Gated com­mu­ni­ties

The Pak Banker - - 4EDITORIAL - Faisal Bari

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.

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