Conference PaperPDF Available

Gated and guarded housing in Eastern Europe

Preface and introduction ............................................................................................................ 5
Adrienne Csizmady and Gábor Csanádi
From Housing Estates to Gated Communities ......................................................................... 9
Charlotte Johnson
The status of gates in Belgrade: notes on style and markets................................................. 21
Jacek Gądecki
New social milieus – gated communities in Polish urban landscape..................................... 29
Zoltán Cséfalvay
Demythologising gated communities in Budapest.................................................................. 35
Katarzyna Kajdanek
Is suburban housing in Wrocław gated and why? ................................................................. 49
Olga Negura
Residential ensembles in “hypermodern times”. A case study of their
aspirations in Bucharest ........................................................................................................... 59
Magdalena Mostowska
Provision of private services and enforcing neighbours’ behaviour in
one of Warsaw’s gated neighbourhoods.................................................................................. 69
Dovilė Krupickaite and Gintarė Pociūtė
Gated and Guarded Housing in Lithuania ............................................................................. 75
Tomáš Brabec and Luděk Sýkora
Gated Communities in Prague................................................................................................. 83
Gábor Hegedűs
Features of Gated Communities in the Most Populous Hungarian Cities........................... 91
List of contributors.................................................................................................................. 101
Preface and introduction
In recent years many Eastern European agglomerations have experienced a boom of gated and
guarded housing complexes (often called gated communities). While in some cities the
proliferation of privately governed residential spaces has just started and is currently speeding
up, in other urban areas it already represents the dominant type of newly-built residential
developments. The emergence of this new kind of housing type, which was little-known before
1989, raises a multitude of questions for urban researchers. What are the specific driving forces
of gated and guarded housing in Eastern Europe? Who is living behind the gates and why?
What are the motives and strategies of developers to build such complexes? How are gated and
guarded housing complexes perceived by the public? What kind of discourses can be found?
Why have gated and guarded housing estates become so popular in Eastern Europe in such a
short time and what are they offering?
In contrast to the United States or Latin America, where gated and guarded housing has been
scrutinised from many different perspectives, research on gated and guarded housing in Eastern
Europe is in its infancy and has not been studied in a broad manner. Therefore, one aim of the
workshop that is documented in this issue was to invite researchers who deal with gated and
guarded housing in Eastern Europe and to create a platform that should help to exchange ideas,
concepts and results. Scholars from six different Eastern European Countries as well as
colleagues from Great Britain, Portugal and Brazil followed our invitation to Leipzig. The
workshop took place at the Leibniz Institute for Regional Geography on 5-6 December 2008.
This edition of “forum ifl” contains ten selected contributions from this workshop that all tackle
the above mentioned questions and try to shed light on this new urban phenomenon in Eastern
Europe. Although the presented articles look at gated and guarded housing from different points
of view and reflect different theoretical and methodical positions, they all offer options how to
read gated and guarded housing in Eastern Europe.
During the workshop it became clear that some issues provoked a particularly intense
discussion. With regard to terminology there was a common understanding for the need for a
more precise definition for gated and guarded housing. This is also related to a general critical
evaluation of the euphemism gated community. Especially the term community drew criticism
because of its ambiguous meaning as both a settlement and the belonging to a social network
(a community in the sociological sense with strong hierarchical social relations between its
members). In this regard almost all participants pointed out that there are hardly any complexes
in Eastern Europe which could be labelled as a community in the sociological sense.
The discussion on causes and incentives as well as on locally and culturally specific features of
the recent spread of gated neighbourhoods in Eastern Europe played a major role during the
workshop. In this context main driving forces were debated. Issues like security, lifestyle and
privacy were at the top of the list. Especially the importance of security that is often
characterised as a major reason for the emergence of gated and guarded housing seems to be
overestimated in terms of gated neighbourhoods in Eastern Europe. And indeed empirical
results show that it is not a particular physical danger that makes people move into closed
neighbourhoods. Several studies suggest that it is rather the concept of control (regulations,
surveillance, codes of conduct) which makes these complexes attractive for residents.
Particularly in comparison with the “uncontrolled (chaotic) post-socialist urban daily routine
gated and guarded housing complexes are an alternative for residents who are able to afford it.
Privacy, status seeking and lifestyle have proven to be crucial reasons for the preferences for
gated and guarded housing in Eastern Europe. Nevertheless, all participants agreed that there is
still a lack of empirical field studies. Further research on motives of residents, strategies of
developers and structures of legal or institutional arrangements is needed in order to be able to
draw socio-theoretical conclusions.
In addition to these actor-oriented approaches it would be of interest to study the logics behind
the structures and its actors. Therefore, it would be useful to take a look at the legacy of secured
housing in Eastern Europe and to concentrate on discourses that construct this new post-socialist
cultural behaviour and new territorial pattern of housing. For instance, how are discourses on
safety or lifestyle constructed and what does it tell about society and space in general in Eastern
European cities?
The following chapters contribute to this research agenda in the following ways.
This edition of “forum ifl” starts with a paper by ADRIENNE CSIZMADY and GÁBOR CSANÁDI
who focus on shortcomings and similarities between socialist large housing estates and gated
and guarded housing complexes erected after 1990. By taking the Hungarian capital Budapest as
an example CSIZMADY and CSANÁDI reveal parallels in terms of names that are supposed to
promote a certain lifestyle, standardisation of housing and furthermore a lack of housing quality
that is characteristic for both housing types. According to this interpretation they argue that
gated and guarded housing complexes can be seen as a continuation of large housing estates and
wonder how gated and guarded housing complexes will work in the long run.
CHARLOTTE JOHNSON stresses the local origin of gated housing in Belgrade. Even though gated
and guarded housing seem to have become a global phenomenon and a cultural icon she
scrutinises why this kind of exclusion has become a style. Therefore, she analyses the history of
gates in three different parts of Belgrade. It turns out that in each of these urban areas different
versions, trajectories and perceptions of gates have a strong impact on the current status of gated
housing, however (new) macro-economic conditions and global processes have to be considered
as well. She resumes that gated and guarded housing is a global form that is, however,
embedded in local and historical narratives about the city.
JACEK GĄDECKI presents insights into the Polish gated and guarded housing urbscape. He
focuses on the reading of the gating phenomenon, its messages and messengers and starts by
elaborating on how this urban phenomenon is discussed in the media and the scientific
community. He goes on to argue that gated and guarded housing complexes help to shape new
identities and are a symbol of a fragmented society. At last GĄDECKI identifies three paradoxes
that mark gated and guarded housing complexes. Based on these paradoxes he calls gated and
guarded housing an expression of splintering urbanism and its time-space trajectories of
ZOLTÁN CSÉFALVAY develops a different perspective on gated and guarded neighbourhoods.
He makes an argument for the “demystification” of gated and guarded housing. In his point of
view a so-called market-driven approach is needed in order to understand the current
attractiveness of gated and guarded housing in Eastern Europe. CSÉFALVAY underlines
economic advantages for residents, developers and local governments as gated and guarded
housing complexes provide services and goods that non-gated estates are not able to provide.
Using results from a household survey conducted in Budapest he emphasises that the majority
of respondents are choosing gated estates out of “rational” reasons.
Suburban Wrocław is the centre of KATARZYNA KAJDANEKS paper. After summarising recent
stages of suburban development she compares non-gated housing and gated housing estates in
suburban Wrocław. Using results from a household survey she argues that security is not an
important incentive for residents to move to Suburbia. Therefore, she wonders why developers
accentuate the notion of security. Even though none of the commercials mentions what gated
and guarded housing complexes are actually supposed to protect its inhabitants from. As one
explanation for this paradox she argues that by playing the “security card” developers try to
increase the value of gated estates. Furthermore, the issue security is closely linked to cosiness
that many Polish advertisements for gated settlements try to communicate.
OLGA NEGURA summarises the results of her field study from Bucharest. Besides interviews
with residents, developers and architects she has used an online forum to get access to a gated
and guarded housing complex. With the help of a theory developed by Lipovetsky she examines
lifestyles in gated neighbourhoods and draws the conclusion that gated and guarded housing
complexes are part of a “hyper-consumerist society”. She argues that gated housing estates are
not sold as housing products primarly but more as lifestyle packages. Furthermore, she stresses
that attitudes and perceptions of residents as well as advertisements construct this new lifestyle.
MAGDALENA MOSTOWSKA reveals conflicts and problems of residents in one of Warsaw’s
largest gated neighbourhoods. She argues that gated and guarded housing complexes can be
interpreted as an expression of a new urban governance model that is partly based on the failure
of state provision of basic goods. Nevertheless there are plenty of recent and potential conflicts
within these gated and guarded housing complexes due to lack of efficiency and
miscommunication. MOSTOWSKA discovers a so-called juridification of neighbour relations that
arise from a strong sense of ownership of the residents.
The paper of DOVILĖ KRUPICKAITE and GINTARĖ POCIŪTĖ gives an account of the spread of
gated and guarded housing in Vilnius. At first they focus on the morphological structure of
gated and guarded housing complexes in order to structure recent developments. Later on they
present insights from household surveys they have conducted in vertical and horizontal gated
neighbourhoods. They identify socio-demographic characteristics and argue that gated estates
are mainly inhabited by wealthy and well-educated residents of different age. Moreover they
argue that the character of gated neighbourhoods will diversify due to changing requirements of
TOMÁŠ BRABEC and LUDĚK SÝKORA talk about gated and guarded housing in Prague where
one can find the highest concentration of gated settlements in Czech Republic. After a
classification of gated neighbourhoods and a summary of their spatial distribution they indicate
that gated housing is not limited to the upper echelon of the society. Especially the boom of
2007 and 2008 brought a new wave of gated settlements that is aimed at the new middle-class.
They conclude with the remark that the recent economic crisis will certainly slowdown the
boom and reduce the number of gated estates in Prague. However, BRABEC and SÝKORA
assume that a severe economic recession could probably make gated and guarded housing
complexes even more attractive.
GABOR HEGEDÜS shows that gated and guarding housing complexes are not limited to major
agglomerations. They can be found in the countryside as well as in smaller cities. Having
collected a large set of quantitative data about gated and guarded housing complexes in the 23
largest cities of Hungary he differentiates three types of gated settlements. He argues that gated
estates with a high standard of surveillance and security measures barely exist. HEGEDÜS
reveals that gated and guarded housing complexes often club together in favourable areas.
Nevertheless, the concentration is not closely related to the population or to the socio-economic
performance of the city.
The editor would like to thank all contributors for their attendance at the workshop, for handing
in their papers and for the lively and inspiring discussions we had during these two days in
Leipzig. Hopefully we will continue our common meetings with a second workshop in the end
of 2009 and our activities to set up a research network on gated and guarded housing and
security-oriented urbanism in Eastern Europe.
Leipzig, May 2009 Christian Smigiel
The editor thanks Tobias Krol and Sybille Münch for their help in editing this edition of “forum
From Housing Estates to Gated Communities
Adrienne Csizmady and Gábor Csanádi
Gated communities, symbolizing social transformation, became popular on the Hungarian
housing market in the same way as other consumer goods that belonged to the capitalist market
(e.g. shopping centres, cars etc). As a matter of fact, their appearance had been preceded by a
certain amount of smaller or isolated housing estates which were built during the last decade of
the socialist era. Nevertheless, it only happened after the transition period that the so called
classical, i.e. western kinds of gated communities, spread. They gained ground as both a home
and a status symbol for the ambitious nouveau riche or for the members of those social groups
who were able to adapt dynamically to post-socialist market conditions.
However, “classical gated communities” have not really become wide-spread, thus the
prevailing type of housing was semi-gated communities, which offered a narrower range of
A building complex that we call a gated community today normally differs from the American
model and resembles it in name only. In fact, a gated community tends to look more like a
socialist housing estate and socially speaking, the makeup of its residents seems to circulate
around the ‘honourable middle-class’. In this way, the term gated community expresses a sort
of desire towards social mobility with respect to the above mentioned groups and a kind of
flexible reaction to that on the part of the participants on the market.
‘Life, rhythm and freedom...’1
After World War II, the Socialist Block performed one single form of housing construction:
building of housing estates within the framework of state investments. By the end of the
nineties, together with social and economic changes, and more or less as a consequence of
those, the construction of these kinds of buildings practically ceased. System-building factories
were first closed then pulled down. Industrial or living areas were formed on these lots.2 After a
short period that followed the change of regime, the building of gated communities restarted.
The housing boom reached Budapest in the middle of the nineties. According to certain
appraisals, in 1998 there were already 25-30 gated communities being finished in the capital and
15-20 of a similar sort in the agglomeration. For the year 2000 these numbers increased to 25-40
and 20-25 respectively. In 2007 we counted more than 100 gated communities in the area.
At first, building operations only concentrated on rich areas of the Buda side, but this area
quickly ran out of easily attainable large lots. As a consequence, investments slowly drifted
towards the agglomeration, targeting the masses moving out of the city. Investors also targeted
empty lots in the downtown and suburban districts. Yet, most of the gated communities built do
not show typical characteristics of gated communities. This particularly applies those that were
built on Pest side. These developments show more conformity with socialist housing estates,
than with classical gated housing predecessors. As the term ‘housing estate’ has depreciated,
investors have used fashionable names in order to veil the similarity. In their advertisements
they put the emphasis on the prospect of a completely new lifestyle and in this way attempt to
distance themselves from those negative images attached to the term ’housing estate’. In
contempt of these marketing strategies, the changing image of gated communities is very
1 Lazz loft, 3rd district, an advertising slogan
2 This process of course drifted abreast with building of housing estates. But in that time these small
housing estates, built for the privileged, were still not called gated communities.
similar to the changing discretion that accompanied housing estates in their time. While at the
end of the fifties and beginning of the sixties a flat in a ‘housing estate’ was referred to as a self-
contained flat with every modern convenience, this concept utterly changed by the beginning of
the seventies when prefabricated housing started to dominate building investments. By that time
a housing estate had come to mean a huge and unfriendly residential area. In particular, people
who had never lived in such an environment had rather negative images associated with housing
estates: Estrangement, bad circumstances (unheated or on the contrary overheated flats, badly
proofed windows, etc...), and an officially commanded socialist style of living. Housing
developments that began in the beginning of the nineties (and became more and more
widespread by the end of the decade) very consciously distanced themselves from these ideas.
New residential areas acquired such names as gated communities, residential gardens, parks,
houses, gardens or groves. In the meantime by the millennium, as the number and scale of the
buildings were increasing more and more, typical characteristics of gated communities were
pushed into the background.3 New neighbourhoods resemble better housing estates, but it is
predicted that similar problems and negative connotations to those listed above will appear. (As
these bigger gated communities have only been finished two or three years previously, the
accumulation of problems and their interpretation by the press is still to come.)
Critical voices of the architectural world are also becoming louder. Today we witness very
similar arguments to those of which came to the light when prefabricated housing was first
introduced. Urbanists, city-planners and architects, who deal with the city criticize not only
gated communities as architectural units, but also have aversion to those buildings and houses,
and moreover to the lifestyle that is connected to them (Namely, the attempts at separation,
isolation and security). One of the critics is Claude Parent a French architect and father of
deconstructivism in architecture, who sees in gated communities history repeating itself. ’This is
a kind of an architectural language which offers the possibility of complacency to everybody,
and it has its grounds just because we are unable to guarantee public safety and tranquillity of
citizens’ (BOJÁR 2000). They create again dwelling-places that ‘save us from the enemy.’ He
furnishes a good instance of the above concept when he mentions luxury residences and refuges
of American people, whose places are so secure that proprietors can even leave their keys in
their open-roofed cars.
In Hungary, professional arguments are more concerned with the insufficiency of regulations. A
gated community, similarly to housing estates, is visually significantly separate from its own
environment. Identical or very similar houses and groups of houses form separated blocks,
which never become absorbed into their environment but become accustomed to. Well
positioned gated communities may increase the value of the area from the point of view of the
real estate market, but on the other hand they may also spoil it. The latter happened in a case of
a gated community built in a settlement in the agglomeration. (Pilis) Environmental pollution,
increased traffic, and public utilities that were unable to keep up with the increasing population
produced negative tendencies. There are no specific rules in city-planning and building codes
concerning the building of gated communities. This unregulated environment often forces local
authorities to sell certain lots of the settlement. There are several examples in the agglomeration
through which one can see that erecting of gated communities forces farfetched developments
of public utilities, and the huge costs can only be covered by realizing more and more new
territories. This is the reason why urbanists argue that local authorities should take the
responsibility of fixing up a directive concerning real estate development that serves the
common good. Local planners, expressing their opinion on behalf of citizens as well, mainly
make a grievance of the fact that decisions of great dimensions that concern the city are usually
3 Today the only common characteristic is the security of the buildings (such as automatic gates, 24-hour-
security service, or CCTV.)
made without dialogue. Architects in turn mainly disapprove of building density being too high
and aesthetic dilettantism. They simply do not understand why colourful schemes and
architectural solutions of the western world are unable to emerge in our domestic planning.
They find today’s architectural solutions narrow and that trends are based only on commercial
interests. According to their opinion, changes of styles concerning gated communities follow a
clearly identifiable tendency. ’At first we realized ’gentle waves’ of postmodern in design,
presumably because of generally accepted taste of citizens. Side by side with sparse emergence
of Mediterranean atmosphere and traditional architectural elements, the ’hit’ of gated
community building became the Bauhaus, mostly interpreted as a separate style, and as a
consequence strong characteristics slowly tamed down. Investing companies prefer to put
aspects of efficiency forward, at the expense of rather uncertain considerations of taste, in other
words they play a sure game in every respect’ (VÁMOS 2006). Behind the accelerated changes
of architectural styles one can suspect the strong influence of reality shows and soap operas. In
these programmes the viewer sees in the background apartments fitted with all modern
conveniences (surely in a gated community), these apartments then quickly become the object
of the spectators’ desire. This is why guessing the expected needs of clients is much more
rewarding for investors.
A further professional question is (both from the point of view of architecture and sociology),
how gated communities will work in the long run. For instance in 2001 the following question
cropped up in connection with Barlang utca gated community: ’It would be great to see the
future in twenty or thirty years and see which flat is lived by ‘abos’, which is invaded by new
nomads, or which has become a drive-in-motel because of the unholy effects of a neighbouring
plastics processing plant. Practically speaking it is an interesting experimental genre in
Hungarian architecture, which is unfortunately mostly expropriated by Upper-Bavarian and
Lower-Saxon licence projects, and very few first-rate architects can release their fantasy and
dream a detached house or a row house otherwise’ (VARJASI 2001). In 2004 the just finished
Római Wellness gated community came into the limelight: ’This jealously guarded reserve
which overlooks the Danube is furnished with four lambent buildings and a park equipped with
native trees, a playground, and a swimming pool offers an engaging alternative to dusty city-
life. One can not only have a holiday in one of its seventy five suites, but one can even settle in
for the whole year (Due to local regulations dwelling houses are forbidden to be built on the
lot.)’ (SZESZLÉR 2004).
Finally these apartments proved to be less marketable than the prior expectations of investors,
mostly because of their holiday resort status. At the end of Római housing estate one gated
community follows the other, and the bank of the Danube is almost fully enclosed. It is a big
question when this place will lose its reserve characteristics and when it will become populated
to an extent that well-to-do people will no longer move in but rather move out from the area.
This train of thought can be applied also to investments that bear even more resemblance to
housing estates and one can put the questions: when will gated communities turn into housing
estates? When will residents start to drift in a considerable number? At this point we leave this
question open, but will refer back to it later.
’variations on four seasons’.4
Now let us examine systematically the similarities between housing estates and gated
communities, which we have already referred to in our introduction. The first and most eye-
4 Pasaret Residence, 2nd district, an advertising slogan
catching element of this comparison is the fact that naming has always played an important role
in estate building. (This is evident in the examples of estates at the turning of the nineteenth
century, in the socialist kind of housing estates and even in modern gated communities.) Those
estates built during the socialist era sooner or later got names that remain valid today. In the
case of gated communities naming was revaluated and became one of the most important
marketing methods. The development bears a name before building operations have started at
all, which to all intents and purposes refers to its status.
‘Softly curved blocks of Rákóczi Woods, modelling the symbol of infinity in plan, are placed in
the pulsating heart of Csepel on territories rich in green surfaces.’5
We often find this housing estate-gated community parallelism in analytical texts of critics
dealing with architecture. Some of the gated communities are even esteemed as less successful
editions of the earliest housing estates that were built in socialist developments (VARJASI 2001).
Furthermore they lay the lack of creativity on planners’ accounts, and yet their appearance,
input, and the design of accommodation mark gated communities out from prefabricated
houses, ’proportioned to our epoch they are no more convincing than their chidden
predecessors’ (SZENTPÉTERI 2004). Moreover, certain blocks of some gated communities are
even esteemed as latest continuations of neighbouring socialist housing estates. ’Blocks of
Madarászházak represent our days in an environment utterly ruled by housing estates, where
classical brick shaped houses have four- six- or eight-floors, depending on their age-group, and
they are old, ugly or shameful. This very one of our newest city-investments is nothing but a
revision of so-hated-housing estates, the newest kid from the block’ (SZESZLÉR 2004).
Composition and Surface of flats, Services
’Prestige feeling’6
Besides appearance we can find astonishing similarities in the surfaces and layouts of the flats
as well. The best part of the flats in gated communities are small (around 50 m2), or rather mini-
sized (27-40 m2), such as in case of house estates. At that time this composition of flats was
mainly justified by the housing shortage. Today the reason is that effective demand and market
needs are restricted. However these touchstones coupled with capital-scarceness of investors
creates a situation which on the one hand limits features of already built dwelling-places, and on
the other hand shapes future developments and major investment projects. Namely because
while building hundreds of flats at the same time, then costs of ground, services, and
configuration of public utilities are relatively lower, and this can reduce the final price and
communal costs. Moreover, developments over ten hectares offer better possibilities for
investors from the point of view of financing. In this way building operations can be carried out
in divisions, thus it is always enough to dispose of the capital needed for the given division.
Concerning the number of rooms, ambitions of investors meet with that of residents, who
usually require as many rooms as possible. In the early eighties many people chose to live in a
housing estate because the apartments there had enough rooms for everybody to have one of his
own. This is why builders put one and a half rooms and a dining room even in a 49 m2 flat.
Gated communities are willing to offer the same: ‘floor spaces of flats vary between 29 and 82
m2s, where designing of as many bedrooms as possible within a unit area is particularly
5 A selection from Rákóczi Woods’ (21st district) home page, where the building is introduced.
6 Prestige Park Towers, 13th district, an advertising slogan
emphasised during the planning process.’7 According to this conception, there are two rooms in
a 44.23m2-, three in a 66.28m2 and four rooms in a 79.15 m2s flat. This governing principle is an
influential factor in people’s decision to live in housing estates.
Regarding floor plans, only a few patterns dominated the market in the case of housing estates.
Although there were several prototypes, domestic planners were only allowed to use a few of
them, and were therefore limited in what they could do. It is more difficult to judge the
situation in the new gated communities as flats often have zygomorphic plans (meaning not
square or oblong). But fundamentally we can state that there are also very few layouts used in
gated communities. According to architects’ opinions plans of flats are still immature, and in
many cases more complicated than they need to be. One of the most significant characteristics
of houses is the hierarchy according to which public- semi private- and private rooms are
arranged. Also, communal places play a more important role (large public hall, post-boxes,
resting places in the park, playgrounds etc...). We would only mention here that the above plans
are designed in order to make flats even more appetizing and at the same time utterly different
from their ‘relatives’ the old housing estates. While in theory communal places played an
important role during the socialist era too, this theory never became reality. According to the
original idea, ‘ideal socialist people’ would not cook or clean at home, but would do these
activities in communal places, (such as the dining hall and laundry) of the estate. Small or/and
windowless kitchens and mini bathrooms are consequences of this concept. The communal
service units were never completed, or never worked according to the rules. However, this was a
result of the residents’ attitudes and not reflected in the building’s plans. A big advantage of
gated communities would be the relatively high number of communal places. However,
unfortunately the lack or downgrading of these communal places is much more characteristic.
Experts of real estate development can see more reasons behind this tendency. Firstly, due to
their capital-scarceness investors prefer to build communities consisting of high numbers of
flats. Creating services is not economical in developments with small numbers of flats in a unit,
and costs would raise prices to an unreal extent. Similarly, somebody who can afford all the
services would be unwilling to move to a community consisting of numerous flats. Therefore
the best of today’s gated communities only offer basic services (such as rubbish disposal,
cleaning and lighting of communal places), which can be found in an average condominium as
well. Maybe the gardener, the receptionist or the security guard are those services that make a
gated community special. In most cases Hungarian customers fight very hard just to raise the
money needed to buy a flat. Customers who can afford to buy real estate without using a loan
are very rare. Therefore together with the monthly instalments, few can afford to pay high
overheads for communal services. And last but not least, the mentality of Hungarian middle-
class people differs in some respects from a western mentality. Therefore even within that group
which can afford communal services it would be unexpected to see the birth of a subculture
which would approve of large scale communal services. Playgrounds are a case in point. Many
people have argued that gated communities would be good for children, as they offer a more
protected and railed off environment. One could assume on the basis of this opinion that
children would play freely in the public playgrounds. Yet, existing examples show an utterly
different picture: everybody wants their own individual play area. ’Hungarian people have a
great affection for their property - to their touchable property. They do not approve of having a
big public property and having to contribute to public charges. This is a historic characteristic
of our nation. (…) After the stabilization of the system these imprinted attitudes probably will be
7 From homepage of a gated community in South-Budapest
8 Interview conducted with an official of a real-estate company
Technical solutions and mistakes
‘well located and sited flats will serve as real homes of their residents.’9
Housing estates built in the seventies and eighties were often criticised because the communal
service buildings attached to them were not delivered by the time flats were occupied.
Moreover, concerning delivered flats, a lot of defects of quality appeared. The lodger or owner
of the flat was asked to hand in an erratum on which he had written his objections (for example
the window does not close properly, the wallpaper is wrinkled, a hole has been burnt in the
floor, etc...). Investors received these errata and sent out a supervisor, who with the list in his
hands went through the whole flat. For some minor defects he offered reparation or a small
amount for residents to fix the problem. But the majority of defects were labelled trivial and the
applications were rejected.
In the case of gated community developments, accusations of inferiority are also becoming
more and more wide-spread.10 Residents moving-in encounter problems that are known ad
nauseam from the preceding decades (such as windows not closing properly, terribly laid
metalic surface-plates, mouldy walls etc.). The attitudes of investors are varied but the above
described situation is not rare either. In addition to the flats, there are often significant problems
with the effectuation of buildings as well. Some of the implementing companies have already
built several gated communities. Those who work with previously tested workers tend not to
produce significant lapses. Yet, there are contractors whose work lags behind expectations.
This brings to mind again the practise of the socialist era, when during the implementation of
state developments cost effectiveness and accuracy were overshadowed. Within today’s
competitive environment contractors, just in order to get the commission, make such low
quotations that bona fide execution is practically impossible. Then they allocate working-phases
to subcontractors who usually employ black market workers. As a result, handing over of flats
could be delayed for years. Moreover a flat of inferior quality is handed over, and the bona fide
possessor tries in vain to vindicate his rights in front of a court. Often the company disappears
or stops trading and there is no one to whom he can apply with his right of recovery. According
to the real estate profession’s view such investors will slowly disappear from the market.
Negative reports and articles have become more frequent and these will encourage customers to
look at investors’ previous projects, and to only buy real estate from reliable investors who have
been being present in the market for a long time. This trend is reinforced with the development
of a few gated communities where flats are practically not marketable.
Some elements are becoming symbolic of this architecture, even down to interior flooring.
Fitted carpets, which were an indispensable though often deprecated fixture of a prefabricated
flat, have given way to laminated flooring. And in contrast to the traditional oil-footing of
prefabricated bathrooms and kitchens, the rising hit of today is tiling which extends two meters
up the wall, rather than one meter. Will the coming generation equally hate standardized
laminas and tiles, such as the former generation hated fitted carpets and oil-footing? This is the
way housing estates slowly but not unnoticeably yield their place to gated communities.
9 Dunagyöngye gated community, 20th district, an advertising slogan.
10 This is based partly on experiences reported in the investors interviews partly on our survey data .
Location within the Town-structure
‘A real Mediterranean atmosphere, recreation and tranquillity on the waterfront, but still in the
When planning housing estates, their integration into the existing town-structure was not taken
into consideration: for example the quality and intensity of public transport, or the number of
roads connecting with the city. By the beginning of the eighties this had led to the congestion of
public transport. By the nineties with the significant increase of cars, morning and afternoon
traffic jams became regular on access roads. We face the same problems regarding gated
communities as well. Authorities or/and investors did not make studies of effectiveness
concerning transportation when they staked off lots where gated communities were to be
situated. After completion of the bigger developments a significant amount of residents and cars
appeared in neighbourhoods which already had an overloaded road-network. Previously only
neighbouring residents protested against these kinds of developments. Today most of the local
authorities demand a social and environmental study of effectiveness and they try to negotiate
with investors. Yet, there is no such regulation which would put investors under an obligation to
contribute to the development of public utilities of the region. Therefore the results simply
depend on how good the authorities’ negotiators are.
Regarding bigger gated communities, the risk of isolation is not that relevant, instead it is the
difficult accessibility which might embitter the everyday life of the residents that move in. This
is the paradox for residents of the agglomeration and of gated communities on the outskirts.
Though they had moved out from the city seeking fresh air and a tranquil environment, families
spend a significant part of their lives on the road towards the school, the nursery and their work
places which are all in the city.
Potential residents and status
‘panorama, quality, style’12
While planning, an investor’s main concern is marketability. The building’s image, the number
and size of flats are all second to this. Location more or less designates the target group. On the
best sites of the most prestigious districts it is easier to sell relatively expensive real estate, than
for example in the dilapidated districts of Pest. Prices of course can be reduced by the size of
flats13. There is also a kind of flat-hunter who wants to buy not only a flat but the prestige too.
They are the ones who usually buy small, thus still affordable, flats located in high-prestige
areas, where flats are often overpriced. Recently, high-prestige, or at least highly priced flats are
appearing even in less prestigious parts of the downtown area. Besides of course we can find
those differently designed buildings with an utterly different composition of flats that are put up
for the middle class. Those dilapidated parts of the city on the Pest side built at the turn of
nineteenth century, where houses were destroyed by bombardments or if not, then are being
pulled down these days, are also quickly infiltrated with new blocks of flats which seem to be
easily marketable. This is because it is becoming trendier to live downtown. There might be
more possible reasons behind this recovery of the downtown. One of the most evident reasons is
that commuting is becoming more and more burdensome,14 but also that there is a growing
11 Dunagyöngye gated community, 20th district, an advertising slogan
12 Lepke gated community, 2nd district, an advertising slogan
13 That includes not only square-meter prices, but the whole purchase-price, which reduction has of
course a psychological effect.
14 Today it is increasingly difficult to get to the downtown from the outskirts or from areas over the
borders of the town. Some of the commuters undertake many-hour-routes every day. (Difficulty of
interest in town reconstruction and real estate investment. Besides we see significant movement
in the market for old flats as well. During the last ten years, most of the former residents have
moved out (or died), and their places have been taken by a younger population of a higher
status. Demand for mansions has increased, and also a boom for some quarters has started,
though to different scales, which has attracted marketability-oriented investors too. In turn, the
presence of investors further strengthens the process of transformation, both in a physical and in
a social sense.
Of course we can find parallels between housing estates and gated communities even in this
dimension. Though the two types of housing were not marketed according to the same system,
they were similar regarding the fact that the prestige of the territory often influenced the image,
appearance and surface of built flats, such as the number of floors. Concerning the marketability
of housing-estate-flats there were no special problems. Because of the housing shortage and
friendly rents or purchase conditions there were always throngs of applicants/ customers.
Nevertheless, prices of housing-estate-flats on today’s market are highly influenced by the
physical condition and image of the environment and of the house itself, and last but not least
by the prestige that evolved during the socialist era. We wonder to what extent flats of bigger
gated communities will be able to keep their prices in a long-term. Will they experience the
same difficulties as the housing estates of worse positions, where marketability is rather
difficult? Currently we still have a boom on the market for new flats, especially in the case of
gated communities, which offer security as well. Advertisements, elaborate marketing, and last
but not least cheaper credit results in the public buying (not only on the part of foreigners and
well-to-do families but also on the part of the middle classes). All the same, in case of certain
types of gated communities discontented voices are becoming louder. Also, there is an increase
in the proportion of those who feel that they made a hasty decision when they bought a flat in a
gated community.
Composition of new residents’ pattern
We cannot yet give a complete and comprehensive picture of the social composition of the
population living in residential parks. First, this is because representative data collection is only
carried out once every ten years, during censuses, and second, because investments still take
place at a rapid rate, so the market is constantly changing. By 2011, by the time of the next
census, the residential park housing boom will probably have subsided, and the bulk of
apartments intended for the middle and lower-middle classes will have been completed.
Nevertheless, we need not give up completely on the data, as our empirical survey of residential
parks and other parts of the city does provide some outlines of tendencies.15
Our research records that, as there are significant social dissimilarities between housing estates,
gated communities can also be divided to at least three status groups: which are of high-,
middle-, and low-status.16 According to this rating, in the time of our research 17 % of the
access is increased by the fact that the ring-road around the city is still not ready.) Others organize their
lives according to a schedule in which they set out at 6-7 in the morning for their work place and in the
early afternoon or late in the evening for home. Not everybody can indulge in this timetable, thus they
have to take on slow progressing or travelling by public conveyances. Not even railways are suitably
built up in the agglomeration, and if they are, they are not fast enough.
15 The survey consisted of 930 households in gated communities, 510 in newly built houses (not in gated
communities), 1800 in relatively old houses in the city (650 of them were moving after 2000) and 1000
from the socialist housing estates (220 moving in after 2000). The four sub-samples were substantially
representative of the 2005-2006 situation.
16 The categorisation was based on combining the real-estate situation of the individual communities, the
formal positioning given by the investors and the results from social status indicators. Unfortunately it
communities belonged to the low-status, 43 % to the middle-, and the remaining 40 % belonged
to the high-status category.
In low-status gated communities we can find the highest proportion of families with children
(60 %) (Table 1), the proportion of childless couples shows an inverted diagram, thus it is
lowest in the low-status category and highest in the high-status category.
The number of residents with graduate level education is rather high (Table 2). Within this, the
proportion of households where all have reached graduate level is 61 % in high-status
communities, 49% in middle-status ones, and 26 % in the low-status group.
A significant amount of residents in gated communities come from housing estates (40 %), and
within this mostly from prefabricated flats, 32 % (Table 3). This is much higher than in non-
gated new houses or traditional areas. Only housing estates show similar levels. One fifth of the
residents come from the mansions of the downtown, yet there is no difference according to the
location of their former flats, as their proportion is 7 % both in case of on-the-yard and on-the-
street flats. 19 % is the proportion who moved from family houses and 15 % moved from blocks
of flats with a garden.
Household Structure in Gated Communities (%)
Status of gated community
Type of households Low Middle High Total
Single/ living alone 25,0 15,4 23,6 20,3
Couple 13,8 28,9 31,9 27,4
Couple with child 20,0 25,9 14,3 20,3
Couple with 2 children 23,8 18,9 14,3 17,9
Couple with 3 or more children 2,5 5,5 2,7 3,9
One parent with child 8,8 2,5 6,6 5,2
Multi-generation household 5,0 1,5 2,7 2,6
Other 1,3 1,5 3,8 2,4
(Number of cases)
Source: CSIZMADY 2008
Tab. 2:
Level of Education of Households in Gated Communities (%)
Status of gated community
Education Low Middle High Total
Everybody is graduate 26,0 49,0 61,3 50,0
Secondary school and graduate mixed 18,2 20,7 14,9 18,0
Everybody secondary school 27,3 18,7 18,2 20,0
At least one person with lower education 28,6 11,6 5,5 12,1
(Number of cases)
Source: CSIZMADY 2008
is impossible to examine survey data of the fourth and highest category, the luxurious-status, as very
few of our interviewers gained admission to flats belonging to this category.
Tab. 3:
Previous type of housing among those, who moved between 2000-2006 by the
present housing (%)
Present flat in
Previous type of housing
built Old
One-Family house 18,8 38,2 27,1 21,3
Blocks of flats with garden (“condominium”) 14,7 15,3 5,5 4,3
Mansions of the downtown (on-the-street flats) 6,9 9,6 14,3 5,3
Mansions of the downtown (on-the-yard flats) 6,7 4,4 15,3 6,3
Mansions of the downtown (other type) 6,7 8,4 12,9 5,3
Housing estates (Prefabricated flats) 31,9 15,7 15,9 47,3
Housing estates (other type) 8,3 3,6 4,7 5,3
Other 6,2 4,8 4,3 4,8
Total 100,0 100,0 100,0 100,0
(Number of cases) (872) (498) (635) (207)
Source: CSIZMADY 2008
Yet, gated communities are not even alike in this regard, as we can see in the next chart those
who came from blocks of flats with garden or from downtown-mansions are overrepresented
among residents of high-status gated community-flats compared to those who live in average
gated communities (Table 4). And in the same time those who came from prefabricated houses
are underrepresented in this section.
Tab. 4:
Previous type of housing among those, who moved into gated communities between 2000-2006
by the status of the present community (%)
Status of gated community
Previous type of housing Low Middle High Total
One-Family house 22,7 20,7 18,2 20,0
Blocks of flats with garden (“condominium”) 13,6 11,4 21,4 15,6
Mansions of the downtown 15,2 17,4 28,9 21,5
Housing estates (Prefabricated flats) 42,4 41,3 22,0 34,0
Housing estates (other type) 6,1 9,2 9,4 8,8
Total 100,0 100,0 100,0 100,0
(Number of cases) (132) (368) (318) (818)
Source: CSIZMADY 2008
In the case of those who live in middle- or low-status flats, the data shows a reversed picture.
The proportion of those who came from prefabricated flats is alike in these two categories (41-
42 %), but the proportion is almost double the same index in case of high-status flats. We can
see a reversed situation again concerning proprietors of flats in downtown-mansions, as their
proportion in high-status flats is 29 %, but only 15-17 % in the other two groups. Behind these
numbers we suggest the fact that people from valuable flats in better districts can buy more
expensive flats in gated communities (with or without contracting a loan), but from cheaper
regions people can only acquire flats in bigger gated communities of a low-status.
Summing up
In the last ten to fifteen years a remarkable number of real estate blocks built in the capital
received the name ’gated community’ because it sounded good and was fashionable. Regarding
the physical image, the number of flats and the low-level of services provided, these blocks are
to all intents and purposes new types of housing estates. Yet this name has of course been
devalued after the ’prefabricated decades’ and has become neglected from a marketing point of
view. By contrast the name ’gated community’ at the very beginning referred to something
utterly new, and distinguished a rare and secure type of housing. It attracted the upper-middle
classes, and also people who were inclined to take on financial burdens beyond their means in
order to become part of the offered ’dream.’ In the middle of the nineties developers making the
most of this attraction, even used the term gated community to describe territories which were
only parcelled and supplied with public utilities by investors, with actual construction being the
customers’ duty. In this way the name ’gated community’ slowly started to lose its tempting
character. As a consequence investors gave more exciting names to their bigger projects, and
this was the overture of ’living gardens’, ’groves’, ’parks’ and ’houses’. Every investment chose
its own tempting name and identity, and connected to this also a marketable ’lifestyle’. In spite
of all these techniques, the majority of those blocks of buildings called gated communities can
actually be classified as housing estates of a better quality in the 21st century which tries to
fulfil greater demands than be classified as gated communities in the classical sense. This
tendency is also backed up with the fact that gated communities receive a significant part of
their residents from housing estates. One reason for this, among others, might be that residents
of housing estates are not fundamentally averse to a ‘colonial’ lifestyle, but they want a newly
built and cheap flat in a suburban area and not in the downtown area.
BOJÁR, I. A. (2000): Interjú Claude Parent-tel (Interview with Claude Parent) Octogon 2000/1,
CSIZMADY, A. (2008): A lakóteleptől a lakóparkig (From Housing Estates to Gated
Community) Új Mandátum Kiadó, Budapest
SZESZLÉR, V. (2004): 2004. február. 18. Népszabadság
SZENTPÉTERI, M. (2004): Heléna Ház a Káldy Gyula utcában (House Helena in the Krudy
Gyula Street) Octogon 2004/1 Budapest
VÁMOS, D. (2006): Lakópark építészet. (The Architecture of Gated Communities) Magyar
Építőművészet - Utóírat 2006/5 VI évfolyam 34.szám (31-36), Budapest
VARJASI, F. C. (2001): Barlang utcai lakópark (The Gated Community in the Barlan Street)
Octogon 2001/3, Budapest
The status of gates in Belgrade: notes on style and markets
Charlotte Johnson
Gated communities have become iconic of a particularly neoliberal set of social and spatial
relations. Belgrade’s property market is in the process of developing along neoclassical lines,
housing is becoming increasingly evaluated in terms of exchange rather than use value and the
market is opening up to international investors. One of the outcomes has been the appearance
of new types of housing, specifically new types of gated housing. This paper outlines the
current status of the property market and identifies the areas associated with gated housing. It
shows how the trend for gates relates to both historical factors of urban development and
popular perception of the city, but also to the new actors in the property market. The paper
offers some initial findings on the status of gates in Belgrade in an attempt to consider how
changes in policy, the market and popular perception could help define any ‘east Europeaness’
in the content of this global form.
Gated communities have become iconic of a particularly neoliberal set of social and spatial
relations. The citizen consumer withdraws from the public sphere to become a private
consumer. Interactions amongst the included group are mediated through agreed regulations
while interactions with the excluded are physically mediated through various security systems.
Belgrade’s property market is in the process of developing along neoliberal lines, housing is
becoming increasingly evaluated in terms of exchange rather than use value and the market is
opening up to international investors. One of the outcomes has been the appearance of new
types of housing, specifically new types of gated housing. This paper outlines the current status
of the property market and identifies the areas associated with gated housing. It shows how this
trend for gates relates to both historical factors of urban development and popular perception of
the city, but also to the new actors in the property market. The paper takes the view that Gated
communities ‘are becoming a global commodity and cultural icon eagerly consumed by urban
elites world-wide.’ (GENIS 2007, p. 771) This approach can be used to identify the process of
change as new types of housing appear and new lifestyle discourses link to the city’s past and
it’s globally networked future. It is an approach that attempts to combine what at this conference
Cséfalvay has defined as the ‘political and the economic interpretations’ of gated communities.
That is research premised on the question of how to produce public goods and service
efficiently and research focused how to distribute them fairly. Seeing gated communities as a
cultural form also enables a cultural interpretation to understand why exclusion becomes a style.
What gates means to both the included and the excluded and how those groups are constructed.
The paper is based on preliminary fieldwork interviews conducted in summer 2008 and offers
the initial interpretations as a basis for comparison. Serbia’s property market and levels of gated
communities are not comparable to those of Czech, Hungary, Lithuania, Poland or Romania that
have been presented at this conference. However Belgrade’s experience offers the opportunity
to start thinking that if the gated community is a global form, is there anything specifically east
European, or post socialist in the content? Will the current economic recession mean that gated
communities do not appear to same extent in Serbia’s urban and suburban landscapes or is
private provision the only way weak and underfunded local governments can offer citizens
infrastructure? How do old structures of governance continue to mediate social relations within
communities and under what circumstances does the recourse to legal covenants become a more
viable and welcomed form of social mediation? These are questions that continue to inform
current research, this paper marks the start, rather than the resolution of these questions.
Belgrade’s Urban Development
An expression caricatures Belgrade’s urban development and helps summarise Belgrade’s
geography, at least in popular imagining: ‘real Belgraders don’t cross the rivers, or the
motorway’. This expression sees the historic city centre as distinct from the urban periphery and
the towns on the opposite banks. Zemun, now within Belgrade’s administrative boundaries, was
historically a separate town with the Danube acting as a border, occasionally between the
Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian Empires. The marshland separating Zemun and Belgrade was
reclaimed in the early 1950s and used to site the large social housing projects of socialist
Yugoslavia2. This area is called New Belgrade. To other side of the historic centre spreads the
suburban section. This area has traditionally been associated with migrants to the city. This
schema greatly simplifies Belgrade’s geography but is used to identify three different sections
of the city in which broad analytical characteristics can be applied, in particular the history of
the different sections in terms of policy focus and popular perception. Key characteristics are
summarised in table 1.
Tab. 1:
Key characteristics of urban development in Belgrade
Source: author’s composition
Central area New Belgrade Peripheral area
Origin Historic centre spreading from
Ottoman fortress
1950s - land reclaimed as site for
new socialist capital of
Old rural settlements
incorporated into city limits
New settlements of migrants
since the 1940s
High density
Mixed occupation
Neighbourhoods associated
with elites
Mass housing projects based on
Corbusien principles – produced
a “dormitory”
New mixed developments and
upmarket condominiums
Illegal status of many homes
although a legalisation
process is currently
Lack of infrastructure;
particularly sewage and
Old Belgraders
Political elites
Occupants traditionally
associated with socialist
administration and military
Nouveau riche in new blocks
Migrants to the city, from
rural areas or from
population swaps following
WWII and the conflicts of
the 1990s
Key factors in
“Reserved” sites (i.e. corrupt
practices in building
application process)
Restitution / ownership
Few large plots available
Good infrastructure
Focus of government drive for
Large undeveloped plots in
central location
No restitution issues
Lack of infrastructure
Unplanned and unregulated
Land ownership disputes
Boundary issues from
redrawing of urban
development plans
Entrepreneurial developers –
low quality and luxury
Site of major housing projects for
large scale developers
Entrepreneurial developers –
a range of quality
Self build
Gated housing Traditionally wealthy
neighbourhoods with guarded
New luxury / lifestyle
developments – small scale
New luxury / lifestyle
developments - large scale
With security as selling point
Gates as design feature on
individual properties
Seeing Gates, Imagining Gates
All three sections of the city have been associated with gates in discussions with respondents,
albeit with different connotations and linked to different discourses.
One respondent suggested that gates were one of the features, as well as cement lions and other
kitsch adornments that were appearing in the suburban and self built neighbourhoods towards
the edges of the city. The presence of gates in old Belgrade was associated with neighbourhoods
that have long links to the rich and powerful. Dedinje is home to the president of Serbia,
numerous foreign embassies and the new wealthy. The gates here serve a security function that
is required by the political elite as well as the criminal elite who make up some of Dedinje’s
more recent neighbours. Security also serves as a style that signifies status as testified by some
of the more extravagant examples of ironwork. The area is used as the point of reference and
‘the new Dedinje’ is much used soubriquet, for example by property developers in the suburban
areas and by new owners of flats in the much sought after ‘Arena area’ of New Belgrade
(PETROVIC 2007a, p.12).
The interpretation of gates in New Belgrade is more complicated. It combines elements of style
with feelings of exclusion. The area has experienced dramatic house price rises following large
national and foreign investments to create new business district for the city (cf. STUPAR 2006 &
GLIGORLIJEVIC 2006). There is some amazement that the erstwhile socialist dormitory has
become the playground of the nouveau riche and that even the panel blocks of the 1970s are
selling at inflated prices. Restricted access was mentioned in two cases; firstly the guarded
garages of a new condominium for ‘pop stars and celebrities’ and secondly a locked children’s
play area in new block for university staff. Respondents saw gates as a sign of change in the
area, with new money, new exclusion practices are arriving, although in the two cases
mentioned, restricted access was directly contradicted by users of the blocks.
In terms of style, one interviewee described one of New Belgrade’s as yet unbuilt developments
as ‘the fanciest place (…) it will have five rows of flowers, garages, security cameras and
guards.’ She was describing Belville, a massive housing complex scheduled for completion
next year. It is majority owned and marketed by Delta Real Estate, part of the business empire
that dominates Serbia’s economy and is owned by one of Serbia’s richest men, who served as a
government minister under Milosevic (MILJKOVIC & HOARE 2005, p. 209). The Belville
complex markets itself as ‘a completely new concept of residential space’ and starts its list of
USPs by saying ‘the complex is characterized by secure entrance doors’
( However the developer describes the complex by
referencing the area’s past rather than portraying it as a ‘new Dedinje’ or presenting exclusivity
and privacy as the new type of living.
‘1970s taught us that we do not want such large projects to become dormitories … In
developing this project, we were guided by ideas publicised by urban design,… and the question
of what the contents of each neighbourhood, town, and region should be, so that all their
residents could enjoy nice lives and feel comfortable’ (Slobodan Mihajlovic, Belville developer
interviewed by TODOROVIC 2008).
The development will have almost two thousand apartments, mostly studios and one bedrooms.
It seems to be following a more open access philosophy associated with its mixed function, the
scale of the development and the size of the flats on offer, although from the development’s
plans access could be regulated. In contrast, a new development in Dedinje, being marketed by
international property consultants Colliers International, is described as follows:
‘The exclusive “Panorama Dedinje” development project presents an extraordinary opportunity
to those interested in buying a residence of elegant design and the highest standard in luxurious
living. […] The development is fenced and only tenants will have access to the central atrium. It
will have 24-hour security and maintenance services, video surveillance connected to the
security room’ (Sales material, Colliers International website3).
The development was not mentioned by any interviewees and has not generated any obvious
media coverage in the real estate pages of the main newspapers surveyed. Coverage of Belville
on the hand, has appeared in both Blic and Politika. The articles have concentrated on the
impact on prices when such a number of flats become available on the market.
Belgrade’s property market
VUJOVIC & PETROVIC (2007) summarise the constraining factors currently operating in
Belgrade’s property market and urban development as follows:
1. Political actors have not created a new legal framework and consequently there is not a
comprehensive development strategy
2. The private market is growing and corrupt practices of politicians are increasing
3. ‘Blocked socio-economic transformation has led to adoption of illegal strategies’
4. Urban planners are marginalised because there is a lack of legal or regulatory clarity over
their role
5. The impact of citizens is limited to ‘cumulative effect of widespread illegal construction
These factors hinder the property market from developing along neoclassical economic lines
however the chronic housing shortage and lack of social housing has created a development
opportunity for investors who have been able to capitalise on the huge demand. As one estate
agent interviewed said ‘It’s no secret, if you want to make money in Belgrade build something’.
This environment produces opportunities for small scale entrepreneurial developers who front
the costs, buy plots, design, build, sell and move on. Most new property in Belgrade is bought
or bartered for before construction begins. As a result the buyer is vulnerable. Interviewees
expressed fears of entrepreneurial developers building illegally or going bust before completion.
There is also little need for entrepreneurs to market their developments.
Belgrade’s property market is opening to large scale and international developers. The city’s
chief architect, Djordje Bobic explained the institutional changes Belgrade’s authorities were
making to establish a ‘proper real estate market’ in his terms. Specific issues he mentioned
were the current restitution law, decentralising and making transparent the planning application
processes and using ‘international loans’ to solve infrastructure problems in new locations
(TODOROVIC 2007, p. 54). Both the city authorities and buyers could be seen as welcoming
gated communities, with their potential for better service provision and investment protection.
However the form is not a given.
The gated community is one model associated with prestige and luxury, but the gates have to be
constructed within a legitimising discourse that explains the need and relevance for a new kind
of lifestyle. This discourse can be produced by large scale developers to guide demand for the
global form that is the gated community, however it is currently embedded in local and
historical narratives about the city.
Material and cultural legacies in Belgrade’s development
As a city moving from a centrally planned economy Belgrade’s experience is typical in some
ways. The city entered market reforms in the 1990s with underdeveloped central areas (cf.
BLAGOJEVIC for New Belgrade and PETROVIC 2005 for the SEE region), mixed neighbourhoods
(cf. M
OJOVIC, 2006 & PETROVIC 2007a) and large areas of self built housing in response to
inadequate social housing supply (ECE 2006). But Belgrade has certain particularities linked to
the material and cultural legacies of Yugoslav self management socialism as well as the legacies
of the destruction of that system and the experience of the Milosevic era. In terms of the
socialist legacy, three points are salient. Firstly, self management meant large numbers of
people were involved with the issues of governance (cf. BROEKMEYER 1977). Housing councils
still operate, albeit with varying degrees of effectiveness and energy, but currently housing
council leaders are forming a lobbying group to advocate for improved state service provision of
infrastructure and building maintenance4. Secondly, market reform had been on the agenda
since the 1960s (cf. HADZIC 2002). And thirdly, the end of Yugoslavia was not a rejection of
socialism as much as a removal of politics as various elites sought to maintain power (cf.
GORDY 1999). This combination of factors allows for people to consider home ownership
slightly differently. Housing is frequently described as a commonly held resource. Further more
there is a governance structure still operating which engages residents in the management of
their buildings and communal areas. This structure is officially linked to local government and
functions as route into the public sphere, rather than a removal from it.
In terms of the wars and the Milosevic era, the influx of refugees and IDPs (internally displaced
person) has had a large impact, although high levels of emigration has meant the city’s
demographics have remained stable (PETROVIC, 2007b). The UN’s Housing report from 2006
suggests the combination of forced migration, political instability and economic turbulence
associated with war, sanctions and Milosevic’s isolationism has bred an existentialist attitude to
property. The report also states ‘political tolerance of illegal construction (has been) an informal
tool of social policy since 1990’ (ECE 2006; p.22). With self-build and overcrowding often
being the only options, sociologist Mina PETROVIC describes housing strategies in Belgrade as
‘pre-modern’ and ‘fuelling traditional patterns more than the process of individualisation’
(2007b, p.145, see also PETROVIC 2004, section 7).
The two interviewees who had reserved flats in the Belville development discussed their future
property in these more traditional terms. Both are young professionals who live with their
parents. The flats on offer at Belville were seen as a chance to improve the conditions for the
family and ‘do something better about our lives’. The properties were described as a family
resource. It remains to be seen what will happen once residents move in. It is unclear what
extent access to the complex will be restricted, but Belville could be comparable to the gated
neighbourhood in Warsaw described by Mostowska at the workshop. Here, internal conflicts
between residents have introduced demands for new governance structures and covenants to
regulate behaviour and mediate social interaction. Belville, and New Belgrade more generally,
could experience a move in this direction as the incentive to maintain lifestyles and property
prices becomes linked. Perhaps the property market will see a rise in the economics of
‘niceness’ so critical in LOWS ethnography of middleclass gated communities in America
(2003; pp.153-173).
A change in attitude towards property in New Belgrade has been shown in PETROVICS recent
work. In 2007 she surveyed two types of neighbourhoods in the area, ‘one exposed to social
filtration and the other to the process of gentrification’ (2007a, p. 1) to explore resident’s
perceptions of their neighbourhood. She shows how residents’ attitudes are starting to move
away from concepts of community to include a concept of commodity which combines an idea
of safety with quality of building and ‘ urban life style options to be easily obtained/bought’
(2007a, p. 21).
As Belgrade’s property market becomes more open to large scale developers, new housing types
and new lifestyles are being marketed. The paper has shown that currently there is a taste for
security features and gates as a design feature of housing in Belgrade. They appear on self built
homes, feature in small scale developments as well as large scale ones. The appearance of gates,
while associated with new money and the new economic system, is still embedded in the social
and historical narratives of the areas. In old Belgrade, what appears to be Belgrade’s first gated
community is being built, one that matches ATKINSON & FLINTS 2004 definition of being ‘a
development that is fenced or walled-off from its surroundings, either prohibiting or controlling
access to these areas by means of gates or booms’ (p. 878). The development in Dedinje fits into
the history of the area and has not produced any specifically new lifestyle discourses or media
coverage. While in New Belgrade, an area developed on principles of open access and equality,
there are concerns about social polarisation becoming materially entrenched. The example of
Belville has illustrated processes of change currently operating in the market. Buyers and the
developers describe the project in terms of traditional family and communal values, but
sociological research in the area has shown a move towards the commodification of
The paper has taken the view that interpreting cultural attitudes as well as political change and
market reforms is necessary to understand the appearance of gated communities. This type of
housing can be seen as international cultural form with locally embedded content. The paper has
given an overview of Belgrade’s urban development and the current status of the property
market in order to show the cultural, political and economic frameworks that prepare the local
terrain for the appearance of the form. Serbia’s property market is lagging behind the other
examples discussed at this workshop however its experience can offer some points of
comparison. Monitoring the political and economic agents is paramount. While tracking how
old forms of governance respond to changes in the social fabric of the communities they
represent is also relevant, as is understanding changes in the concepts of community, ‘niceness’
and privacy. The paper has offered some initial findings on the status of gates in Belgrade in an
attempt to consider how changes in policy, the market and popular perception could help define
any ‘east Europeaness’ in the content of this global form.
1The semi structured interviews were part of the preliminary stage of an ongoing research
project on material and social changes of neighbourhoods in Belgrade. The sixteen interviewees
represented government agencies, NGOs as well as residents and included housing leaders, a
local minister, property developers, lobbyists, artists, academics, property owners and renters.
Respondents were asked about Belgrade’s property market in general, and about gated
communities in particular.
2 Blagojevic (2004 & 2007) has written a detailed history of New Belgrade’s development.
3 The property consultants’ description of the complex can be found at More detailed information in
Serbian can be found on the complex’s own website .
4 Djordje Mojovic from Serbia’s UN Habitat described the lobby group. Information on the
main housing council leader behind the organisation can be found on his building’s website This site was established for his housing council, but has
become a forum for housing council leaders to discuss and resolve common issues of their
buildings’ management.
ATKINSON, R. & J. FLINT (2004): Fortress UK? Gated communities, the spatial revolt of the
elites and time-space trajectories of segregation. In: Housing Studies Vol. 19, No. 6, pp.
ATKINSON, R. & S. BLANDY (2005): Introduction: International Perspectives on The New
Enclavism and the Rise of Gated Communities. In: Housing Studies, Vol. 20, No. 2, pp.
177-186, March 2005.
BLAGOJEVIC, Lj. (2004): New Belgrade: the capital of no-city’s land’ published by Stadbauwelt
163: Berlin. Available at:
(last accessed in March 2008).
BLAGOJEVIC, Lj. (2007): Novi Beograd: ospereni modernizam Belgrade: Zavod za udzbenike,
BROEKMEYER, M. J. (1977): Self-Management in Yugoslavia. Annals, AAPSS, Vol. 431 pp.
COLLIERS (2007): Market Overview Residential Belgrade second half 2007. Available at:
ort/PDFs/BelgradeResidentialSecondHalf2007.pdf (last accessed on 15th April 2007).
COLLIERS (2008a): Market Overview Residential Belgrade first half 2008. Available at:
ort/PDFs/BelgradeResidential1stHalf2008.pdf (last accessed in September 2008)
COLLIERS (2008b): Market Overview Residential Belgrade second half 2008. Available at:
ort/PDFs/BelgradeResidential2ndHalf2008.pdf (last accessed in November 2008)
ECONOMIC COMMISSION FOR EUROPE (ECE) (2006): Country Profiles on the housing sector;
Serbia and Montenegro. New York and Geneva, UN.
GENIS, S. (2007): Producing Elite Localities: The Rise of Gated Communities in Istanbul. In:
Urban Studies, Vol. 44. No. 4 pp. 771-798.
GLIGORLIJEVIC, Z. (2006): Can city development and identity grow in harmony: The quest for
successful public space design for New Belgrade. Paper presented at the 42nd IsoCaRP
conference 2006.
GORDY, E. (1999): The culture of power in Serbia Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania University Press.
HADZIC, M. (2002): Rethinking Privatization in Serbia. Eastern European Economics, vol. 40,
no. 6, November-December 2002, pp. 6-23.
LOW, S. (2003): Behind the Gates: Life, Security and the Pursuit of Happiness in Fortress
America. London: Routledge.
MILJKOVIC, M. & M.A. HOARE (2005): Crime and the economy under Milosevic and his
successors. In: RAMET, S & V. PAVLAKOVIC (eds.): Serbia since 1989: Politics and
Society under Milosevic and after Washington, University of Washington Press pp. 192-
MOJOVIC, Dj. (2006): Managing privatized housing in Serbia. Paper presented at the ENHR
conference Housing in an expanding Europe: theory, policy, participation and
implementation Ljubljana, Slovenia 2 - 5 July 2006.
PETROVIC, M. (2004): Sociologija stanovanja (Sociology of Housing), Beograd: ISI FF.
PETROVIC, M. (2005): Cities after Socialism as a Research Issue. DP34 South East Europe
Series LSE discussion paper, The Centre for the Study of Global Governance.
PETROVIC, M. (2006): Affordable rental housing: In: Four strategic themes for the housing
policy in Serbia, Towards a new national housing policy for Serbia. Belgrade, 6-7 July
PETROVIC, M. (2007a): Diversification of Urban Neighbourhoods: The Case Study in New
Belgrade. Paper presented at the ENHR International Conference 25-28 June 2007,
PETROVIC, M. (2007b): Belgrade socio-Demographic development: recent changes and
challenges’ in GUSTAVSSON, S. (ed.) (2007): Stockholm Belgrade: proceedings from the
Third Swedish-Serbian Symposium in Stockholm, April 21-25, 2004 Stockholm, Kungl.
Vitterhets Historie och Antikvitets Akademien.
SENNET, R. (2005): Capitalism and the city: Globalization, flexibility and indifference. In:
KAZEPOV, Y. (ed.) Cities of Europe London. Blackwell, pp. 109-122.
STUPAR, A. (2006): (Re)Symbolizing the modern heritage: A new identity for a prosperous
future? Paper presented at the 42nd IsoCaRP Congress 2006.
TODOROVIC, I. (2007): Capital of the Future: Interview with Djordje Bobic, Chief Architect of
the City of Belgrade. In: BELRE 2007, Beograd, Dynamic Communications Group,
pp. 54-56.
TODOROVIC, I. (2008): A new concept for living: Interview with Slobodan Mihajlovic,
Executive Director of ‘blok 67 Associates’. In: BELRE 2008, Beograd, Dynamic
Communications Group, pp. 36-39.
VUJOVIC, S. & M. PETROVIC (2007): Belgrade’s Post-Socialist Urban evolution: reflections by
actors in the development process. In: STANILOV, K. (ed.) (2007): The Post-Socialist
City. London, Blackwell, pp. 361-383.
New social milieus – gated communities in Polish urban landscape
Jacek Gądecki
Gated Communities (GC) can be seen as a representation of a new kind of fragmented identity -
defined by the categories of minority and majority groups at the same time. This global as well
as local, urban phenomenon seems to be the most radical consequence of post-modern
fragmentation of identity and space. The 'liquid' identity status needs to be anchored somehow
in the postmodern society and GCs are a response to this need in that they are the new spaces of
identification - a modernized milieu.
Polish, especially Warsaw, gated communities analyzed in this paper, seem to be a radical
example of the dynamic change and the ongoing negotiation of class identity in the process of
economic and social transformation throughout metropolitan Central and Eastern Europe.
Guarded estates - created by establishing physical boundaries - form new minority groups.
Those minorities “behind the walls” become at the same time dominant - as gating is promoted
as a new way of life.
Gated Communities - global and local
No doubt the rise of GC is a universal and international phenomenon and it is crucial to
understand it both as a global and local one. The paper stresses the value of the local as well as
global sphere, trying to follow Anthony Giddens’ “global-local dialectics”. As Webster points
out, “[a] development plucked from an international repertoire of concepts and designs may
serve a subtly different purpose in Beijing than it does in Baltimore” (WEBSTER 2002, p. 316).
As researchers we need to be conscious of the danger of accepting GC as a global phenomenon
without paying attention to the local social contexts in which such gated housing developments
The local context is described quite well by the question - “Is Warsaw going to be the Capital of
the Third World?” This provocative inquiry was also the title of a conference that took place in
the Polish capital in 2006. The radical hypothesis provoked an immediate radical response. The
conference title was presented as demagogical and it was pointed out by opponents that such
images of inequalities could be seen in any metropolitan area of the world. But is this certain?
The title of the conference seems to be a good starting point for a discussion about the social
and urban landscapes of the metropolitan area of Warsaw in Poland.
There is no point in looking at the well known images which were presented at the conference:
the dirt, chaotic landscapes, GC, street markets. The most significant aspect of the “third world”
label is the exceptional number of gated estates in Warsaw: more than two hundred GC for one
million inhabitants. The aim of the paper is to present how gating is used to produce spaces and
social relations surprisingly similar to the visions of the cities of Latin America.
The reorganization of time and space, the reconfiguration of local and global and finally, the
role of everyday choices and lifestyle, which are according to Anthony Giddens the background
of the late modernity, come together in Warsaw’s gated communities. The Third World
metaphor is going to be used to present how urban form is used by different actors: both
individual and institutional to promote new, emerging social divisions and to construct new
identities. The process of gating is analyzed by investigating the discourses that have taken
place in local and national newspapers and magazines, in other cultural media, and in
discussions among professionals, including scholars, architects and urban planners. Each of
these discursive areas uses its own distinct style of argumentation and dynamics, which
represent present attitudes to the new forms of exclusion and inclusion. By critically dissecting
the process of gating I try to point out the sophisticated way the minority/majority status are
related, what kind of paradoxes are created and how new identities are shaped in the Polish
urban realm.
The approach presented here extends the concept of segregation beyond segregation by
residential location only. I’m much more attracted to the idea presented by Rowland Atkinson
and John Flint, who proposed a more dynamic attitude to looking at GC and processes of
segregation. This concept suggests that they are part of a continuum of segregation, one in
which the state of “being gated” is transformed from a hard to a soft type of enclosure.
Residents are protected not only by actual physical walls, private security personnel, concierges,
CCTV, but also by dynamic protection modes such as the use of private transportation, SUVs,
shopping malls, headphones, cellular phones.
“Revolt of the elites” or “Revolt against the elites” - minority vs. majority status
It is quite critical to localize agency in the process of gating. Generally speaking the rapid
development of GC estates is not treated as a problem at all. In most cases (over 50 % of the
total of articles analyzed) they are seen as a part of a fully accepted urban landscape of
modernizing and richer metropolitan areas in Poland - most of the information is purely
commercial and promotional in character. In 2003 a more radical framework started to develop.
GC estates started to be criticized by a broader group of journalists and experts. The most
frequently used metaphors used to describe GC were: “The fortress”, the “Ghettos for rich
people”. The neighbourhoods were pictured as divided into “us” and “them” or “residents” and
“strangers”, but no clear agency is presented: both sides of the fence seem to be casualties
(either because of fear or because of the wallification process). It’s quite symptomatic that GC,
even if criticized, were still described mostly with a cancer metaphor. GC were presented to the
public as a cancer cells attacking the weak body of the Polish city. What is significant in using
such a metaphorical expression and vision is the fact that process of city wallification was
perceived both as a dangerous and uncoverable.
Still, the critical label of “ghettos for the rich” allows the realisation that GC could be seen as a
quite specific type of exclusion: a voluntary one. GC are residential areas which serve as spaces
of voluntary exclusion in which in fact a minority is in a position to exclude the majority. What
is crucial here is the power relation. There is no agreement among scholars: is gating a
manifestation of power or rather a manifestation of the lack of it. The debates among scholars
have been polarized between those who consider GC as a result of elites’ escape (caused by
anxiety and fear) or as the culmination of the “revolt of the elites” who take the power in their
hands to replace the power of the state in the local context. Those types of rationalizing gating
use two competing explanations: either fear or prestige. To understand which of the motives is
useful in the Polish case, it’s crucial to bring in the category of the lifestyle.
The Warsaw case is neither the “revolt against elites” nor the “revolt of elites” which build the
fortified enclaves. This case is far more fundamental – it is the process of creating elites through
the use of the urban. In the case of Warsaw, it is about shaping one’s own identity simply by
taking advantage of the city – by using the urban fabric for one’s own purposes, for constructing
one’s own identity in opposition to the urban.
This is an obvious case of the creation and development of so called “modernized milieus”. As
Peter ALHEIT pointed out, we are experiencing now the gradual change from class society to the
'lifestyle' or 'event society' (ALHEIT 1999). In his opinion the role of the new milieus is crucial
as they are able to create: “A new identity based more on the lifestyle than on the attributes of
'income' or 'title', alone. The traditional class boundaries, which run vertically are joined by
horizontal symbolic and real borders that are perhaps even more effective at creating distances”
(ALHEIT 1999).
GC are supposed to be urban, but at the same time completely free of any disturbance associated
with the urban. The visibility of what often is identified as ‘disturbingly urban’ (homelessness,
crime, dirt, social decay) can never be fully displaced and thus a political and economic
rationality should not even aim to erase it completely.
Three paradoxes of the identity
Paradox 1: Uniqueness or standardisation?
The discourse analysis shows that “gating” and “guarding” is functioning as a standard element
of most newly built estates. Even if the developer does not provide any other elements for the
potential buyer, such as basics like flooring, they still try to point out the gated character of the
estate. But standardisation works as a more complex process of controlling people and their
behaviour. The GC territory works as a crucial and ultimate tool which creates and sustains the
social order through space regulations.
Those exceptional cases and solutions prepared to interest clients, such as panic rooms or extra
heated roofs to prevent unwanted snow during the winter cannot change the real character of
GC which is based on standardisation. This kind of physical space, despite all external attributes
of difference and highly aesthetic characteristics (which bring commercial success) first of all,
must be standardised. The main purpose of GC is to provide the most predictable environment
and to discipline the inhabitants. The standardisation is so obvious that it is almost boring. As
one of the reporters noticed: “So I decided to look closer at the fenced oasis. And what was the
conclusion? That gated means boring (...). You can find the same things everywhere” (GŁAZ
2004). Each estate seems to be both unique and standardised. As MINTON (2006) points out:
“This consumer product (gated community - J.G.) is characterised by two trends. The first is the
increased level of control over the environment necessitated both by the demands of high
quality product management and the need to exclude undesirables. The second is that,
ironically, despite their competing claims of uniqueness ‘private-public’ locations display a
tendency to look the same and to exhibit a very similar ‘feel’, in part as a result of the relatively
controlled nature of the environment” (MINTON 2006: 27)
Paradox 2: New but historic already?
The relation between space and identity also engages history. The historic seems to be the next
element of the marketing package. As one of the texts informs: “Yesterday the City Park Estate
construction officially started (...). Houses are built next to the Ulanska, Wyspianskiego and
Wojskowa streets at the block where former barracs of the famous 15 Regiment of Poznan’s
Lancers were located (...). In the middle of the plot a new apartment house is built right now.
During yesterday’s feast the history of the place was mentioned, the Lancers were present and
vice president of the city” (LAMA 2006).
The cultural and historical references allow the formation of an identity of particular places. The
developers use different strategies to convince that the new estate, even if completely new on
the social map of the city, already has its own history already. The history, beside the
aestheticisation, functions as a tool which helps to own the vision of the place. A gated
community limits access to public space by dividing it with physical barriers, but also by the
redefinition and taking control of the history of particular places. Then the power of the place is
based not only on accessibility but also on the forcing of the common memory. In minor
examples developers decide to use a historical name such as “The Eagle Residence”, in more
advanced ones they link the history of the district to the newly built estate by creating slogans
such as “new city at the Old Mokotów Districts”.
Paradox 3: Closure or mobility?
The third paradox, presented here, proves that it is crucial to extend the conception of
segregation beyond segregation by residential location only, in the Polish urban landscape. The
way of looking at the gating phenomenon in Poland should be closely connected to the idea
presented by Rowland Atkinson, who proposed more dynamic attitude to looking at the GC and
processes of segregation. Residents are protected not only by actual physical walls, private
security personnel, concierges, CCTV, but also by dynamic protection modes such as the use of
private transportation, SUV’s, shopping malls, headphones, cellular phones. All those elements
offer us complete vision of what we can call “the geometry of power” (MASSEY 1994: 3–4). To
sum up the infrastructure of GC, even if extremely developed or even if totally self-sufficient
gets its real meaning only in the context of mobility.
The metaphor of Warsaw as “the capital of the Third World” quite well describes the ongoing
processes of disintegration of the urban fabric into isolated “nodes” connected through “tunnel
effects” (GRAHAM & MARVIN 2001, p. 201). As one of the inhabitants noticed: “The style of
life is generally different. People work long, come home, and then, even if they go out, they are
doing it in the same way: going back to underground garage and drive out from the estate”
(res. 8).
ATKINSON redevelops concepts of the “splintering urbanism”, “a space of flows” or “space-time
compression” into an everyday “time-space trajectory of segregation”. This trajectory is formed
through three elements: territories, objectives and corridors – which are defined as:
1. Territories – The residential neighbourhoods which are defended through design or other
technologies (CCTV, security). These spaces are territorial and have the capacity to “create
feelings of ontological security”.
2. Objectives – The non-residential locations to which people travel on a daily basis. These
spaces may include the workplace, leisure spaces and the social network destinations of
friends and kin.
3. Corridors – Modes of travel which are designed to prevent casual or dangerous encounters.
This may include the use of cars over small distances (the school run), first class train or air
travel, taxis, separate VIP airport lounges or even anonymous modes of dress designed not to
attract attention or serve as a mark of distinction (ATKINSON 2004, p. 887).
As such, an ensemble of territories, objectives and corridors works together to produce an
infrastructure of segregation embodied in a totality of the city rather than being restricted to a
certain locality. What is more important than just inhabiting the enclave is the act of passing the
border of it. The everyday practices based on the territory of GC send messages about who the
residents are (DE CEURTEAU 1984). These messages, if delivered to the right audience, affirm
the status of the messengers. The gated community and fragmented city help to target and
deliver “class-seekers” messages, whether of waste (VEBLENS concept of “conspicuous
consumption”(VEBLEN 1959)) or taste (BOURDIEU 1986).
Private guards, who do not have any actual power to arrest people or issue a caution take part in
this process. The new form of policing is rather a form of spectacle – it isn’t directed towards
fighting criminals but towards safeguarding a stable environment. GC are based simultaneously
on the systems of openness and closure and realize what is called the fifth rule of heterotopy:
the estates both isolate and make accessible. The visitors are able to cross the gates after more or
less complex procedures and the act of entering works even more as an exclusionary process
than the fence alone. This allows to inhabitants to experience their status in the right way.
The image of Warsaw as a Third World Capital is an exaggeration, but status seeking could
cause as much damage as the real urban fear in Latin America. Separated enclaves, luxurious
objectives and tight corridors – all those elements of the trajectory of segregation – can lead to
the same effect – the destruction of the urban fabric. Both, landscape and city are marketed as a
commodity. By delivering segregated space, businesses become capable of isolating market
segments, which in turn increases their targeting efficiency. From the resident’s point of view
the transaction is profitable as well: at the price of the apartment they receive a new style of life
(almost) for free. The paper has presented the changes only in the local scale, by exploring the
everyday practices and focusing on the case of Warsaw. I’m convinced that the “from the
bottom” approach, as Michel SMITH (2001) called it, allow access to the processes of
globalization realized via abstract networked urban economies and to understand the future of
postmodern architecture and urbanity.
ALHEIT, P. (1999): On a Contradictory Way to the ‘Learning Society’. A Critical Approach.
Studies in the Education of Adults, Vol. 31, Issue 1, pp. 66–81.
ATKINSON, R. & J. FLINT (2004): The Fortress UK? Gated Communities: the Spatial Revolt of
the Elites and Time-Space Trajectories of Segregation, ESRC Center for Neighborhood
Research, CNR, Paper 17, b.n.s.
BOURDIEU, P. (1986): Distinction: A social critique of the judgement of taste. London:
DE CERTEAU, M. (1984): The Practice of Everyday Life. Berkeley: University of California
FÜLLER, H. & N. MARQUARDT (2007): Soft Urbanism: Safeguarding the private city.
maszynopis konferencyjny. Paryż, czerwiec 2007.
GŁAZ, J. (2004): Osiedla pod specjalnym nadzorem, GW, Poznań, 17.12.2004.
GRAHAM, S. & S. MARVIN (2001): Splintering Urbanism: Network Infrastructures,
Technological Mobilities and the Urban Condition, London: Routledge.
LAMA (2006): Wmurowano akt erekcyjny pod City Park. Gazet Wayborcza, Poznań,
LASCH, C. (1997): Bunt elit. Przełożył Dobrosław Rodziewicz. Kraków: Wydawnictwo Platan.
MASSEY, D. (1994): A Global Sense of Place. W: D. MASSEY (red.), Space, Place and Gender,
Minneapolis: University of Minnessota Press, pp. 146–156.
MINTON, A. (2006): The privatisation of public space in London. London: The Royal Institution
of Chartered Surveyors.
SMITH, M. P. (2001): Transnational Urbanism. Locating Globalization. Oxford: Blackwell.
VEBLEN, T. (1959): The Theory of the Leisure Class. New York: Viking.
WEBSTER, C. (2002): Property rights and the public realm: gates, green belts and Gemeinschaft,
Environment and Planning B, 2 Vol. 9, pp. 397–412.
Demythologising gated communities in Budapest
Zoltán Cséfalvay
In the research on gated communities two distinct paradigms exist, there is however only one
feasible explanation for the phenomenon. The dominant politics-driven process approach
recognises the gated communities as result of exclusionary political behaviour of the affluent,
poses the question of distribution of public goods, and argues that gated communities create the
problem rather than embodying the solution. On the contrary, the market-driven process
approach conceptualises the rise of gated communities via economic rooted choices and the
emphasis lies on question of production of local public goods. In this approach gated
communities are seen as a market-based solution to the provision of these goods under
restrictions of a club economy.
The main thesis of this paper is that the examination on gated communities requires freedom
from the inherent bias of politics-driven approach and we should concentrate on the inquiry of
the rational motivations of homeowners, developers, and local governments. In other words: the
notion of gated communities should be demythologised. The case of Budapest shows clearly this
need; while security measures are widespread, escaping from overcrowded areas and showing
prestige play much more decisive role than the eagerness of the affluent for self-segregation.
A new lifestyle is evolving
From Communism into Capitalism
Since the Millennium, the market for residential parks (”lakópark”) is booming in Budapest.
The residential park presents an overall category in the Hungarian housing system, comprising
very different kinds of planned housing developments with apartment buildings or family
houses. Common features are being built and marketed by private real estate developers, mostly
having significant security measures, and also some commonly used and financed goods and
services ranging from a swimming pool to simpler installations, such as a playing ground for
residents’ children.
The newly-built residential parks were marketed as a new high-quality lifestyle option, and the
marketing accentuated the contrast to the high-rise, pre-fabricated housing estates inherited from
the communist era (photograph 1). In this manner, residential parks have created a divide
between the market economy and the central planned economy in the Hungarian housing
system. Similarly, residential parks stress a social divide: while high-rise pre-fabricated housing
estates are characteristically inhabited by the lower and the lower middle classes, residential
parks are favoured rather by the upper middle-class.
Photograph 1:
Where capitalism meets communism – “Rózsaliget” residential park (in front) and the
“Újhegyi” large-scale housing estate (in the middle of the background), Budapest, X. district
Source: author’s photograph
The boom of residential parks in Budapest
Between 2002 and 2007 nearly 240 residential parks were built in Budapest, totalling almost
37,000 dwellings (table 1). More than two-fifths of these residential parks and more than a half
of these dwellings have some security measures. 71 residential parks and about 14,000
apartments have 24-hours security. Regarding to definitions in the literature by BLAKELY &
SNYDER (1997), GLASZE (2002), LOW (2003) and ATKINSON & BLANDY (2005) we can put
these residential parks with permanent controlled access and 24-hours security services in the
category of gated communities or gated residential parks, while we label residential parks in
Budapest’s housing market without any security measures, and those without 24 hours security
services as non-gated residential parks.
Tab. 1:
The number of newly-built residential parks in Budapest, 2002-2007
Gated residential parks Non-gated residential parks Total
24 hours security service
by doorman or guards
Other security
measures (video
camera, magnet card
Without security
Residental Parks 71 32 134 237
Dwellings 14.104 5.214 17.561 36.879
Source: author’s research database
Territorial picture of residential parks in Budapest
Taking their number into account there are three regional concentrations of the residential parks
in Budapest (figure 1). The smallest concentration we can find in the traditional very
prestigious north-western part of Budapest, in the II. and III. districts totalling with 27
residential parks. The second main concentration is in the southern-east part of the inner city, in
the urban renewal zone of Budapest, which contains the VIII. and IX. districts, where are
located 51 residential parks. The third and largest concentration is in the northern-east part of
the inner city, the recently gentrifying zone of the Budapest, which is widened to the XIII. and
XIV. districts, where 59 residential parks were built over the past six years.
In respect to the number of dwellings however there is a different pattern of the residential parks
(figure 2). In the prestigious northern-west part of the Hungarian capital were built mostly small
residential parks with a number of apartments ranging from fifty to hundred and fifty. Therefore
we can find the largest concentration of the newly built dwellings in the gentrified areas of the
XIII. and the XIV. districts, in sum with more than 10,000 apartments. The second largest
concentration of these dwellings is in the urban renewal zone of the VIII. and IX. districts
totalling with nearly 8,000 apartments.
Fig. 1:
Number of newly built residential parks in Budapest, 2002-2007
Source: author’s research database, map designed by László Csordás
Fig. 2:
Number of apartments in the newly built residential parks in Budapest, 2002-2007
Source: author’s research database, map designed by László Csordás
Territorial pattern of gated residential parks in Budapest
Despite of this large-scale picture of the residential parks in general, the gated residential parks
with permanent access-control show rather a small-scale territorial pattern in Budapest. There
are gated residential parks in almost every district, but they concentrate in a small number of
areas. The largest concentration can be seen in the XIII. district with 10 gated residential parks,
followed by the III. district with 9, and the II. district with 8 gated residential parks. As an
example, the “Öko-Apartmanház“ with its two-storey guardhouse staffed 24 hours a day in
Budapest’s green area provides communal amenities ranging from jogging tracks and
swimming pool to a large park and an own chapel (photograph 2).
If we look at the number of newly built dwellings in gated residential parks there is another
pattern of concentrations. Districts lying in the eastern edge of Budapest have relative large free
places and therefore here were built gated residential parks with a high number of apartments.
The largest concentration of the newly built apartments in gated residential parks is however in
the XIII. district with more than 3,000 apartments. One of the most remarkably developments in
this area is the “Cézár Ház”, which was built on the place of a former electricity works, and
now provides 24-hours security and a green park behind its classical style rebuilt gate
(photograph 3). The other main concentrations of the newly built apartments in gated residential
parks are the IX., the III., the XVIII. and the XVI. district, each of them has more than thousand
dwellings. These five districts concentrate in sum nearly 8,500 apartments, what means 60 % of
the all newly built dwellings in gated residential parks in Budapest.
Photograph 2:
Living guarded in green – “Öko-Apartmanház“, Budapest II. district
Source: author’s photograph
Photograph 3:
Expressing the prestige with a monumental gate - “Cézár Ház”, Budapest, XIII. district
Source: author’s photograph
Discussion on new segregation by gated communities
The meaning of gates
The world-wide rise of gated communities has spawned a broad discussion about how gated
communities influence the socio-spatial structure of our cities. According to the most frequently
presented argument, the widening social gap causes a widening territorial gap between rich and
poor, and that these two gaps influence each other. Social polarisation leads to the creation of
gated enclaves for the rich in the city structure on one hand, and to social polarisation expressed
by these physical barriers on the other. As ATKINSON & BLANDY write (2005, p. 180): “Where
the wall starts, a new social area begins, whether one lives inside or out”.
Segregation is certainly not a new phenomenon in urban development, but the self-segregation
of the affluent with physical barriers is a development not observed in the last few centuries.
Moreover, the gated enclaves emphasise not just the social divide between rich and poor, but
also express the unequal access to public goods and services of different social groups. The
walls and the self-governments of gated communities show, according to the adherents of this
approach, that the rich no longer have anything common with the other parts of society.
Gated communities: new segregation vs. new refuges
Theoretically, the critics of gated communities looked back to diverse theses describing the
social consequences of rapid economic change in the last two decades. SENNETT (1992)
theorises the “fall of public man” and the rise of individualism, which are expressed in the city
structure by vanishing of traditional public spaces. REICH (1991) notes the “secession of
successful”; in other words, the withdrawal of the winners of economic changes from public
sphere. LASCH (1995) argues that the “revolt of the elites” leads to an exclusionary behaviour of
the affluent. All of these theses highlight that the rising individualism and exclusionary
behaviour of the affluent create a social climate conducive to a new segregation by gated
In contrary to these theses, BLAKELY & SNYDER points out the virtues, rather than vices, of
living in gated communities, such as creating the feeling of community, strengthening social
capital and enhancing personal responsibility. As they pose the provocative question (BLAKELY
& SNYDER 1997, p. 3): “Are gated communities a metaphor of the exclusionary fortress,
creating walls between citizens, or are they refuges from the forces that threaten family,
economic security, and quality of life?”
Gated communities: traditional vs. new segregation
The second key point concerns the scale of segregation. In the metropolitan areas, traditional
segregation was manifest on a large-scale: the inner-city districts around the Central Business
District were occupied by different marginal groups, while the affluent moved further away out
in the suburb. Despite this the new segregation initiated by gated communities is characterised
rather by small enclaves in the city fabric. Consequently, the traditional pattern of urban
segregation has shaped the social structure in a way that social distance had become
geographical distance. In the case of the new segregation by gated enclaves, however, the poor
are no longer out of sight because rich and poor live in a relative proximity (WEBSTER 2001).
Moreover, research shows that the geographical location of gated communities mostly follows
the socio-spatial structure of the given areas; upper middle-class gated communities are situated
mostly in upper middle-class districts, and lower middle-class enclaves in lower middle-class
districts (LE GOIX 2005). Gated communities lying on the borderline of areas with significantly
different social groups are rather exceptional cases.
Gated communities: redistribution vs. efficiency
The third issue reveals the question of redistribution vs. efficiency. In the case of the large-scale
traditional segregation, the affluent simply moved with their taxes into the suburbs creating
villages with their own jurisdictions, and therefore the poor in the inner-city districts could not
benefit from the redistribution of their taxes and resultant welfare. In the case of the small-scale
new segregation encapsulated by reference to gated enclaves, however, there is a spill-over
effect with taxes benefiting the less affluent, as rich and poor continue to live in the same
jurisdiction (WEBSTER 2001).
Besides the question of welfare redistribution, gated communities seem to be extremely efficient
by providing public goods and services. As WEBSTER (2001) and GLASZE (2005) argue, gated
communities operate like clubs and can be described by the theory of clubs developed by
BUCHANAN (1965). In gated communities the inhabitants privately finance the commonly
owned and used goods and services. On the other hand, the inhabitants have the right to
exclusively consume these goods and services, so free riders do not have access. Controlling
access to the residential area is therefore a vital part of this solution.
Demythologising gated communities
Competing approaches
For a long time gated communities were seen as a typical phenomenon for the US American
urban development what could appear under unique circumstances of highly liberalised housing
system (BLAKELY & SNYDER 1997). Therefore the first research findings of gated communities
in Southern Europe, and in Central and Eastern Europe were explained via unique factors too,
that the change from authoritarianism into democracy and market economy could lead to the
rise of gated enclaves (LENTZ & LINDNER 2003; RAPOSO 2003; WEHRHAHN 2003). Meanwhile
research evidences show that gated communities are evolving in the western part of Europe
without this transformation (e.g. United Kingdom, France), as they have remained in some
Central European countries (e.g. Germany, Austria) rather exceptional cases until now (GLASZE
et al. 2007).
Gated communities are, a fortiori, subjects of political and social discussions and thus research
on gated enclaves cannot easily be separated from the overall political and social bias of the
researchers. As in most political and social discourses, however, two basic approaches emerge:
the market-driven process approach and the politics-driven process approach (CSÉFALVAY
2007). The market-driven process approach conceptualise the rise of gated communities via
rational and economically rooted choices with the emphasis here lying on the question of the
production and allocation of local public goods and services. In this approach gated
communities are seen as a market solution to the provision of these goods and services under
restrictions of a club economy. The politics-driven process approach to gated communities, on
the other hand, represents the results as the exclusionary political behaviour and practices of the
affluent. It stresses the question of the distribution of public goods and services, and argues that
gated communities create the problem rather than embodying the solution (table 2).
Tab. 2:
Characteristics of the two main paradigms in the research of gated communities
Market-driven process approach Politics-driven process approach
Research question Production and allocation of public
goods and services
Distribution of public goods and
Explanation Rational choice of the people
(homo economicus)
Exclusionary behaviour of the people
(homo politicians)
Economic context Solution to failures both of the market
and the state by providing public goods
and services in a club realm
Result of social polarisation caused by
the shift from Fordism to post-Fordism
and by the globalisation of economy
Social context Exit option for the affluent form the
over-regulated cities, bolstering
bonding social capital
Self-segregation and withdrawal of the
affluent because of exclusionary
behaviour, weakening bridging social
Governance context More personal responsibility and
accountability at the neighbourhood
Less functions at local government
Source: author’s composition
Market-driven process approach
Researchers representing the market-driven process approach argue that gated communities are
answers to both market and state failures (FOLDVARY 1994). According to the market failure
theory, the market is unable to produce certain goods and services if exclusive consumption
cannot be guaranteed, as price could not then be attained (COWEN 1988). While the market
cannot easily answer the free rider problem, the market failure theory recognises that the free
rider problem ought to be resolved by the state or local government providing these goods and
services as they have the necessary power to levy taxes to raise financing and to catch free
riders. The production of public goods and services via state or local governments comes
however at the price of high bureaucracy, a lack of efficiency, and high costs. These are the
failures of state interventions.
Despite these market and state failures, gated communities offer a solution to the problem of the
market provision of public goods and services; it underline however some specific conditions,
such as control of access to public goods, the ability to exclude free riders and the necessity of
having relatively small number of more or less homogenous consumers. In similar manner the
gated communities are coupled with a number of social benefits too, such as increased
responsibility, greater self-government, and better accountability, achievements that local
governments cannot always match. In this respect gated communities can be identified using
HIRSCHMAN’s terms (1970) as an exit option. The homogenous social structure is also a crucial
feature of club economy because people with similar social status and interests are more willing
to pay for goods in common use and services than in a community with heterogeneous social
structure. The segregation of people in gated communities is hence the rational consequence of
their working mechanism, following the rules of the club economy approach. Using the
dichotomy developed by PUTNAM (2000) gated communities increase the bonding social capital
trough intensive social contacts among their inhabitants on the one hand, and cause a loss of
bridging social capital, which connects different classes and ethnic groups in the society, on the
Politics-driven process approach
Most criticisms of gated communities are based on the regulation theory, which focuses on
shifts from Fordist-type standardised mass production to post-Fordist flexible production and
from a Keynesian into a more liberal economic policy in the developed countries (AGLIETTA
1976; LIPIETZ 1998; AMIN 2000). Changes in the economic policy, the withdrawal of the state,
privatisation and the deregulation of the economy in particular influence the development of
gated communities both on the demand and the supply side. On the demand side the middle
class shrinks, the gap between rich and poor widens and the disposable income of the affluent
increases enormously. On the supply side, privatisation and deregulation create a favourable
investment climate for the developers of gated communities.
SOJA (2000) and SORKIN (1992) describe the consequences of this in the city landscape as a
fragmentation into ‘theme parks’, such as shopping malls, edge cities, and gated communities.
Through vanishing of vital public spaces, the city landscape becomes a chaotic mixture of
enclaves with a more or less homogenous social structure, and a more or less restricted access
for the general public. DAVIS (1998) goes further and sees gated communities as manifestations
of the “militarization of urban space” and, conclusively, of the class struggle for space. As such,
while in the past the housing market forced the poor in the more or less closed ghettos in the
cities, today the affluent segregate themselves within their own exclusionary and fortified
The need for demythologisation
In the research on gated communities two distinct paradigms exist, there is however only one
feasible explanation for the phenomenon. Political factors certainly play an important role in the
rise of gated communities, but these factors do not give plausible explanation in themselves for
this type of development. Processes such as social polarisation, territorial segregation, the shift
form Fordist-type to post-Fordist-type of production and regulation, the fragmentation of city
landscape and so on, can perhaps describe the changes in urban structure, but they say little
about the causes of these changes. Moreover, they offer no explanation for the decisions of the
most important players in the rise of gated communities, such as the developers, homeowners,
and local governments.
People moving to gated communities do so because they want to use the amenities offered by
the residential parks, and not because they want to segregate themselves form the society more
generally. People wish to use the facilities of the community, financed by themselves, and
therefore move into gated communities, not to practice their exclusionary behaviour. People
want to live in a safe environment, and therefore pay guards and have walls, not to militarise the
urban space and fortify environment. In most cases people want simply to live in a safe
environment with a number of commonly used goods and services at their disposal, and they
certainly pay for these. If homeowners of gated communities pay for these goods and services it
is a logical consequence that they want to exclude those who do not pay from also using them.
Developers merely want to make profit; therefore they offer dwellings in a package with public
goods and services attached. Local governments want to attract affluent taxpayers and therefore
offer land and flexible regulation.
Processes, such as segregation and fragmentation, phenomena, such crime prevention and the
private provision of public goods and services could to some extent be seen as consequences of
choices made by homeowners, developers, and local governments, but the choices themselves
cannot be explain solely via these processes. Conclusively, a throughout examination of gated
communities should be based primarily on the market-driven approach, and the scientific
inquiry should be focused basically on the rational motivations of homeowners, developers, and
local governments in the process of the worldwide development of gated communities. In other
words: the notion of gated communities should be demythologised.
Living in gated residential parks in Budapest
Budapest: flight from crime vs. flight from blight
The case of Budapest shows clearly the need for demythologisation of gated communities;
while security measures are widespread, escaping from unfavourable environment play more
decisive role rather than the fear of crime and the self-segregation of the affluent. This is the
main research finding of the questionnaire that was conducted in 2006 in four gated residential
parks in Budapest: “Cézár Ház”, “Juharliget”, “Óbuda Lakókert”, and “Egressy Udvar” [ii]. All
of them have 24-hour doorman/security service combined with closed circuit television cameras
and their social structure is characterised by the prevalence of the upper-middle class [iii].
The opinions of the questioned households about the living conditions in gated residential parks
compared to previous living place indicate that security considerations are important but not the
most decisive factors by moving into gated communities. While 80 % of the responding
households responded that the physical environment is better than that of their previous
residence, only 61% of the responding households stress that they felt safer in the gated
residential parks than in their previous residence (table 4).
Tab. 3:
Opinions of the responding households about living conditions in gated residential parks
compared to the previous place of residence
Living conditions in gated residential parks compared to the previous place of residence
Better No change Worse
Physical environment 80% 18% 2%
Feeling of safety 61% 38% 1%
Social environment 53% 45% 2%
Source: author’s survey, n=120
The main factor on the demand side appears rather to be the eagerness of the affluent upper
middle class to escape from environmentally unfavourable and overcrowded areas of downtown
Budapest. The Hungarian capital lost more than 200,000 inhabitants over the last ten years to
migration to suburban and rural areas because of environmental problems, such as crowd, traffic
jams, and air pollution. Their destination: mostly newly-built residential parks in Budapest’s
suburban belt, creating an urban sprawl with no border and limit in sight. Those who stayed
within the city moved to residential parks on the edge of inner city areas, as these could offer a
more favourable environment to live than other overcrowded parts of Budapest.
Prestige drives the market
Another major factor on the demand side is the willingness of affluent urban professionals to
indicate their social status, repressed during the communist era. The gating of the new
residential parks has become a symbol of prestige and a visible manifestation of the social
divide, especially in the social ontology of the upper middle class, setting them apart form the
working class mostly inhabiting large pre-fabricated high-rise housing estate built in the
heydays of communism. Property developers have capitalised on this by endeavouring to give
unique features, symbols, and ‘identities’ to individual gated residential parks.
But over the boom of residential parks, a downscaling took place, both to the social structure
and amenities offered. The Millennium saw only very exclusive gated residential parks built
mostly for the elite and celebrities, and the term residential park became soon synonymous with
a prestigious living place. Later, the developers seized upon this image to capture the wider
middle class in a down-scaled version, replacing these goods and services step-by-step with
symbols of prestige, such as the names or slogans for the residential parks. Because of this
downscaling, inhabitants of residential parks are buying today more into symbols of prestige
without the amenities that could provide the promised prestigious lifestyle.
Strong developers - weak local communities - weak self-governments
On the supply side the boom is mostly propelled by property developers, who undoubtedly have
the strongest position in the triangle of stake-holders. Meanwhile, an inefficient local
governmental system and low retention rate of local taxes results in the local communities
hardly benefiting from the gated residential park phenomenon, leading to a wide range of
conflicts mostly fought out in the provision of public services of gated communities.
Because of very high redistribution of the central government in Hungary, there is no direct link
between the wealth of a city and the wealth of its citizens. Local taxes play a minor role in the
financing of cities; the majority of financial resources come from the central government. As
consequence, while the development of gated residential parks for (upper) middle class will
increase the population in the city, no significant positive influence on the income of local
government is directly observable. The boom of gated residential parks is not a win-win game
in Hungary.
Similarly there is a striking difference between the North American and the Hungarian gated
residential parks in respect to their self-government. The approach of creating private
governance on a contractual basis, controlling provision of public services, is a characteristic of
upper class gated residential parks, especially in the gentrified areas of Budapest, such
communities offering shared entertainment facilities and communal activities beyond private
self-governance. The majority of residential parks in Budapest however have a weak self-
Concluding remarks
Gated communities develop according to different models, depending on location and socio-
economic motivations behind the development of gated communities in that given area. In a
similar manner, gated communities in Budapest are atypical for a number of reasons. First,
unlike in many countries with high social differences, primarily in the United States and South
America, gated communities are driven by fear of crime – this, despite a gaping difference
between rich and poor is not the case in Hungary. Second, there is a strong environmental
element behind the gated community phenomenon; manifest in the expectation of the
homeowners to live in environmentally more favourable areas than they otherwise would in
inner-city areas. Third, prestige appears to be an uncommonly strong driver, arguably
sometimes outweighing the real performance. In that way, gated communities have become a
manifestation for the revolt of upper middle class against the local government, which is
apparently unable to provide public goods like green, safe and prestigious environment.
These main factors distinguish the mystery that is the gated community phenomenon in
Budapest. They highlight an unusual pattern of gated community development, which however
can be explained once the gated community phenomenon is stripped of its surrounding mystery.
i As in the case of every new phenomenon, official statistics is also in Hungary unable to
capture the development of residential parks. The present study therefore based on information
gathered from alternative sources provided by the developers. Because almost every residential
park is sold by webpage based marketing too, these web pages went in the research as primarily
source to build up an own and unique database that captures the main features of the Hungarian
residential parks.
ii The Cézár Ház” with 316 dwellings is in the XIII district, the “Juharliget” with 273
apartments in the IV. district, the “Óbuda Lakókert” with 193 apartments in the III. district, and
the “Egressy Udvar” with 131 apartments in the XIV. district of Budapest. From each of these
gated residential parks, thirty households were included in a representative questionnaire.
iii The questioned households show a very homogenous social structure: 74% of the heads
of the questioned households have university degree. In respect of the jobs 43% of the head of
the questioned households are working in some leading position, and 35% are doing qualified
administrative jobs.
The research leading to these results has received funding from the European Community’s
Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013) under grant agreement No 219867. I would
like to offer my thanks to them for this.
AGLIETTA, M. (1976): Régulations et crises du capitalisme. (Paris, Calmann-Lévy).
AMIN, A. (ed.) (2000): Post-Fordism. A Reader. (Oxford, Blackwell Publishers).
ATKINSON, R. & S. BLANDY (2005): “Introduction: International perspectives on The New
Enclavism and the Rise of Gated Communinities.” Housing Studies, 20, 2, pp. 177-186.
BLAKELY, E. J. & M. G. SNYDER (1997): Fortress America. Gated Communities in the United
States. (Washington, D.C., The Brookings Institution).
BUCHANAN, J. M. (1965): An economic theory of clubs. Economica, 32, 125, pp. 1-14.
COWEN, T. (ed.) (1988) The Theory of Market Failure, A Critical Evaluation. (Fairfax, George
Mason University Press).
CSÉFALVAY, Z. (2007): New Segregation with New Conflicts – Demystifying Gated
Communities in Budapest. Paper presented at the 4th International Conference of Private
Urban Governance and Gated Communities, 5-9 June, Paris.
DAVIS, M. (1998): City of Quartz. Excavating the Future in Los Angeles. (London, Verso).
FOLDVARY F. (1994): Public Goods and Private Communities. The Market Provision of Social
Services. (Aldershot, Edward Elgar Publishing).
GLASZE, G. (2002): Wohnen hinter Zäunen – bewachte Wohnkomplexe als Herausforderung für
J. POHLAN (eds.): Jahrbuch der StadtRegionen 2002. (Opladen, Leske und Budrich). pp.
GLASZE, G. (2005): Some Reflections on the Economic and Political Organisation of Private
Neighbourhoods. Housing Studies, 20, 2, pp. 221-233.
GLASZE, G.; C. J. WEBSTER & K. FRANTZ (eds.) (2007): Private Cities: Global and Local
Pespectitve. Routlegde Studies in Human Geography (London, Routlegde).
GOIX, LE R. (2005): Gated Communities: Sprawl and Social Segregation in Southern California.
Housing Studies, 20, 2, pp. 323-343.
HIRSCHMAN, A. O. (1970): Exit, Voice, and Loyality. Respones to Decline in Firms,
Organizations, and States. (Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press).
LASCH, C. (1995): The Revolt of the Elites and the Betrayal of Democracy. (London, W. W.
Norton & Company).
LENTZ, S. & P. LINDNER (2003): Die Privatisierung des öffentlichen Raums – soziale
Segregation und geschlossene Wohnviertel in Moskau. Geographische Rundschau, 12,
pp. 50-75.
LIPIETZ, A. (1998): Nach dem Ende des ’Goldenen Zeitalters’. Regulation und Transformation
kapitalistischer Gesellschaften. (Hamburg, Argument Verlag).
LOW, S. M. (2003): Behind the Gates. Life, Security, and the Pursuit of Happiness in Fortress
America. (New York, Routlegde).
PUTNAM, R. D. (2000): Bowling Alone: The Collaps and Revival of American Community.
(New York, Simon and Schuster).
RAPOSO, R. (2003): New Landscapes: gated housing estates in the Lisbon Metropolitan Area.
Geographica Helvetica, 58, 4, pp. 293- 301.
REICH, R. B. (1991): The Work of Nations. (New York, Alfred A. Knopf).
SENNETT, R. (1992): The fall of public man. (New York, W. W. Norton & Company).
SOJA, E. W. (2000): Postmetropolis. Critical Studies of Cities and Regions. (Oxford, Blackwell
SORKIN, M. (ed.) (1992): Variations on a Theme Park. The New American City and the End of
Public Space. (New York, Hill and Wang).
WEBSTER, C. J. (2001): Gated Cities of Tomorrow. Town Planning Review, 72, 2, pp. 149-170.
WEHRHAHN, R. (2003): Gated communities in Madrid: Funktionen von Mauern im
europäischen Kontext. Gegraphica Helvetica, 58, 4, pp. 302-313.
Is suburban housing in Wrocław gated and why?
Katarzyna Kajdanek
This paper attempts to answer the question if suburban areas of Wrocław are gated and what
are the main reasons for this. Firstly, the process of suburbanization is presented, based on the
index of migration into suburban districts of Wrocław and on the number of building
permissions issued in recent years. Secondly, in the qualitative analysis, this paper scrutinizes
the factors pushing new suburban dwellers out of the city and those that pull them into the
suburban areas. The reason for this is to seek for safety pursuit explanations as those that might
underpin decisions for choosing gated and guarded housing (both individually built and
purchased from developers). Thirdly, this paper also analyses how Polish modern suburban
ideal is created in advertisements provided by developers. The question raised at this point is:
to what extent the elements of this advertised suburban image (especially its safety component)
are present in individual socio-spatial practices of dwellers, related with their own and their
families’ physical and mental protection.
The analysis presented in the article is based on the data collected during the field research
conducted for doctoral thesis entitled “Between the country and the city – suburban area of
Wrocław A sociological study”.
Suburban areas in post communist cities
After the decline of communist system Central and East European cities experienced deep
economic, social and symbolic change. Centrally planned economies declared creation of
society with no social inequalities which also meant that living space for those “equal” people,
preferably blue-collar factory workers, was homogenous. Some researchers (MUSIL 2005)
suggest, that there were only general principles for the spatial organization of socialist society:
rejection of market logic, social and functional unification of town and country, which became
rather utopian ideas than pragmatic plans. But it seemed enough to exclude Central and Eastern
Europe cities, to the extent depending on particular conditions of development, from the urban
processes taking place in Western Europe.
Central and Eastern Europe experienced a massive wave of urbanization that was centrally
planned and organized around quickly developing heavy industry. Obviously, this rapid
development created great need for workforce which came from small towns and the country to
work and live in the city. However, socialist regime, including elimination of property and land
market, introduction of housing legal norms determining its low standard, permanent lack of
resources and channelling them mainly into the industry and not into investments in housing,
caused massive housing shortages in most socialist countries. In response to this problem,
central authorities stimulated construction of many large housing estates, usually located in the
outer zones of the city. Their quality and infrastructure was rather poor. But severe shortage of
housing affecting people for many years made these housing estates extremely desired, and
usually the only achievable, place to live.
At this time it was almost impossible to invest into private housing, because the land, both
inside and outside the city, was unavailable for buying and there was lack of construction
materials. What is more, if someone decided to live in the areas outside the city, than in some
countries would have to face transportation problems (individual and public) and weakness of
social and technical infrastructure, even greater than in the central cities. Nevertheless, some
people possessing the necessary assets built individual houses on the outskirts of the city, but it
was phenomena of rather marginal significance (MISZEWSKA 2001).
It is also important to mention that city was perceived as an attractive habitat in terms of
chances of employment and improvement of the quality of life. It was contrasted with the
country, which was abandoned as hopeless, backward and dead-end place for anyone who
didn’t want to dedicate oneself to the agricultural production. Countryside didn’t resemble any
Arcadia, the perspective that is so typical for the later visions of suburban areas. But it is vital to
emphasize that the social perception of urban space was also very limited. Its cultural
representation was usually organized around ideological symbols imposed by authorities that
left very little or no space for creating individual images of urban (and therefore suburban)
It is specific for Polish urbanization that great cities are usually surrounded by low-urbanized
areas (JAŁOWIECKI & SZCZEPAŃSKI 2006). This phenomenon can be observed in the case of
Warsaw which has in its vicinity subregions with the lowest urbanization factors in the country.
But the situation is similar in other great cities like Kraków, Poznań or Wrocław. On the other
hand, last years brought rapid development of housing and service sector in suburban areas,
which resembles development of middle class suburbia taking place in Anglo-Saxon countries
forty to fifty years ago.
Fig. 1:
Suburban districts in the area of poviat of Wrocław
Suburban area of Wrocław
One of the most important factors shaping the space of contemporary post communist cities was
the reintroduction of the land rent and market economy. It organized spatial behaviour of
individuals, their households as well as bigger market subjects. The land regained its value as a
market good and became a desired object of “urban game” (WĘCŁAWOWICZ 2007). Market
economy verified the assets possessed by groups and individuals and opened new opportunities
for people who, so far, have been deeply disappointed with their housing situation. It enabled
reorganization and ordering of urban socio-spatial structures. Also, reform of public
administration and transfer of many entitlements to the local authorities made urban planning,
land management and creation of new investment policies possible. It opened new possibilities
for development not only in the city, but also in the suburban areas, which became competitive
with city in terms of price of land, fiscal policy and quality of life usually understood as a return
to the unspoiled nature.
All those processes can be observed on the example of suburban area of Wrocław, fourth
biggest Polish city located in south-western part of the country. Firstly, I would like to present
the development of suburban areas of Wrocław in a quantitative manner. Then, I will present
qualitative analysis of this process focusing on subjective motivations of new inhabitants for
moving out from the city.
The intensity of development of suburban area of Wrocław, limited to the borders of the poviat
of Wrocław presented on the chart below, clearly shows that the number of people who have
registered in sub-Wrocław districts in the last ten years is going up. The period between 1997
and 2002 brought rather steady increase, while last 5-6 years represent sharp growth. It also
shows that some districts (Długęka, Kobierzyce), not only because of their size, register
higher inflow than others (Czernica, Żórawina). About 80 % of people who register in districts
have previously lived in the city.
Fig. 2:
New inhabitants registered in suburban districts of poviat of Wrocław
This new type of “urban villagers” (GANS 1982) is, in quantitative aspect, the most important
stimuli for future development of suburban areas. However, it has to be acknowledged that only
some of the new inhabitants make an administrative effort to register in the new district. In the
undertaken research only about 30 % of all respondents declared that they have registered in
their new dwelling place. It means that the actual number of new inhabitants in separate districts
can be even up to three times higher. Reasons for not registering vary from common laziness to
intentional action justified by upkeep of businesses or communal flats in central city, which
demands being registered there.
Another way of measuring the intensity of development of suburban areas of Wrocław is based
on the number of planning permissions issued in separate villages of suburban districts.
It shows that the process of suburbanization is heterogeneous. It is more intense in the circle in
the closest vicinity of the city and also in these parts of the circle which coincide with the main
exit roads from the city: to Warsaw in the East, to A4 motorway in the South and to Poznań in
the North-West. This process has intensified in recently.
The aim, method and the area of study
The aim of the study presented in this paper is to give an answer to the question if the suburban
housing, private as well as commercial, in the suburban area of the poviat of Wrocław is gated,
and if so – to what extent. Secondly, I would like to raise the question why people decide to
move to the (gated) suburbs. Is “safety pursuit” an answer to their situation experienced in the
city? I assume that the nature of suburban areas, especially in the very first period of their
existence, cannot be fully understood without constant reference to their antithesis: the city.
To answer these questions I will refer to empirical data concerning individual housing collected
for my doctoral thesis1 in suburban districts in the poviat of Wrocław and also secondary data
concerning developers’ housing offers in these districts. Empirical data consists of 212
questionnaires and observations conducted in locations of: Smolec, Długołęka district, Kąty
Wrocławskie district and Siechnice. Secondary data was collected from developers’ websites,
advertisements in local newspapers and publications prepared by real estate agencies.
Feeling of safety among pushing out of the city and pulling into the suburbs factors
In previous sections I have pointed out some structural factors that enabled inhabitants of the
city altering their place in urban spatial structure. Nowadays, unaccepted dwelling place can be
changed easily. There any many options to do so, that is why the key question has to be raised at
this point: why do people want to leave city and choose suburban (gated) communities instead
of e.g. better locations within the city, moving into a small town or choosing other city? The
most important reason for leaving city is the need for having a own house (usually more
spacious, what is related with changes in family situation – see Table 1) and unbearable
nuisance of the big city, most often understood in terms of low quality of everyday ecology –
ubiquitous noise, crowd and pollution rather than in reference to other people who may be seen
as a threat. The issue of safety is of very little importance – only 1 % of respondents points out
this reason as important enough to make them move. Nuisance experienced from neighbours
may be more important factor justifying choice of gated houses. Although it seems that in most
cases this is enough to move into a private house in a freely chosen location, I believe, it is more
a need for privacy than for security that makes people move. Lower price of having a house
1 KAJDANEK, K. (2008): Suburbia wrocławskie – pomiędzy miastem a wsią. Studium socjologiczne.
(Suburbs of Wrocław – between city and the country. Sociological study). Doctoral thesis defended in the
University of Wrocław, not published.
outside the city is mentioned as well, what proves that market logic and its harsh rationality
influences people.
Tab. 1:
Reasons for leaving the city in opinion of new inhabitants of suburban districts in poviat of
Reasons for leaving city %
Need for having own house 14.4
Nuisance of the great city 12.0
Cramped dwelling conditions 11.6
other 10.0
Need for peace and quiet 9.9
Change of marital/family status 7.2
Nuisance of the neighbours 6.5
Need for higher standard of living 5.8
Vicinity of nature 5.8
Lower costs of buying/building a house 5.5
Better conditions for children’s development 4.5
Will to live in the country 3.4
Ability of afford a suburban house 2.4
Lack of safety in the city 1.0
Source: author’s own research
Tab. 2:
Reasons for choosing suburban location in opinion of new inhabitants of suburban districts in
poviat of Wrocław.
Reasons for choosing suburban location %
Attractive price of the parcel 18.9
Accident 10.8
Good location regarding Wrocław 10,1
Attractive neighbourhood 9.8
Other 9.7
Social contacts 8.4
Good communication regarding Wrocław 8.1
Lower costs of building/buying a house 5.4
Healthy climate 4.7
Friend’s recommendation 4.7
Peace and quiet 4.0
Vicinity of nature 2.7
Previous possession of the parcel 2.7
Source: author’s own research
This economic factor of lower costs becomes more important in the list of pulling into the
suburbs factors as a justification for choosing suburban location (Table 2). As prices of parcels
in some suburban locations went up by about 100 % in the last 5 years and now make 1/3 of the
whole cost of building it is understandable that this factor is mentioned in the first place. Other
important factors concentrate around closeness of the central city and possibilities to reach it at
ease. It shows that most of new suburbanites do not want to dissociate themselves from central
city not only because of the place of work or children’s education. The city still attracts people
who like to spend their leisure time and meet friends there, because city centre of Wrocław is
perceived as one of the most important symbolic spaces. It is so despite the fact, that its
disadvantages are well-known and criticised more in the suburban group than in the group of
people living in the city.
It has to be pointed out that what can be called a “safety pursuit” did not appear in justifications
for choosing suburban area although it was enumerated in those for leaving the city. Why is
that? I think two reasons are especially constructive to explain this paradox. Firstly, the process
of moving into the suburbs is long and laborious. During this time primal idealistic assumptions
on imagined dwelling place are redefined in confrontation with possibilities of realizing them
(very often in terms of financial abilities; analysis of developers’ offers clearly shows that gated
housing estate is more expensive than the open one). That is why the final effect becomes a
compromise. Secondly, suburbia should be always seen, as Robert Fishman put it (FISHMAN
1987), as an effect of constant tensions between incentives of the city and reluctance to urban
life. I believe it is rather easy to forget the nuisance of the great city - even at a short distance
from it, especially when possible contacts with urban life can be freely shaped. One can choose
who to meet, when and where – it is less likely in a dense urban environment where most of
everyday interactions are out of control. Having a choice seems to indulge new suburbanite’s
need for privacy, personal safety and (optional) separation. That is why it is not surprising why
justifications like: attractive neighbourhood and social contacts are mentioned as important
factors, aside from those of economic nature. In fact, respondents do not want to isolate
themselves completely from others. What they seek are good neighbours, which means, who
resemble themselves and live in esthetical, manicured environment. They seek what was
impossible to achieve in their former dwelling places – usually multi-family houses in urban
Of course, this explanation can be accepted only for respondents living in individual houses. I
believe that psychological, social and cultural features of people living in developers’ gated and
guarded housing estates differ them from the group which was under study, for example in this
respect that they protected their privacy so much, that they were inaccessible during the field
study and rejected any attempt of interview.
Gated and guarded housing estates in the suburban area of poviat of Wrocław
There are two main flows of people moving from the central city towards the suburban areas.
The first one consists of households living in individually built houses on relatively big parcels
(bought earlier or inherited, what lowers the price of the investment). Second is indirectly
shaped by developers who offer suburban estates of detached or semi-detached houses for sale
to people who cannot or do not want to manage building their own house, but are ready to pay
for having it done. The last years brought many new investments in the suburban area of
Wrocław. The most recent list was prepared in autumn 2008 and it pictures the present situation
which has developed over the last year. To make my analysis clearer I took into account only
the offers with description including prices (Table 3).
This brief list clearly shows that locations in southern districts are more often gated and they are
also more expensive than eastern ones. In the list of 10 most expensive offers as many as 7 are
guarded and gated and 5 out of these 7 are located in southern locations. This area is perceived
as the most attractive because of closeness to motorway A4 and the huge shopping centre -
The vicinity of urban areas makes this location a natural continuation of the city and closely
resembles it. A lack of significant spatial difference between previously occupied dwelling
place and the new one, and little chance to gain silence and privacy, induces people to
implement gating and guarding to ensure them. There is also an economic factor. People who
can afford southern locations are probably more affluent than those living in the eastern
suburban area and expect some protection from possible robberies or assaults. Also, in the list of
less expensive locations 7 out of 12 are gated and 6 out of these 7 are located in southern or
west-southern districts.
Tab. 3:
Developers’ investments in suburban districts of poviat of Wrocław (November 2008)
Direction District Location
Number of
houses/apart ments
Gated and
Average price
per m2
South Kobierzyce 1. Bielany 8 + 5990
South-East Czernica 2. Dobrzykowice 43 + 5900
South Kobierzyce 3. Wysoka 105 - 5900
South Kobierzyce 4. Bielany 83 + 5300
South Św. Katarzyna 5. Iwiny 15 - 5120
South Św. Katarzyna 6. Siechnice 150 + 5000
Wrocławskie 7. Sadków 129 + 4800
South Kobierzyce 8. Komorowice 101 + 4700
East Długołęka 9. Domaszczyn No data - 4500
East Długołęka 10. Kiełczów 44 + 4500
South Św. Katarzyna 11. Iwiny 12 - 4500
East Długołęka 12. Kiełczów 35 - 4400
East Długołęka 13. Długołęka 12 - 4370
South Św. Katarzyna 14. Siechnice 16 + 4300
South Św. Katarzyna 15. Groblice 25 + 4280
East Długołęka 16. Kiełczów 27 + 4100
South-East Czernica 17. Nadolice Wielkie 26 + 3800
South Św. Katarzyna 18. Św. Katarzyna 110 + 3600
East Długołęka 19. Kiełczówek 21 - 3500
East Długołęka 20. Mirków No data - 3460
South Kobierzyce 21. Tyniec Mały 28 + 3099
Wrocławskie 22. Kąty Wrocławskie 23 + 3000
Source: author’s own research;
Another aspect is related to the perception of space. Suburban areas in the Eastern part of the
city are associated with nature, peace and quiet. New inhabitants of Smolec (Kąty Wrocławskie
district) mentioned that they were expecting some loneliness and privacy. Unfortunately, rapid
development of their place resulted in eruption of housing estates which stole the purity of
nature and original calmness. In contrast the southern locations of Kobierzyce district were
never perceived as particularly calm or undisturbed, because of massive development of the
district, many investments in manufactures, closeness of motorway, and the biggest shopping
centre in the agglomeration. They are seen rather as very functional, with all facilities of the
city, but not in the city. It can also serve as the explanation for more intense presence of gated
and guarded communities in some suburban areas.
All in all, security issues are mentioned in 21 out of 36 analysed offers. It is very interesting to
follow through the context of gating and guarding presented as a part of an attractive dwelling
offer, because it may show what fears and needs of future inhabitants are predicted by the
developers and, in response to it, what kind of dwelling product is delivered. Text analysis of
these offers brings the following conclusions.
Means used to ensure protection in suburban areas can be juxtaposed on a continuum: from
basic statements about gating and guarding provided by the developer through more advanced
electronic fencing right to the porter’s lodge, video intercom and even intervention group at
inhabitants’ disposal. But it needs to be stressed that only one location (in Dobrzykowice -
Czernica district) is fitted with all these measures of protection. Descriptions of other housing
estates provide very limited information about means of protection.
Secondly, protection is present in descriptions of the estates, but it is never mentioned what is it
supposed to protect from? Gates and security services are presented just like water installation
or electricity – necessary elements of infrastructure. Lack of comments on why it is a good idea
to live in a gated and guarded housing estate is surprising. Gating is a relatively new
phenomenon in Polish spatial context that is why some justifications for buying “safer” house
would be expected as an element of creation of a certain advertising discourse. I believe that
lack of them does not mean that gating and guarding, as an element of dwelling infrastructure, is
already taken for granted as something what does not need to be promoted. I think that the
problem is that developers do not know how to justify gating, because, in context of suburban
areas of Wrocław, there are no obvious reasons inducing people to move into gated
The only evidence that some developers try to give (or create) good reason for gated housing
estates is the word cosy (kameralny in Polish), which is present in many advertisements to
portray gated estate. It is supposed to evoke positive association with non-urban environment,
guarantee of peaceful and quiet surrounding and only a few neighbours. Cosy in reference to
open estates counting up to 80 houses may seem ridiculous. The question is if a gated housing
estate of 80 houses makes this cosiness more real.
There is also the question of what means of security are taken up by inhabitants living in
individual houses. 62 % of respondents gave their locations the highest notes on security. Only
2.3 % of them perceived these locations as unsafe. Are these locations a natural Arcadia or
maybe an effect of applying various means of security to create a suburban Panopticon? Most
of the houses is surrounded by the fence of about 1.5 metre and usually rather decorative which
means that they do not stand in the way of potential robbers. About one-third of the houses is
equipped with anti-burglar rollers, but only less then 20 % with entry phones. It is important to
emphasize that more than 40 % of the houses does not have any kind of protection and among
all houses under study there was not even one with all the means of security. Still, respondents
declared relatively big feeling of personal and family safety. Therefore, it is clear that the
tendencies observed among developers building in southern parts of the city do not permeate
into common discourse on gated and guarded housing estates and do not influence the shape and
level of security of individual housing in other parts of the suburban areas of Wrocław.
a. Last years brought a rapid development of suburban areas of Wrocław in new context of
post socialist city, which is reorganizing itself according to new market logic. Because
Polish cities are trying to make up for backwardness towards Western economies many
processes are sped up and happen simultaneously (suburbanization, gentrification of city
centre, urban revitalization).
b. Suburbanization takes place in different forms. The specificity depends on the local
qualities of space which is transformed into suburbia and social features of the people who
decide to live there. “Creation” of suburbia is a process rather than a certain state. However,
it is possible to indicate some types of suburban settlements: gated and non gated,
consisting mostly of individual private houses and commercial collective housing estates,
developed on the base of old villages and built on a greenfield site. Spatial specificity of the
localization, characteristics of the previous dwelling place as well social position of
individuals influence the reasons for choosing certain suburban localization.
c. Personal safety as the reason for choosing suburban areas plays a minor role. Economic
aspects (lower costs of suburban house) and bad dwelling conditions are more important.
d. Gating and guarding as elements of the housing estate offers are distinctly present in
developers’ discourse. However, there is no reference to possible threats from which gating
and guarding would protect.
e. Safety issues in spatial practices of individuals are based on some universal precautions
(simple fences, anti-burglar doors, entry phones). There are also a lot of houses without any
measure of protection.
f. Developers’ discourse does not permeate into the safety discourse of the individuals. These
are rather social and demographic characteristics, income level, previous dwelling
experiences and, possibly, psychological features make people prone to isolate themselves.
FISHMAN, R. (1987): Bourgeois utopias, Basic Books: New York. Available at: (last accessed on 2nd November 2008).
GANS, H. (1982): The Urban Villagers, The Free Press: New York.
JAŁOWIECKI, B. & M.S. SZCZEPAŃSKI (2006): Miasto i przestrzeń w perspektywie
socjologicznej, Scholar: Warszawa 2006.
MISZEWSKA, B. (2001): Współczesne osiedla willowe Wrocławian – kontynuacja procesu,
zmienność formy. In: I. JAŻDŻEWSKA (red.) XIV Konwersatorium Wiedzy o Mieście,
Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Łódzkiego: Łódź.
MUSIL, J. (2005): City development in Central and Eastern Europe before 1990: Historical
context and socialist legacie. In: F.E. I. HAMILTON et al. [eds.] Transformation of Cities
in Central and Eastern Europe. Towards Globalization, United Nations University Press:
Tokyo, New York, Paris.
WĘCŁAWOWICZ, G. (2007): Geografia społeczna miast, PWN: Warszawa.
ZATHEY, M. (2004): Proces suburbanizacji mieszkaniowej i symptomy segregacji społecznej w
otoczeniu Wrocławia, „Wrocław 2000 Plus” Vol. 2.
Residential ensembles in “hypermodern times”
A case study of their aspirations in Bucharest
Olga Negura
The paper explores the potential of LIPOVETSKYS theoretical approach about “the hyper-
consumerist society” to interpret contemporary suburban residential developments. I mainly
argue that 1) the nowadays so called “residential ensemble” (Romanian version of the term
gated community) is planned and promoted following the hyper-modern logic of consumption;
2) people buying and living in such complexes relate to their homes as to an important object
employed to contribute to their lifestyle building – a hyper-modern relationship between people
and goods. The theoretical ideas are explored through research that I have conducted during
October 2007 – July 2008 in Bucharest, consisting of interviews with “community builders”,
potential buyers and inhabitants of a gated “residential ensemble”. The paper focuses on the
meanings that the respondents associate with the discussed residential emplacements.
Fig. 1:
Horizon on Potcoavei Road
Source: author’s photogragh
General setting
Throughout the last years, large rural areas close to Bucharest have been transformed into new
residential ensembles designed for urban residents. These neighbourhoods are mostly built up
following the model of what is referred to as a “residential ensemble” (or “residential complex”,
“project”, “quarter”, etc.). Local urban researchers (MARIN 2005, MATACHE 2005, RUFAT
2006) stress the “gated community” pattern of these projects, spreading in the chaotic post-
socialist realm. Authors of different articles1 often address this form of space management as an
1 During my research I identified permanent columns dedicated to the real estate industry in central
newspapers and magazines. We recall authors, such as Cristi Moga from “Ziarul Financiar”; Catiusa
Ivanov from “Gandul”; Valentin Baesu from “Cotidianul”; Vali Barzoi from “Capital”, and other.
imported, recent form of building new houses; a kind of a foreign direct investment that came to
Romanian market once it was possible.
However these new residential ensembles might appear to someone in Bucharest, there is an
ample literature (FISHMAN 1987, 2002; GANS 1967; MARSH 1990; MILLER 1995; LANG 1997)
suggesting that this model of residential space shaping is not as young and not as naïve a
concept as it might seem at first glance. The very idea of offering standardized houses along
with supplemental facilities in a suburban space dates back to 1947; back then Abraham Levitt
sought to build in Long Island, New York smaller versions of the residences that he used to
build before the Great Depression for the rich bourgeoisie, adding in exchange some other
amenities, such as markets, kindergartens, schools, swimming pools, etc. (GANS 1967, pp. 3-
43). His success was based on the fordist system implemented in the production of houses that
allowed large cuts in expenses; yet, he owed most of his success to the meaning that people
used to attribute to the older “suburbs”. About the first suburbia it was said to express “more
than a collection of buildings; it expresses values so deeply embedded in bourgeoisie culture
(…)” (FISHMAN 1987, p. 229).
However modest each suburban house might be, suburbia represents a collective assertion of
class wealth and privilege as impressive as any medieval castle. Most importantly, suburbia
embodies a new ideal of family life; an ideal so emotionally charged that made the home more
sacred to the bourgeoisie than any place of worship (ibid., p. 21).
But what are the “contemporary suburbs” telling us? We cannot speak of the bourgeoisie
anymore; we need new approaches to find out which values and what people want to express.
Therefore it is necessary to study the recent spread of gated and guarded housing in Suburbia
profoundly. So far, the “gated community” scenery is the most consecrated approach in
explaining the nowadays-residential ensembles. But while most of research focuses mainly on
physical and virtual guarding, on architectural isolation or on urban changes, when it comes to
the inhabitants it does not provide much knowledge. Also, most of these approaches do not pay
too much attention to the chronological dynamics of these developments within a certain
society, as if the “gated communities” would always remain the same.
In this context, the aim of this paper is to propose Gilles LIPOVETSKY’s “hyper-consumerist”
theory (LIPOVETSKY 2006) as a fruitful setting that could bring some nuances into the debate on
gated and guarded housing complexes. The main advantage of this approach is its receptiveness
to the meanings people construct when buying and living in residential ensembles. The
perspective’s caveat is that it does not give too many critical insights. In the paper’s first part, I
define the “hyper-consumerist society” and explore its most relevant features. In the second
part, I argue why I think that the residential ensembles are indeed products of the “hyper-
consumerist society”.
Methodologically, my arguments are founded on the research that I have conducted during
October 2007 – July 2008 in Bucharest. I did interviews with developers, architects, salesmen,
and credit officers acting in the real estate industry; I also questioned “potential clients” (at a
real estate fair) and owners in a “residential ensemble” (“C Forest”) after observing for one year
their discussions on an on-line forum. During research I also paid attention to any promotional
material (articles, advertisements, websites, etc.) used in the real estate business.
Theorizing the “hyper-consumerist society”
The “hyper-consumerist society” represents that phase within the consumerist era where “to live
better, to enjoy your everyday life, not to lack anything (…) as inherent goals” (ibid., p. 31)
have become legitimate aspirations among people. It can also be illustrated as a world where
“the taste for a better living has become a passion of masses, an ideal” (ibid., p. 5) entailing not
only material wealth, but especially an intense preoccupation for “happiness”, interpersonal
skills, emotional experiences, etc.
Hyper-consumerism represents the most expressive part of consumerism, the difference
between them being shaped by two main actors: the process of production and the people’s
ideals. The consumerism stands on the fordist system of production (i.e. a suburbia would be
uniformly built and after that, sold on the real estate market); the hyper-consumerism stands on
post-fordist system of production – i.e. the houses are firstly sold, and after that they are built
considering some of the consumer’s preferences. It is a kind of “niche” system of production
found and refined during the consumerist period. This is because people have become used to
consider that the decision of buying a certain mix of goods expresses their personality.
The hyper-consumerist society is characterized by and would not be possible without the
demand-based “economy of variety” (ibid., pp. 64-69), where the technology is so advanced
that is able to sell goods before producing them. Also, the advanced technology is able to
produce mass goods and services that can be easily and rapidly assembled in different ways, or
with different accessories, and to deliver them as unique, “personalized” units for a low price.
As a consequence, many formerly products of luxury have become affordable for a lot of
people. This is what LIPOVETSKY calls the “democratisation of the consumption” (ibid., pp. 37-
Advertising does not focus anymore on the product’s qualities, or on its functional benefits. “It
is not the product that is selling anymore, but a certain vision, a lifestyle attributed to a certain
label, a «soul», or a style” (ibid., p. 38). “The variety, the time, the innovation, the products’
renewal, the marketing and the communication” attract the hyper-consumer who is “avid for
emotional experiences and for an eternal «better than before» living, preoccupied by the quality
of his life and health, by trademarks and authenticity, by immediate and communication […]
who is “more and more informed, unfaithful, reflexive, and «aesthetic»” (ibid., pp. 6-8).
LIPOVETSKY argues that the “hyper-consumerist ethos” changes the relationship between people
and goods, including objects that are not necessarily involved in commercial trades (ibid., p.
18). In a personal race to “develop themselves”, people firmly declare their wishes to tackle new
challenges, to try new experiences, to fulfil their curiosities, to improve their relations with the
others and to continuously change their condition “investing in themselves”. Thus, they see
diverse goods and services as means to become better persons, and less as objects having
intrinsic value. This is how the consumption becomes “intimate” (ibid., p. 33). It is not unusual
to buy expensive goods along with cheap ones, as it is not the owned objects anymore that make
the difference. Even a certain prestigious object is owned in the name of the same “personal
happiness”; as in the hyper-consumerist society the individual has the right to designate which
goods are valuable to him and which ones are not (ibid., pp. 38-40).
Time and space are the main deficits in the hyper-consumerist society. Accordingly, many new
services and industries, new proximities, and new consumption habits did not wait long to offer
shortenings. Faxes, e-mails, search engines, GPS-s, fast foods, microwaves, remote controls –
these are only a few examples mentioned by LIPOVETSKY that are invented to save us from
effort, to spare time (ibid., pp. 198-199) and not only:
The houses express the idea of a «comfort within the comfort» defined not only through
objective time and effort economizing criteria, but also through perceptible hedonistic,
aesthetic, and sensorial qualities (ibid., p. 195).
Residential ensembles – products of a hyper-consumerist society
The fresh air, the verdure, the clear water, and the quiet – very popular words in residential
advertisements – are only few examples of formerly free goods that increasingly become a
luxury (BAUDRILLARD 1970). While various manufactured goods and services are more
accessible to the masses, there are other benefits to represent the “new rarities”. It seems as
something has changed in the relationship between goods and people; as if there is a shift in
priorities and a new system of differentiation.
How the residential ensembles are produced
Let us start from the process of production in the above-mentioned society, by taking the
example of “C Forest”, a residential ensemble located in Corbeanca, 15 km away from
Bucharest. Like in the case of other similar products, here too, many houses had been sold
before their actual production even started. There were scale models and computer made images
showing the buyers how their houses were going to look like. There was nothing unusual in this
process, as the real estate engineering was widely known and accepted by the population. The
first inhabitants moved in more than a year after signing the sale agreement.
Secondly, the building-process consisted of different teams specialised in a certain type of
activity – i.e. one specialised group builds the walls, another installs the doors to all the houses
etc. Thus, we recognise the fordist system of production. However, the standardised house is
given a package of a “personalised” emplacement, by offering the purchaser the possibility to
choose collections of materials and colours of different accessories. During research, I
witnessed long discussions between the buyers concerning the options that they had to decide
on. There were no two similar combinations, despite the standardized outdoor look that the