to achieve rapid return on their investment; therefore these buildings are characterized by poor quality of workmanship and the use of building materials. The second period was characterized by the growth and stabilization of the country’s economy. Hence the emergence of many new development agencies and a range of architectural design companies to choose from. Third – near the end of the 90’s the economy continued to grow strong and became brimful of large scale developers. Companies exposed to construction sector competition were forced to introduce more attractive offers and marketing promotions in order to acquire new customers. PolaÅ„ska (2010: 427) remarks the stereotypical classification used: the tendency of negatively portraying the ‘old’ as the time of contemporarily loathed prefabricated concrete slab estates and the ‘new’ as the period of residential wealth and freedom. GÄ…sior-Niemiec (2007:6) on the other hand juxtaposes this fact with citizens’ growing income and statutory disparities, lack of confidence in the states’ ‘inefficiency’ and inability to ensure security. As a consequence the capitalist system and its social stratification and secure lifestyle have been introduced in the form of Gated Communities.

According to Katarzyna Zaborska (2006) the main reason for fencing the communities in Poland is the exigency of security. Enclosed fenced enclaves could be the reaction to long years of regnant communism, when personal ownership was stigmatized, and is coming back in an exaggerated form of fortified apartments. The propensity of Communist Poland was to merge social layers in communal apartments, which fuelled growing frustration and could be another factor that triggered the exigency of isolation and underlining affiliation to a higher social category. Coexistence of areas inhabited by people with different incomes results in the feeling of endangerment within wealthier citizens.


When I’m looking in your eyes,

which are so tired as mine

I’m loving this city, which is tired as I

Where Hitler and Stalin did their stuff


Staszczyk, Z. (1994):

T.Love – Warszawa (Warsaw)


The public realm is defined as all those areas that are publicly owned and unreservedly accessible to citizens, generally at all times of the day and night (Ritzer: 2007). Tridib Banerjee (2007: 155) citing Lynch defines these territories as ones being accessible both physically and psychologically, consecutively underlining how vital such spaces are in creating successful urban environments, merrily and constantly occupied by the public.

In this context and specifically with regard to the fact that a great deal of human occupation and interaction occur around and within: streets, lanes, routes, paths, parks, open spaces as well as public and civic buildings, one would anticipate coherent and legible movement strategies within and across urban blocks.

Unfortunately, in the absence of adequate capital funds, by implication failure to provide sufficient city expansions, the majority of Central and Eastern European states had to rely on private sector financial support. (GÄ…decki: 2009 et al.)

In her paper, PolaÅ„ska (2010) aptly grasps the lost boundary between public and private spaces in connection with Poland’s socio-political and economic revolution. The abolishment of the Communist regime inevitably transformed the heretofore equal society’s social status to a novel social stratification. This public cleavage profoundly underlined public position inequalities between individuals, consequently ‘stretching social distances’, in effect: triggering the feeling of hostility amongst lower and upper class citizens. In this manner, Jane Jacobs’ (1961) ‘social capital’ theory relating to the significance of relationships and interactions in order to create a strong sense of community has been altered significantly.

The term social capital refers to a network of collective bonds inscribed in the social structure of a community. The author stresses the importance of these social interactions and their contribution to shaping neighborhood connections, trust, everyday sociability and most importantly diversity (Jacobs: 1961). In the case of gated communities, the spread of this citizenship co-operation and collective responsibility is being limited spatially, by detaching whole residential districts from their urban fabric with the creation of a physical barrier in the form of a fence, as well as mentally – by limiting the development of social diversity through the creation of enclaves only available to higher social status representatives.

‘(…) Our neighborhood stands as it used to

So many of us became poor herein

Our city stands as it used to

Busy by day, few by night

Separately rather, yet collectively

In one apartment, like kamikaze

We don’t suffer from money or power

Yet this ‘collectively’ does our heads in’

Staszczyk, Z. (2006):

T-Love – Åšcierwo (Carcass)

The rapid social class transformation in terms of cultural preferences, work, consumption and rest models of the neo-liberal middle class citizens has been widely described by GÄ…decki (2009: 103) whilst analyzing the swift widespread of Gated Communities in Poland. To describe these changes the author refers to the processes of gentrification and suburbanization. The first term has been originally used in American urban sociology to depict the prompt economical, social and cultural character change of a city’s section, usually from a residential area inhabited by a miscellaneous range of tenants to an area predominantly occupied by higher class individuals. The latter relates to the middle class depopulation of city centers in favor of the expansion of suburban areas resulting from the development of transport infrastructure and the perception of suburban modernity in contrast to city centre lower class orthodoxy (GÄ…decki: 91). Curiously, GÄ…decki (2009: 106) citing Neil Smith considers that the driving forces of these processes are not so much class transformations, but discrepancies between ‘actual and potential land values’ (GÄ…decki citing Smith 2009: 106). These discrepancies gave development agencies the opportunity to seek reimbursement for the expansion of otherwise derelict city parts. The author noticed that publicly funded urban development of cities ‘serves to mobilize and develop the real estate market’ (GÄ…decki citing Smith 2009: 106), as well as that these processes have no affect on social diversity, but instead ‘allow to take control of city’s political and cultural economy’ (GÄ…decki citing Smith 2009: 106) and ‘take the attention away from fundamental issues such as: land ownership and property value speculations’ (GÄ…decki citing Smith 2009: 106).

This free market opportunity, lack of adequate planning regulations, increasing fear of crime, caused by the lack of confidence in the capacity of the state to protect its citizens, consequently amplified protection endeavour, has been spotted and exploited by housing developers and relapses in the shape of private clubs for selected citizens. Increasing validity of development companies’ involvement and contribution (Madanipour: 2007 [1998]) together with failure in introducing reputable Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) programme as well as theories such as Oscar Newman’s Defensible Space (1996), has led to privatisation of space at unprecedented before scale.

Over the past decade the increasing privatisation of space in the form of gated enclaves has been one of the main discourse topics amongst architectural, urban and sociological loops of Polish society. In many instances it has been pejoratively compared to a contemporary form of ghettos (GÄ…decki: 2009, Zaborska: 2006 et al.). This rundown section of cities has been extensively depicted in Martyna Obarska’s essay (2008), in which the author uses Calimani’s ‘The History of Venetian Ghetto’ (2002) and eventually San Gerolamo as an example of a space completely separated from the city’s context , where admittance was supervised by specially hired forces. Interestingly, not all inhabiting Jews negatively perceived the forming of ghettoes. On many occasions a closed off district has been associated with security, protecting the occupants from Christians discrimination, and where individual’s choices have not been stigmatized.

‘All Jews should live together in a housing quarter, such as the Ghetto near San Gerolamo. They should not walk around by night too. From inside of the ghetto, where the small bridge is positioned and its opposite side, two gates will be erected. They will be open able at dawn at the sound of the Maragon and closed by night, at midnight. The inhabitants will need to designate and pay a fee to four Christian guards to operate these’ [gates – Author]’

San Gerolamo, Ghetto Decret: 1515

Calimani, R. – The History of Venetian Ghetto (2002)

Historically and conceptually closer to Poland is the Warsaw Ghetto – the symbol of oppression and suffering of the Warsaw Jews. Formed within allocated city districts and separated from the rest of the city with an elevated wall during the II World War by the Nazi occupational authorities. This is the time when ‘ghetto’ became the synonym of ignorance, filth and squalor and the thought horizon’s narrowness.

Castellino (2005) remarks how the meaning of the term ‘ghetto’ changes dramatically at different points of history. Although this word’s undertone has always been pejorative, the rationale behind forming ghettos in early Venetian times cannot be put on a par with them being ingloriously created during the governance of the Nazi regime during II World War.

The Author believes that the term ‘gated communities’ needs to be assessed against local rationales, as its undertone can recall more affirmative connotations in some urban settings, similarly to the two presented ghetto precedents.

‘…the passion for improvisation, which demands that space and opportunity be at any price preserved. Buildings are used as a popular stage. They are all divided into innumerable, simultaneously animated theatres. Balcony, courtyard, window, gateway, staircase, roof are at the same time stages and boxes.’

Walter Benjamin

One Way Street, 1924



Concrete slab estates

Everyday I stand stock-still

How can you build this s***

How can you breed

And than not reign

Over this bunch, that snuffels the same


Staszewski, K. (2000):

Kazik – Chcem piwa! (I want beer!)

The ‘fashion’ for enclosed communities seem to gain new ‘believers’. Quiet green, The beech manor, Sky blue cirque, Sunny slope, Green apartment- these are some names that the developers want to lure their potential customers with, names that conjoin with a safe and happy living, a green garden, fun circus for your children and an equivalent comrades.

But are those expectations being fulfilled? Or is this only a catchy marketing slogan that the developers happily use?

According to the internet site Tabelaofert.pl the majority of new apartments on the market are situated on enclosed areas. Only in Warsaw (1.7 million citizens) on 106 available estates, 81 are fenced (69 of them are being guarded round the clock).

The case looks differently in other large cities. In Wroclaw (0.8 million citizens) 18 in 31 investments are enclosed, Gdynia (0.4 million citizens)- 9 out of 16, Gdansk (0.6 million)- 11 out of 24 ( Poznan (0.8 million)- half of 16 new investments. Surprisingly, in the cultural capital of Poland, and the second largest city- Cracow (population of 1.2 million)- only 3 out of 14.

These numbers actually confirm the states capitals citizens snobbish mind-set, feeling of being above other parts of the country and by implication- having the necessity of guarding their belongings from the ‘conquest’ of citizens originated in other parts of Poland.

Is there a new trend?

Which social layers inhabit gated communities?

How gated communities are being perceived?

How gated communities in Poland are being advertised / marketed?

Sympathetic naming of these developments to be highlighted (Quiet Green, The Beach Manor, Sky Blue Cirque, Sunny Slope, Green Apartment etc.)

Costs of living in gated communities in Poland / How does it compare to the per capita income of an ‘ordinary’ citizen?

Does it exclude some social layers right from the start?


‘It is enough to compare the appearance of neighbourhoods that are gated and non-gated to understand the reasons behind restricting access to several public spaces. Well-taken-care-of, carefully maintained, clean and well managed- it is almost exclusively those [neighbourhoods (PolaÅ„ska: 2010)] gated by high fences or watched over by guards. Devastated, worn-out, trampled, ‘decorated’ with daubes on their walls, with cars parking wherever its possible- these are those opened to the public, where the order is theoretically supposed to be protected by the police, but nobody is protecting in practice…’

Piękno Kapitalizmu (The Beauty of Capitalism)

Majcherek, A. Gazeta Wyborcza, November 15, 2007

(translation: Polańska: 2010)





I think I’ll leave the house

Have a wonder around the city



My estate is guarded

Sometimes I feel here

Like in Auschwitz

Or in custody

But I like it here

I live here a while

Although I wasn’t born here

I’ve been always a visitor



Staczyk, Z. (2001): T-Love – ZÅ‚y Wtorek (Bad Tuesday)



– Two Gated Estates in SÅ‚upsk / Poland:

Two estates situated in author’s home town, which have been gated after the proposal put forward by the housing association has been voted for.

One with a higher crime figure than the other.

The author believes that the crime figures differ because of the setting of both of these enclaves.

The fence creates only an ‘aura’ of security.

– Estate 1: suburbs / surrounded by single family homes / new built hospital on the other side of the street / greenery well groomed (small patches of green space within) / no security (Defensible Space Theory – O. Newman – milieu- proof of frequent appearance of inhabitants) / one local shop, accessed from within the gated community (from residents interviews – the gates had to be opened to the wider public [pedestrian access], as the local shop could not be supported by the clients from within the community only. – The same problem has been encountered in Marina Mokotów.

-Estate 2: city centre / surrounded by various types of housing blocks / no local shop within gated community / local park – possible thieves hide out? / no security

(approx 200m)

From residential interviews: both of these communities suffer from lack of internal open green / play space, mainly used for car parking – shared Dogs not allowed to be taken for a walk within the gated blocks. Children play space: within the community (shared surface) or outside the gates.

Comparing to Marina Mokotów: Size of the gated communities 1 & 2 occupy one city block

-Marina Mokotów – Warsaw / Poland

Kuryłowicz & Associates

Biggest new built gated community in Warsaw (22 ha).

Number of units: 1500 (residential buildings, houses, residences). Overall green / play space within gated community: approx. 60%. From Architect’s interview (found on the web) original design: whole land to be fenced. Result: whole land fenced + individual buildings within the gated community fenced additionally.

Highest quality materials used throughout / gardens, alleys, squares, fountains, waterfalls, pergolas, lake, internal roads within GC (city within a city?) / ground floor uses: trading posts, restaurants, bars, shops etc.

(again, gates had to be opened to the wider public [pedestrian access], as the local shops could not be supported by the clients from within the community only:

‘Crisis In Marina Mokotów: barriers up’ Gazeta StoÅ‚eczna. 17 September 2009) – encountered huge dissatisfaction / opposition from local residents.

Off street car parking (insufficient number ) / underground car parking (additional fee)


Atkinson, R., Flint, J., Blandy, S., Lister, D. 2003. Gated Communities in England, ‘New Horizons’ project: University of Glasgow and Sheffield Hallam University

Bartoszewicz, D. 2009. ‘Kryzys w Marinie Mokotów: szlabany w górÄ™ (Crisis In Marina Mokotów: barriers up)’ Gazeta StoÅ‚eczna. 17 September

Blakely, J., Snyder, M. 1997. Fortress America: Gated Communities in the United States, Washington, D.C. Brookings Institution Press

Blandy, S. 2007. Gated Communities in England as a response to crime and disorder: context, effectiveness and implication


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