ANUMBER of residents living on our street in New Garden Town, a part of the city that is under the Lahore Development Authority and not under any private colony, society or authority, have gotten together and decided that they are going to erect barriers at all entry and exit points on our street. They have also decided that they will hire guards to man the barriers at all times. These residents - not all of them but a significant number nonetheless - have asked every household on the street to pay a fixed amount as contribution towards the cost of getting barriers in place and then a monthly contribution towards salary payments of the guards.
The contributions are voluntary and some households did refuse to make the payments. But, enough money has been collected and the barriers have been erected. The guards, it is expected, will be hired soon.
But not all residents of the street have agreed to the plan. Some residents felt that the street is not private property, and is a thoroughfare and the residents of the street have no right to block the street with barriers. People, irrespective of whether they live on the street or not, have a right to go through the area without being stopped and questioned by private guards. In fact, it is illegal to block the road: it is tantamount to encroachment or illegal possession.
Residents who were against blocking the road, though legally correct, were in a minority. The argument for erecting barri- ers and hiring guards is based on the 'prevailing security concerns'. People are afraid. The security situation is quite poor. There have been instances of robberies, purse and mobile phone-snatching and even car theft on the street. For most residents, these instances as well as the overall security situation in the country were enough to convince them to go along with the majority decision to erect barriers.
Barriers are easy to erect. Like the mosque that Allama Iqbal talked about, barriers can be erected in just one night. But, managing the barriers is a much harder job. You need the round-the-clock presence of guards. There are three exit/entry points in our street. If barriers are to be manned round the clock and if one guard is on duty for 12 hours, we need at least six guards to make the sys- tem work. But guards have to eat, go to the washroom, offer prayers and so on as well. To build some slack in the system, we need one or two more guards. Managing this force of guards will be a job for someone. Will any community member take on this responsibility on a sustained basis?
People have to raise a significant amount, as a collective, to pay for the salaries of guards. Cooperation is hard to sustain and given the tendency, fairly strong, in people to take a free ride at the expense of others, the ability to raise the required funding is likely to diminish over time. Many people have guards at the gate of their dwellings. Some have guard dogs. Incentives for these people to cooperate are going to be even lower. There are also people who have chosen to stay out of the scheme, for one reason or another, as well. It seems unlikely that the system, if it works, will work for long. But, of course, the barriers are there now.
There is a larger issue here too. Leaving aside the legal issues, what are the consequences of gated communities? Do gated communities create security? Do they make for a better larger community? Or do they fragment communities and reduce social capital in a society?
There will be some invasion of privacy too: guards will be asking people at the barriers which house they are going to. Over time, the guards will get to know who lives in each house, what is their daily routine and who visits them. This information is not only an invasion of privacy, it might also not be good to share. If the community is not able to get good guards, there could be negative consequences of this information accumulating with them: there have been quite a few instances in which guards themselves or their accomplices have been involved in crime.
There will be reduction in throughtraffic in our street. But is that good? Would the guards not allow vendors to come into the street? If they do not, this will affect quite a few street vendors and it will also affect street life in the community. Community life requires interaction with each other. Gated communities reduce interaction amongst neighbours and adjacent communities, and usually the market is separated from the living area. This can weaken community and reciprocity ties. If all or most streets and communities were to erect gates and barriers, imagine what the city would be like. It would be almost impossible to move in the city.