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Gated Communities and the Construction of Social Class Markers in Postsocialist Societies: The Case of Poland

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  • Södertörn University/ Uppsala University

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The aim of this article is to analyze how social class markers are constructed in the discourse on gated communities in a postsocialist urban context. The case of Poland is used as an example of a post-Communist country where the number of gated communities is increasing rapidly in urban areas. The material of study consists of 50 articles published in the largest national newspaper. This article argues that the discourse on gated communities is constituted by and constitutes class divisions and social class markers prevalent in the country since the fall of Communism. The “new” capitalistic system with its inherent social divisions is described as creating demands for “new” forms of housing where gates function as separators, protectors, and class identifiers. Residential differentiation is a reality in Polish society, and private space has become a symbol of exclusivity and spread throughout the country along with the popularity of gated forms of housing.
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DOI: 10.1177/1206331210374140
2010 13: 421Space and Culture
Dominika V. Polanska
Societies: The Case of Poland
Gated Communities and the Construction of Social Class Markers in Postsocialist
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Gated Communities and
the Construction of
Social Class Markers in
Postsocialist Societies:
The Case of Poland
Dominika V. Polanska1
Abstract
The aim of this article is to analyze how social class markers are constructed in the discourse on
gated communities in a postsocialist urban context. The case of Poland is used as an example of a
post-Communist country where the number of gated communities is increasing rapidly in urban
areas. The material of study consists of 50 articles published in the largest national newspaper.
This article argues that the discourse on gated communities is constituted by and constitutes
class divisions and social class markers prevalent in the country since the fall of Communism.
The “new” capitalistic system with its inherent social divisions is described as creating demands
for “new” forms of housing where gates function as separators, protectors, and class identifiers.
Residential differentiation is a reality in Polish society, and private space has become a symbol of
exclusivity and spread throughout the country along with the popularity of gated forms of housing.
Keywords
gated communities, post-Communist societies, social class markers, discourse, Poland
Post-Communist Transformation
and the Emergence of Gated Communities
The process of transformation, since the fall of Communism, has brought about many changes in
former Communist countries. The changes had both positive and negative consequences on citi-
zens of these societies. Immediately after the collapse of the Communist regime, many people
lost their jobs and security entering the new order of market economy. Cleavages between the
rich and the poor became more visible and crime rates went up considerably as a result of grow-
ing unemployment, inflation, and poverty. The status hierarchies of the former system: “were
overturned and social distances stretched” (Sztompka, 2004, p. 175). The systemic change hap-
pened rapidly and extended over spheres of the society such as politics, economics, culture, and
everyday life.
1Södertörns University, Huddinge, Sweden
Corresponding Author:
Dominika V. Polanska, Department of Sociology, Södertörns University, Baltic and East European Graduate School,
Huddinge 141 89, Sweden
Email: dominika.polanska@sh.se
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422 Space and Culture 13(4)
One of the inevitable changes that followed the collapse of Communism was the revaluation
of old social structures and the formation of new positions of influence according to the new
capitalist order (Domański, 1996). New social, economic, political, and spatial positions of influ-
ence formed more differentiated social categories (Węcławowicz, 2007). The “losers” of the
systemic change were unqualified workers, farmers, elders, and some members of the intelligen-
tsia. The distance between the “losers” and “winners” of the transformation has grown and solid-
ified since (Słomczyński, Janicka, Shabad, & Tomescu-Dubrow, 2007).
Poland is often pointed out as on of the most successful countries in its transformation to the
new democratic order since 1989 (Domański, 1996; Kim, 2006; Lewis, 1997). Despite its thriv-
ing transformation, income differences in Poland have been increasing, along with the deteriorat-
ing of living conditions and the increasing levels of poverty for some parts of the population
(Panek, 1998; Wóycicka, 2004). These changes are resulting in changes in the urban landscape
of the country. Their most evident manifestation in the city landscapes is the spreading number
of gated and secured housing developments (often called gated communities). In the capital
city of Warsaw, first gated residential areas were built in 1997, and their number rose to 200 in
2007 (Gądecki, 2007; Zaborska, 2007). Not even Polish large- and medium-sized cities are
excluded from the phenomenon of “gating,” as will be shown later on in this article. Local and
national media have for some years now given reports on the development of gated communities
in Polish cities, which makes it the most up-to-date source of information on the topic, but this
field of study is still unexplored by researchers.
If we look westward from the Polish case at the neighboring countries, we can see that the
development of gated communities has not been as popular in Germany or even France as in
Poland. Germany’s capital Berlin contained the only gated community in the whole country in
2002. France, on the other hand, had 183 guarded residential units, 72 of which were fenced
(Jałowiecki, 2008). The rapid spread of gated communities in post-Communist countries and in
this case in Poland indicates a specific “need” of gating prevalent among the inhabitants of Polish
cities. The question that comes to mind is, “Why is this phenomenon so popular in Poland?”
There are several explanations to gated communities’ popularity in Poland since the mid-
1990s; among these, we find the following: free market forces where the developers of housing
set the agenda on the housing market whereas local and central authorities lack resources and
adequate regulations, the spread of fear of crime and the need of security, and the increasing
fragmentation of urban space as a result of disarray in the sphere of urban planning. The focus
here will nevertheless be turned to the formation of new class structures as well as new class
identifications in the country and its expression in the discourse on gated communities.
The aim of this article is consequently to analyze how social class markers are constructed in
the discourse on gated communities in a postsocialist urban context. The main interest lies in the
formation of class markers and specific lifestyles represented in the discourse on gated commu-
nities in the media. The case of Poland will be used as an example of a post-Communist country
where the number of gated communities is growing rapidly in urban areas.
This article begins with a short review of previous research on the topic of gated communities
and social class formation in post-Communist countries. It then continues by describing the
methods and data used in the study. The empirical findings are presented next, followed by a
conclusion on the construction of social class markers in the discourse on gated communities in
the Polish media.
Previous Research
The phenomenon of gated communities is often ascribed to the American urban context. The
emergence and expansion of gated communities began in U.S. cities as residential housing
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Polanska 423
designed for retirees (Low, 2001). Nevertheless, since the 1970s, gated residential developments
have been transformed to match a broader market consisting of the American upper middle class
and middle class (Blakely & Snyder, 1997). The classical study of Blakely and Snyder describes
the development of gated communities in the United States, defining gated communities as resi-
dential housing where access is restricted and public areas within the development are privatized.
Since Blakely and Snyder’s groundbreaking study, there has been a lot written on the subject of
gated communities in North American cities, for instance, Low (2001, 2003), McKenzie (1994),
Frantz (2000), Webster, Glasze, and Frantz (2002), and Townshend (2002).
But the phenomenon of gating has not exclusively emerged and been studied in the North
American context. The trend of gated and guarded residential areas reached Europe in the 1980s
and 1990s and hit mainly large cities and the coasts of Spain, France, and Portugal (Atkinson &
Flint, 2004; Glasze, Webster, & Frantz, 2006; Webster et al., 2002). It is also widely spread
in some countries in South America (Caldeira, 1996), China (Wu, 2005), and South Africa
(Jϋrgens & Landman, 2007). Since the collapse of Communism in 1989, even countries of Cen-
tral and Eastern Europe have been experiencing the occurrence and popularity of gated commu-
nities. Bulgaria has had its share of gated developments outside of Sofia (Stoyanov & Frantz,
2006), so has Moscow (Blinnikov, Shanin, Sobolev, & Volkova, 2006; Lentz, 2006), and as
already mentioned, Warsaw too has such gated communities (Gądecki, 2007; Zaborska, 2007).
The emergence of gated communities in the post-Communist urban context has accompanied the
collapse of Communism in 1989. Even though some gated communities already existed during
Communism and served mainly high representatives of the Communist Party (Stoyanov &
Frantz, 2006), they were qualitatively different from the ones that are emerging in some post-
Communist societies today (see Atkinson, 2008). The phenomenon of gated housing has intensi-
fied since the 1990s and has spread to upper and middle classes in post-Communist countries.
Overall studies on gated communities in post-Communist environments are still few compared
with the amount of research on gated communities in the West. Studies on Polish gated com-
munities are limited: Among these, studies on Warsaw are in the majority (Chabowski, 2007;
Gąsior-Niemiec, Glasze, Lipok, & Puetz, 2007; Zaborska, 2007). There are even fewer studies
done on the topic of discourse on gated communities in Poland, among which Gądecki’s (2007)
study and Gąsior-Niemiec’s (2007) work are groundbreaking. The following article is a contri-
bution to the field of studies on discourse on gated communities in Poland, adding the construc-
tion of social class markers and lifestyles as the main ingredient through which the discourse is
examined. Moreover, this study is also a contribution to the field of studies on gated communi-
ties across the globe by examining the discourse on gated housing in the post-Communist con-
text, filling in the gap of knowledge on the processes of gating after the fall of Communism.
Studies of social classes and class formation since the collapse of Communism in Eastern
Europe have succeeded each other. The focus of these studies has been to discuss the develop-
ment and importance of class divisions in post-Communist societies in their transformation to
market economies (Domański, 1996; Evans & Mills, 1999; Eyal, Szelenyi, & Townsley, 1998;
Ost, 1995; Weltrowska, 2002). There are also several studies and perspectives on class divisions
during Communism where some researchers maintain that it is theoretically impossible to dis-
cuss class before the fall of Communism as Communist societies had their own forms of inequal-
ities not compatible with those generated with reference to capitalist societies (Hamilton &
Hirszowicz, 1993).
The intention here is, however, not to discuss the applicability of the concept of class on
either Communist societies or post-Communist societies. This kind of discussion would
require an article on its own. Instead, what is focused on in this article is how class structure
has been shaped and expressed in a specific discourse. The main interest lies in how social
class markers are expressed in the discourse on gated communities, but before we examine
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424 Space and Culture 13(4)
that, an outline of the formation of class in post-Communist societies, and in particular in
Poland, will be drawn.
From the “classless” Communist society several social positions emerged in today’s post-
Communist countries combining social, economic, political, and spatial influence (Węcławowicz,
2007). Some see this transformation as making capitalism without capitalists, namely, as a trans-
formation to capitalism driven by intellectual classes without initial access to economic capital
(Eyal et al., 1998). In the transformation to the new economic order, a middle class was formed
at the same time as the elite class was strengthened and the number of poor farmers increased
(Weltrowska, 2002).
In Poland, the current elite were formed of former representatives of the Communist elite
and members of the Nomenklatura, as well as members of anti-Communist opposition and
intelligentsia. It is rather uncommon that representatives of former working classes or farmers
are included in the “new” elite. The middle class consists, like the elite, of members of the for-
mer Nomenklatura, anti-Communist opposition, and intellectuals. Both the elite’s and the mid-
dle class’ representatives are those who could profit in some way on the transformation to the
market economy using their administrative knowledge, information, education, wealth, and
property to gain power in the “new” society. Some of these have used courage, innovations,
qualifications, and their expertise to profit on the changes (Węcławowicz, 2002). The former
workers’ class, on the other hand, is highly differentiated in current Poland but could be divided
in two categories: those working in the private sector and those working in the public. The latter
category of workers in the public sector is considered to be most stricken by the restructuring
of the economy in the country (Węcławowicz, 2002). When studying class formation in post-
Communist societies, researchers often speak of “winners” and “losers” (Słomczyński et al.,
2007). Focusing on Poland, they also highlight the growing gap between the “winners” at the
top of social hierarchy and the “losers” at the bottom, pointing out inequalities in income, edu-
cation, and occupation as the most distinct. The departure point of this article is that the growing
gap between the “winners” and the “losers” is particularly visible in the landscapes of Polish
cities when considering housing conditions. Old and often historical residential areas are declin-
ing (Polanska, 2008), whereas new gated residential developments are built all over the urban
landscape, creating contrasts between the old and the new. The aim is therefore to investigate
how these urban processes are interconnected with discursive practices and in particular how
class markers are constructed in the discourse on gated housing in Poland. What do gates sym-
bolize and how is it connected to the construction of social class markers? Which specific life-
styles do discourses on gated communities promote/criticize? Or simply put: How are class
divisions done in the discourse on gated communities in Poland?
Method and Data of the Study
The purpose of this study is to analyze how social class markers are expressed in the discourse
on gated communities in contemporary Poland. Discourse here is understood as “spoken and
written language use, though I also want to extend it to include other types of semiotic activity
(i.e., activity which produces meanings)” (Fairclough, 1995, p. 54). At present, three types of
official discourses dealing with the topic of gated communities are to be distinguished in Polish
society. The first is the academic discourse, mentioned in the part on previous research, lead by
scientists and academics; the second is the discourse prevalent in the field of housing market
(mainly created by housing developers); and the third is the discourse formulated in the local and
national media. All three types have fluent boundaries and are in different degrees and ways
affecting public opinion and each other (Fairclough, 1995). The discourse on gated communities
represented in the media, and in particular in a national newspaper, is in focus here. As already
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Polanska 425
mentioned, the academic discourse on gated residential developments in the country is still quite
unexplored and there are few studies published in Polish and none in English. The discourse
prevalent in the Polish local and national media is the most up-to-date source of information on
the development of gated communities in the country, even though its “truthfulness” in reflecting
social reality could be questioned. Nevertheless, compared with the discourse represented on the
housing market, the discourse in the media is more nuanced, as the media’s role in the society is
to supply news and not to sell dwellings.
To study the discourse prevalent in the Polish media, 50 articles concerning the topic of gated
communities published in the largest national newspaper, Gazeta Wyborcza (GW), were chosen
(see the appendix). GW was brought into being in 1989 and served as a forum for the first demo-
cratic elections in Poland. It had a circulation of 448,000 copies/day in 2007 and consists of three
parts: “the national section prepared by the Warsaw editorial office, the regional section prepared
by one of 20 regional offices, and a national thematic supplement with locally-zoned pages”
(www.agora.pl). GW reports on both national and local issues, which makes it an excellent
source to follow when studying discussions on the topic at hand. As both Gądecki (2007) and
Gąsior-Niemiec (2007) assert, gated communities were first recognized in public discourses
recently, and there is therefore no point in studying their representations before 2003. Conse-
quently, articles published between 2003 and 2008 are of interest in the study and were chosen
according to criterion sampling, where texts meeting predetermined criterion characteristics such
as: (a) dealing directly with the topic of gated communities and (b) containing depth of informa-
tion on the topic at hand were studied. Moreover, it should be mentioned that in the selection
process of relevant texts, no consideration was taken of the type of article (editorial, reportage,
etc.). As a result, articles of all genres, published in the three above-mentioned parts of GW, were
included in the selection. No photographs or illustrations were analyzed within the frame of this
article as this kind of analysis would need an article of its own.
The Discourse on Gated Communities
Before we go on with the analysis of how class markers are constructed in the discourse on gated
communities, I would like to shortly describe the discourse on gated communities in the national
newspaper GW in general. What is interesting in the examined articles is that the discourse on
gated communities is ambiguous, in that gated communities are presented in both negative and
positive light. On one hand, the texts highlight the fragmentation of urban space that the emer-
gence of gated developments has resulted in and draw discouraging scenarios where the resi-
dents of gated communities refuse to contribute to the community outside of their residence,
where the spatial and mental divisions between the residents and those living outside toughen,
where physical barriers of the gated communities form additional hinders in case of emergency,
and where social cohesion in the neighborhood is threatened because of the physical and mental
barriers. On the other hand, gated communities are described in more positive terms portraying
new investments in the city and their location; the number of new apartments/houses; the design,
standard, and facilities within; the security equipment installed; and the plans for the surround-
ings, together with the date of completion. The first kind of description mentioned dominates the
newspaper texts on gated communities. The ambiguity in the discourse on gated communities
could be interpreted as an reflection of the unequal distribution of material resources in Polish
society that consist of social groups with different preferences and possibilities regarding hous-
ing location and above all housing form (gated) and the boundaries between them (physical as
well as mental). The texts with a more negative bent moreover point out that only some can
afford to cut themselves off from the rest of the urban environment when it comes to choosing
their place of residence. Metaphors are often used here pointing to the negative side of gated
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426 Space and Culture 13(4)
housing, such as “monkeys in a cage,” “archipelago Gulag,” “labyrinth of fences,” “neighborhood
cities,” “kolkhoz,” “ghetto for the rich,” “camps,” “city within the city,” and so on. The other
more positive kind of descriptions are primarily addressing audiences of potential consumers and
directly replying to an increasing demand on the media to normalize and neutralize consumer
behavior and consumer culture (Fairclough, 1995).
The emergence of gated housing in Poland is described in the examined texts as a global
phenomenon spreading all over the world. At the same time, its local intensity in the “new”
parts of Europe (newly admitted member countries in the European Union) is highlighted.
When relating to the development in Polish cities, Warsaw is pointed out as the most exposed
city to the phenomenon of gating. But the emergence of gated communities in Polish cities is
also portrayed as spreading to most medium-sized and large cities. There are, among others,
reports on the existence of gated communities from Płock, Bydgoszcz, Białystok, Gdańsk,
Gdynia, Katowice, Kraków, Radom, Poznań, Łódź, and Olsztyn (See Figure 1). The emergence
of gated communities is often described as more sparse in these cities than in the capital, and
the middle classes are most often pointed out as the inhabitants of the gated housing.
The situation is quite different in the other cities. In Wroclaw 18 of 31 of the developments
in the service of Tabelaofert.pl are gated, in Gdynia 9 out of 16, and in Poznan half of the
12 neighbourhoods. Among the realized developments in Gdansk—11 out of 24. In the
Figure 1. The location of gated communities in Poland
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Polanska 427
Polish large cities the less percentage of at present realized developments are created in
Krakow—only 3 out of 14. Above all, the forming middle class in the age of 30-40 years
is living behind the grating, the wall and the gate. (GW, April 26, 2006)
The Systemic Change and the Question of Class Markers
The emergence of gated communities is explained in the texts as a current phenomenon adherent
to the capitalistic system (although it is not completely correct; see Stoyanov & Frantz, 2006).
The capitalistic system stands here in opposition to the period of Communism, and both systems’
positive and negative effects tend to be emphasized. Capitalism, when seen positively, symbol-
izes the period of political, economic, and residential freedom, that is, wealth for some and
poverty and scarce resources for others. The Communist past, on the other hand, is described
ambiguously and tends to be both glorified and portrayed as representing shortages, low stan-
dards in housing, devastation, and “ugly” architecture. The glorifying texts refer to Communism
as providing people with public spaces open to anybody. At the same time, the period of Com-
munism symbolizes a past that should be left behind. This is most evident in texts critical to
prefabricated block buildings built at that time. These large-scale block buildings from the past
hold an important part in defining today’s housing norms and valuation of newly built housing,
the majority of which is behind gates. People choosing to live in gated housing are simply
described as being “tired of” the old high-rise housing, multistorey block buildings offered dur-
ing Communism. The “new” capitalistic system with its “new” social divisions requires new
forms of housing, preferably those that are most distant from the ones dominating in the past.
The new system also requires a new and comfortable lifestyle:
The life of the higher class runs between the gated community, the office building and the
shopping mall with cinemas and restaurants- more frequently from the garage to the
garage, without needing to take a step into the public spaces. (GW, June25, 2005)
The Role of Gates as Separators
Residents of gated communities are identified in the texts as being in opposition to residents of
“regular” neighborhoods. These residents figure in the texts frequently, often in opposition to
each other. Residents of gated communities are described in the majority of texts as relatively
young, 30 to 40 years old, and wealthy people, who are working long hours. Some of them are
described as well-educated persons with children.
Residents of “regular” housing are conversely characterized as older, often with adult chil-
dren that have left home, and having more spare time to enjoy common spaces in the city. As in
the article “Nobody is Walking Beneath My Window Here” about neighborhoods that put up
fences, those living within the gated neighborhoods are families seeking for protection and
those they wanted to be kept outside are youths, littering dogs, and drunks:
“We have our own territory now. Nobody crosses here, nobody litters up, nobody sits near
the house. Earlier my wife didn’t like coming home in the evening, because there was
always someone sitting on the bench. Nobody can come in here now”—he closes the gate
with a slam.
Mrs Basia lives on the other side of the street.—It’s funny—she says.—What is the
point of marking yourself off from other people? Where is the privacy, it’s a kolkhoz, there
are so many families living there. Earlier I picked wild plums from the grass over there, but
now I can’t. (GW, July 21, 2006)
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428 Space and Culture 13(4)
Those living in gated communities are described in the texts as having power to isolate
themselves from other by the means of walls, gates, and security devices. The situation in
Warsaw is dominating these descriptions. Conversely those living in “regular” neighborhoods
are portrayed as lacking the power to influence the changes going on in their environment.
Warsaw has developed in a very fast pace. Soon enough the “free market” has eliminated
the poor classes from the city, and then the middle classes, that all have been compelled to
move to distanced suburbs. The rich began to fear the poor and created gated communities,
neighbourhoods encircled with electronic walls of protection. (GW, March 17, 2008)
Moreover, some of the texts even describe those coming from the outside of the gated
community as “the mob,” “the element,” “boozers,” “drunks,” or “pathological families.” These
sobriquets are often used by the inhabitants of gated communities to describe a minority of the
residents of “regular” neighborhoods that is considered as troublesome. An apposite example of
this kind of description is to be found in the article on the diverse consequences of gates:
Members of the housing cooperative Starowka started putting up fences last month. They were
fed up with the fact that their yard, especially at dusk, turned into the hands of the so-called
element.—They arranged drinking bouts. Even orgies. There was even some snatching of bags
in front of the entrances—Leszek Kondracki, the chairman of the cooperative explained the
reasons behind putting up a fence. It is different in new neighborhoods. Not counting the gates
and cameras—there are also guards. They guard non-stop. (GW, November 8, 2005)
The fear of being subjected to crime or of having to share one’s spaces with the “elements”
is one of the most popular explanations of people who moved to gated communities or raised a
fence around their property in the texts. Gates and fences are here perceived as protectors against
crime and as separators of “us” and “them.”
Fences and gates play a crucial role in the identification of class in Polish society. After the
fall of Communism, earlier social structure had to be revalued and restructured, and this differ-
entiation led to very heterogeneous class divisions. The “new” social order needed “new” expres-
sions and markers. Gates play a central role here: They both protect and magnify the interests of
their residents (Tomba, 2005). They facilitate and are necessary for privatization of social life
and services; in other words, they form physical boundaries that are used for converting into
mental ones. The texts describe the changes going on in cities and the emergence of gated com-
munities, as the result of the capitalistic system in Poland, that allow residential isolation of
wealthier people in contrast to the former Socialistic system with housing market strictly ruled
toward the idea of an egalitarian Socialist city, where workers and representatives of the intelli-
gentsia were supposed to live side by side.
Class Symbols and the Privatization of Space
There is a clear line drawn in the texts between what is considered as public and what is private.
Public spaces are often described as neglected and degraded, whereas private spaces, of, for instance,
gated communities, constitute the very opposite of the public—spaces that are well managed, well
taken care of and naturally prioritized by their owners. In the article “The Beauty of Capitalism,” the
author praises the effects of gating and commercialization on the up-to-now neglected public spaces:
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,
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Polanska 429
carefully maintained, clean and well managed—it is almost exclusively those [neighbour-
hoods] 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. (GW, July 15, 2007)
The distinction between public/opened and private/closed spaces in the discourse on gated
communities is crucial to understand how gated housing mirrors changes taking place in the
class structure of Polish society. Gated communities’ private spaces were, during Communism
symbols of exclusivity, symbols that could only be used by the highest layers of the Party
(Stoyanov & Frantz, 2006). Immediately after the collapse of Communism, the possibility of
living within gated housing developments was opened to the most “successful” members of the
Polish population, initially solely members of the upper class. In the mid-1990s, the phenomenon
of gated housing spread among the middle class in Poland.
Fragmented Urban Space and the Need of Status Markers
In a changing social structure, gated communities fit in well as markers of status and specific
identity. Gated housing provides, apart from status drawn from the profession, another marker
for one’s position in the social structure, namely the place of residence. This status drawn from
the place of residence must be seen in the light of great contrasts in the urban landscape of Polish
cities. Poland’s urban settings are characterized by large gaps in the standards and condition of
housing. There are historical areas in the inner cities that are left to decline (Polanska, 2008), and
there are also large-scale housing areas built during Communism in need of thermo-isolation and
overall renovation. These contrasts are highlighted in the articles on gated communities and here
in an example from the very center of Warsaw:
On the photographs the participants [of a conference] could see an enormous parking and
huge barracks on Defilad Square. Next there was the area around streets Marszalkowska
and Krolewska with pavilions filled with sex-shops, above which poor-block-houses are
hanging together with hypermodern office-buildings of glass and steel. Nothing matches
here. We have a complete mess—Prof. Jalowiecki commented. (GW, 2006-05-31)
These housing buildings are often standing next to the newly built housing buildings, the
majority of which is behind walls and gates. This contrast between the “old” and the “new”
architecture and standards is clearly reflected in the discourse on gated communities. Gated
communities are simply considered as matching up to the demands of today’s Poles (not taking
into account the affordability), whereas older housing buildings are described as devastated,
worn out, and neglected. Gated housing is in general more expensive than nongated housing,
when considering newly built housing developments. Prices in newly built constructions vary
depending on the city, the size of the apartments, number of rooms included, the floor the apart-
ment is located at, the size of the development, facilities and security provided, and whether it
is an apartment, a loft, terrace house, one-family house, and so on. One square meter for an
apartment costed between 5,962 and 11,861 Polish zloty in 2008 (www.tabelaofert.pl), whereas
the average monthly salary in Poland was 3,069 Polish zloty in May 2008 (Central Statistical
Office, 2008). Buying a three-room apartment with 70 square meters in area for the low price of
6,000 zloty/m2 would consequently cost 420,000 zloty, or more than 11 years of working for an
average salary of 3,069 zloty (not counting in any other expenses). Hence not everybody can
afford this kind of living. Housing developers are aware of it and design their developments
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430 Space and Culture 13(4)
according to the latest fashion, trying to meet the demands of sensible consumers who can afford
it, while media spread the word on the new standards by reporting on new constructions.
Secured and Private Lifestyles of Gated Communities
Gates are included in the latest craze on the housing market promising security and privacy of
their residents. Gated communities offer exclusive lifestyles where their residents can, for
instance, exercise (fitness and gym facilities), relax (sauna), or play sports (golf and tennis
courts) in their spare time without leaving their place of residence. Moreover, they might offer
additional comfort in carefully planned external spaces such as surrounding greenery, parks,
lakes, fountains, cycle paths, and so on. Here is a description of the Marina Mokotów in the
article “A City Within Warsaw”:
Marina is the next enclave of wealth in the capital that is cut off from the rest of the world.
It is one of a kind—it ranges over 22 hectares. About five thousand people will move
here. Those who want have friends in this neighbourhood, can at best look it up on the
Internet. There we read about parks, a lake with bridges and an island, about fountains and
cascades. It will look like in the Royal Park. The residents of Marina will find everything
they need for a comfortable life “even without the need of leaving the neighbourhood”—
says the investor, the company Fort Mokotów. (GW, May, 4, 2005)
Green surroundings and closeness to nature seems as an important factor of attraction of
gated communities. Beyond the need for privacy and gates, the residents of gated communities
require a space where they can escape the city and the city life. This demand is met by the
developers by creating green spaces within the residential development or locating the develop-
ment near to parks and forests. As a director of a real estate firm put it in the article “New
Developer Invests in Green Neighbourhoods,” talking about present investments:
“It is important to us to create small-scale complexes with a low density of buildings that
are located neighbouring to parks and forests. We believe that the inhabitants of Lodz are
looking for dwellings far from the densely built city centre and that is what we have to
offer”—says Krasowski. (GW, April 12, 2008)
But the security and the “green lifestyle” of gated communities are not the only attractions of
gated residences described in the examined texts. Gated communities are illustrated as serving
as models of “good taste” in their architectonic design. In the article “Enclaves of Glass,” new
investments in the city of Płock were described:
Taking a look into the Mediterranean architecture, the architects created a paradise of
apartment blocks on the earth. Its new aesthetics are surprising. The three level buildings
are finished with wood, glass and sandstone; here and there green climbing plants are
interwoven. All around there are well treated lawns, avenues, benches, playgrounds.
Everything is of course gated. The apartments are between 53 and 103 square meters,
every one has a glazed-in from top to toe terrace with an area of 25 to 48 square meters.
You can enter here from the living room and bedroom through a sliding door of glass. The
interior standard consists of the Swedish floor, terracotta and teleinformational platform,
i.e. cheap access to Internet and electrical governance of the energy. Under the apartments
the cars are “sleeping.” The peace is guarded by cameras and a guard and the privacy by
video-entry-phone. (GW, September 7, 2004)
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Polanska 431
The design and architecture of gated communities is intimately interwoven with the issues of
security and privacy in the descriptions. Gated communities not only offer security and peace,
they also give their inhabitants high standards, attractive surroundings, comfort, and the latest
materials.
The Making of Class Markers and the
Emergence of Housing Classes—Conclusion
The issue of gated communities is delicate and ambivalent as it is described both in negative and
positive terms in the articles. The discourse reflects social stratification in the Polish society by
producing and reproducing societal power relations, in other words, power to control (e.g., who
has the control on the housing market), power to own/buy (who can afford specific form of
housing), power to use (who is able to use the spaces), power to choose a lifestyle (who can
afford a specific lifestyle), and power to restrict access to (who is able to privatize spaces). The
rich part of the Polish population is described as fearing the poor and therefore choosing gated
forms of housing. In Warsaw, the higher classes are described as occupiers of the central parts of
the city, whereas the poor and the middle classes are forced to move further away from the
center. Moreover, the lifestyles of residents of gated communities are described as (voluntarily)
restricted to the private spaces of the cities: taking place between the homes, the offices, and the
specific commercial areas. These newspaper texts demonstrate that social status is not only
defined by one’s profession but also by the location and form of housing one has access to, in
which architecture, surroundings, comfort, and security play a central role. Gated communities
are simply portrayed as the homes of people of “good taste.”
Furthermore, the texts describe a “new” period in time that is characterized by new ways of
living and new standards, where the past and the egalitarian ideas of the Socialist city are left
behind. A new era of globalized and consumerist residential patterns has entered the stage. But
as already mentioned, the discourse is far from entirely positive. The discourse in these texts is
critical to the phenomenon of gated communities, pointing out conflicts and contradictions,
including arguments against moving to gated housing, regarding it as annihilating social cohe-
sion in the cities. The increasing inequalities in income, education, and occupation, in the Polish
society since 1989, are reflected in the examined articles. The newspaper texts distinguish
between residents of gated communities and those of “regular” neighborhoods, pointing out dif-
ferences in wealth, age, education, and other characteristics. The discourse in the articles also
points out differences in the patterns of consumption between different layers of the Polish popu-
lation. Those belonging to middle and upper classes are represented in the texts as attracted to
gated communities, whereas those situated lower on the social ladder are described as those
living in “regular” neighborhoods. Moreover, developers of gated housing are represented in
the discourse as targeting the wealthier categories of customers by promoting high standards,
security, and the latest conveniences, giving those who can afford it the possibility to live a com-
fortable life “without the need of leaving the neighbourhood” (GW, May 4, 2005).
The growing inequalities on the Polish housing market after 1989, which in turn were con-
nected to the increasing disparities in incomes, have formed what one might call “housing classes”
in today’s Poland (Andrusz, 2004, p. 13). Rex and Moore (1967) introduced the concept of hous-
ing classes arguing that Weber, while analyzing class formation, gave “equal consideration to the
ownership of domestic property and ownership of the means of production” (p. 273). This point
of view maintains above all that gaps between classes are not only derived from control over the
means of production but also from the field of consumption and property relations (Davies, 1991).
The new housing classes in Polish cities share lifestyles, interests, and consumption patterns
founded in the space they inhabit. The role of space and place, as well as form of housing, is
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432 Space and Culture 13(4)
central here. Moving to a gated community leads to the formation of collective interests of its
inhabitants based in the locality. Interests such as protection of property values are of main impor-
tance to the residents and home owners. Both use values and exchange values are fundamental to
protect from the point of view of the home owners as they can lead to the formation of collective
interests of its inhabitants based in the nearest neighborhood (e.g., the accumulation of capital;
Saunders, 1978). The protection of these values is mainly provided through architecture and secu-
rity systems in postsocialist urban spaces and the Polish case in no exception (Andrusz, 2004).
Appendix
Articles From Gazeta Wyborcza
February 14, 2003: Bezpiecznie, czyli drogo [Safe, that is to say expensive]
January 22, 2003: Z dala od zgiełku [Far from the noise]
September 7, 2004: Szklane enklawy [Enclaves of glass]
September 22, 2004: Życie za murem [Life behind the wall]
November 2, 2004: Niech mury runą [Let the walls fall]
November 2, 2004: Wszyscy skończymy za płotem [We will all end up behind a fence]
November 8, 2004: Świat zza krat [The world behind the bars]
December 17, 2004: Osiedla pod specjalnym nadzorem [Neighbourhoods under special
supervision]
April 1, 2005: Warszawa pełna małych miast [Warsaw full of small cities]
May 4, 2005: Miasto w Warszawie [A city within Warsaw]
June 25, 2005: Getta dla bogatych [Gettos for the rich]
September 5, 2005: Widok na morze [View over the sea]
October 7, 2995: Pochwal się płotem [Brag with a fence]
October 14, 2005: Strażnicy ładu i moralności [Guards of order and morals]
October 15, 2005: Podchody kabackie [Kabatian underhand games]
November 8, 2005: W grodzonych osiedlach ratunek przyjdzie później [In gated commu-
nities help will come later]
December 29, 2005: Płot wokół Mariny nas boli [We are sad about the fence around
Marina]
January 6, 2006: Otwarte i bezpieczne [Open and safe]
January 17, 2006: Wcale nie trzeba grodzić [Gating is not necessary]
March 21, 2006: Obcy za płotem świata Marinersów [Strangers behind the fence of the
world of Marina’s residents]
April 26, 2006: Osiedla grodzone wzięte pod lupę badaczki [Gated communities taken
under the magnifying glass of a researcher]
April 26, 2006: Osiedla pod specjalnym nadzorem [Neighbourhoods under special
supervision]
May 6, 2006: Najbogatsi uciekają z centrum śląskich miast [The richest fleeing from the
centres of cities in Silesia]
May 17, 2006: Domy strzeżone okiem kamery [Houses guarded by the eye of the camera]
May 31, 2006: Miasto jak Trzeci Świat [City like the Third World]
June 7, 2006: Zabawki pod kluczem dla dzieci z Wersalu [Children from Versailles’
locked away toys]
July 21, 2006: Nikt mi tu nie chodzi pod oknem [Nobody is walking beneath my
window here]
August 10, 2006: Miała być idylla, będzie miasteczko za płotem [It was supposed to be an
idyll, it will become a city behind fences]
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Polanska 433
Appendix (continued)
September 13, 2006: Miasto-obóz Warszawa [Warsaw as a camp-city]
September 22, 2006: Strzeżonego ochroniarz nie strzeże [The guarded are not guarded by
watchmen]
October 31, 2006: Płot lekarstwem na całe zło [Fence as the medicine for all evil]
December 23, 2006: Kto im otworzy drzwi? [Who will open the door for them?]
January 3, 2007: Otwieranie kabackich bram [The opening of Kabaty’s gates]
January 19, 2007: Rynek nieruchomości w Trójmieście - stan obecny i prognozy na
przyszłość [The real-estate market in the Tricity—Present condition and prognosis for
the future]
March 31, 2007: Na strzeżonym osiedlu [In a guarded community]
April 25, 2007: Ekskluzywne, ale nie dla wszystkich [Exclusive, but not for all]
May 25, 2007: Nasz Dom ogrodzi swoje bloki [Our House will fence its block-houses]
August 10, 2007: W miastach mieszkamy przypadkowo [We live accidentally in the cities]
August 16, 2007: Wśród zieleni, obok arterii [In the green, near a traffic route]
November 15, 2007: Piekno kapitalizmu [The beauty of capitalism]
November 20, 2007: Była robotnicza, będzie ekskluzywna? [Formerly made for workers,
will be exclusive?]
January 9, 2008: Ochrona przed kolędą [Protection from Christmas carols’ singers]
January 22, 2008: Mokotów: blokowisko czy ściernisko? [Mokotow: block-house-area or
stubble-field?]
January 30, 2008: W poszukiwaniu spokoju [In search of tranquillity]
March 4, 2008: Pięknie czy brzydko na peryferiach? [Beautifully or ugly in the peripheries?]
March 14, 2008: Bloki chcą ochrony, ale to ściema [Block houses want protection, but it is a lie]
March 17, 2008: Warszawa zniknie [Warsaw will disappear]
April 12, 2008: Nowy deweloper stawia na zielone osiedla [New developer invests in
green neighbourhoods]
May 7, 2008: Nowe bloki mieszkalne obok Promenady [New housing blocks near the
Promenade]
May 21, 2008: W środku miasta można budować nie na wcisk [In the middle of the city
you can build without compressing]
Internet
http://www.tabelaofert.pl
http://www.agora.pl/agora_eng/11,66706,2816885.html
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the authorship and/or publication of
this article.
Funding
This article is included in author’s doctoral thesis, that has been financed by the Baltic and East European
Graduate School.
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Bio
Dominika V. Polanska is a PhD candidate in sociology at the Södertörn University and the Baltic and East
European Graduate School. Her thesis deals with the emergence of gated communities in Poland and par-
ticularly in the city of Gdansk. Her research interests focus on the transformation of postsocialist cities,
including segregation and revitalization processes, urban policy and urban planning, and development of
the housing market after the fall of communism.
at Sodertorns hogskolebibliotek on January 21, 2013sac.sagepub.comDownloaded from
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First Published in 2003. Routledge is an imprint of Taylor & Francis, an informa company.
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