Monday, August 28, 2006

What Makes a Gated Community "Gated"?

Does a new development that fronts the street, but that also gates its back parking lot qualify as a "gated community"? Gated communities are controversial in urban neighborhoods, because they tend to close off and turn away from surrounding communities and streets. But does fenced parking behind multi-family dwellings constitute a gated community?

One Metro Council bill, which is up for public hearing at the Council meeting tomorrow night, seeks a zoning change for a new 1.6-acre, mixed-use Germantown development at 4th and Monroe. That development was the source of some questioning by commenters here on Enclave back in April after rumors spread that it would be a gated community. I spoke with Planning Department officials this morning who told me that the new development is not a gated community in the sense of being closed off from the street. It will, to be precise, front the street. However, the residential parking lot behind the building fronts will be gated for security reasons.

It seems to me that opposing this bill on gated-community charges is difficult for two reasons. First, while it will close the parking lot off from the street (the buildings will do that already anyway), the development itself fronts and opens to the street. And that is what New Urbanism dictates. I did not see the Planning Commission's deliberations on this bill, but they voted 9-0 in favor of it, so chances are it will not be too out-of-character for Germantown. Second, a precedent has already been set for this kind of development on the North End: Row 8.9 row houses in Hope Gardens front 8th and 9th, with a gated parking lot in between (Werthan Lofts, at the far north corner of Germantown, has impressively gated parking lots; its overall structure is the closest thing the North End has to a gated community, in my opinion).

Of course, we are left with the question of whether gated parking lots do more harm than good for their patrons. Those of us who attended July's Salemtown Neighbors meeting found out that Row 8.9's fence seemed to create a false sense of security, as police reported that someone scaled the fence and pilfered unlocked automobiles. Apparently, security gates may ironically cause urban residents to let their guards down.

08/28/2006, 1:10 p.m. Update: See comment from Row 8.9 resident below.

1 comment:

  1. I live at Row 8.9n, and while it's true vandals stole pocket change from unlocked cars, the fence and gates around the parking lot are very much appreciated and necessary. It keeps transients, stray dogs, and unsupervised neighborhood children out of the area. It's also a liability issue; it offers some protection in avoiding kids or others hurting themselves or getting hit by a moving vehicle on our property. I don't believe the fence provides a 'false sense of security' as you suggest. Most of us lock our vehicles. Row8.9n was originally conceived as a true gated community, but that plan was opposed by the Hope Gardens neighborhood leaders. What a disaster that would have been. The problem of intruders in the parking area is extremely rare.