Author : Ramanath Jha

Expert Speak Urban Futures
Published on Jul 07, 2022 Updated 14 Days ago
The inability of the urban centers to provide a high quality of life has caused a rise in gated communities in India
The rise of gated communities in Indian cities Gated communities refer to a group of residential units or bungalows characterised by controlled access, allowing entry to non-residents on the satisfaction of conditions that respective gated communities have adopted. In contrast to normally available housing, these residential complexes are walled and have guarded entrances. It is precisely these restrictive features that have given them the epithet of ‘gated communities’. These exclusive enclaves are designed for greater security and provide high-quality amenities such as swimming pools, gyms, clubhouses, community halls, restaurants, and other recreational, social and sports services that members of that gated community can exclusively enjoy. Play spaces and walking spaces ensure that the children and elders have scope for entertainment and exercise without the need to step out in the open city. In addition, these enclaves have power back-up, full-time security apparatus, and round-the-clock surveillance through CCTV cameras. Some may even have a commercial complex and school and medical care available within the campus. Such enclaves, on account of restrictions, also end up providing greater privacy to residents.

Play spaces and walking spaces ensure that the children and elders have scope for entertainment and exercise without the need to step out in the open city.

As suggested above, gated communities could comprise merely bungalows or only high-rise buildings. However, they could be a combination of both. Residential enclaves with only bungalows may be similar in size, design, and façade. Alternately, they could be of different sizes and shapes. In some cases, plots may be allocated to customers, and the plot owners could then build their customised bungalows. The high-rise buildings, each with multiple residential units, may also have flats of similar or different sizes to satisfy the varied requirements of individual families. Gated communities tend to privatise some kinds of spaces that would ordinarily be publicly available to all citizens. Thus, internal roads that could otherwise add to city-wide circulation may only have restricted access available to internal residents. Gated communities generally follow a code of conduct they have adopted, expecting adherence by the members to a set of regulations. For instance, the code may prescribe that no repair work would be carried out in the community between 2 pm and 4 pm or after 7 in the evening till 8 in the morning. Such restrictions are meant to eliminate noise from repairs so that residents are not disturbed during resting hours. Similarly, there could be rules about ownership of pets and the precautions that owners are required to take while walking them in the community. A gated community would generally be governed by a residents’ welfare association (RWA) that is in charge of the day-to-day management of community life and services and enforcing the code of conduct adopted for community compliance. Entry and exit for non-residents, domestic help, drivers, cooks, delivery boys, and such service providers may be through a mobile-based intelligent security application that several companies provide.

A gated community would generally be governed by a residents’ welfare association (RWA) that is in charge of the day-to-day management of community life and services and enforcing the code of conduct adopted for community compliance.

The additional services of gated communities come at a cost. These costs rise in proportion to the type of housing (flats or bungalows) and the level of exclusive benefits offered. Besides, there would be higher maintenance charges that the residents would have to pay. As is evident, such housing is beyond the reach of the urban poor and lower-middle classes. Gated communities, therefore, are the exclusive domain of the urban rich and the higher-middle classes that have the cash and the willingness to pay for these exclusive amenities. Non-resident Indians (NRI) and high net-worth individuals (HNI) also find these as good investments or attractive places to return to, post-retirement. Reports suggest 82 percent of NRI investments are directed towards ready-to-move homes in gated communities. Indian cities, more so the mega and metropolitan cities, are witnessing a substantial rise in gated communities. A leading management consulting firm predicts that in the next five years, there will be a minimum of 24 million households living in gated communities and investment in them would rise to USD 500 billion. However, this phenomenon is not restricted to India. It has emerged as a global experience witnessed in almost all cities worldwide. The desire of the urban rich and upper-middle classes to have a higher quality of life, access to superior services, heightened safety and exclusiveness of interaction among socio-economic equals is a standard refrain globally. Since they have fat purses and since much of urban housing is privatised, the developers find them an ideal customer group to which they can address their premium housing product. The developers are positioned to impose the kind of housing that maximises their profitability since they own most of such developable land in prime Indian cities. It is, for example, estimated that nine private landowners and private trusts own about a fifth of Mumbai’s land. While at the individual level, gated communities have great attraction among the urban rich and upper-middle classes, they are fraught with severe adverse impacts on cities. They discourage social interaction and integration that counter a healthy social and civic environment. They are the exact opposite of the objectives of sustainable development goals seeking to build inclusive cities and the principle of inclusiveness that democratic countries aspire to promote. They also aggravate the visibility of city inequalities and promote them through exclusive enclaves. In addition, the land use of many of the gated communities is inefficient, with very low densities, thereby encouraging urban sprawl. By erecting walls to universal accessibility, they adversely impact the mobility and circulation in the city.

The desire of the urban rich and upper-middle classes to have a higher quality of life, access to superior services, heightened safety and exclusiveness of interaction among socio-economic equals is a standard refrain globally.

Unfortunately, in most countries and cities, there are no laws that prevent the growth of such housing. Land use across the world gets regulated by urban local bodies (ULB), and restricting or disallowing such housing is not part of the development control regulations. However, some ULBs in the United States (US) have stepped in to disallow the construction of any such new enclaves. In the United Kingdom (UK), Argentina and Indonesia, they are labelled in urban housing parlance as any other type of housing. However, restrictions to such development are absent. In 2016, China announced policy recommendations to clamp down on the proliferation of such growth in their cities. However, no clear data is available on its impact on Chinese cities. It is widely believed that China was unsuccessful in ‘ungating’ cities due to stiff opposition from Chinese officials, academicians, and prominent citizens, who were themselves residents in such communities and had strong ‘gated mindsets’. In India, while laws do not legally recognise gated communities, they cannot be termed illegal. They are like a layout with special facilities commonly provided by residents of the layout. Although widely practised, enclosing the area and restricting access may not be legally tenable. One would have to admit that gated communities are partly a result of the urban failure to provide high-quality life to all its citizens. It is evident that the rise of such gated communities that are detrimental to the urban social fabric ought to be discouraged, if not altogether eliminated. This could be done by stipulating smaller sizes for each exclusive area, prescribing a minimum density within each gated community and disincentivising through the levy of higher premiums and local taxes for inefficient land use. Above all, cities must improve the quality of service they provide to all citizens to reduce the physical and social infrastructure gap between the gated communities and the overall city.
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Author

Ramanath Jha

Ramanath Jha

Dr. Ramanath Jha is Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Mumbai. He works on urbanisation — urban sustainability, urban governance and urban planning. Dr. Jha belongs ...

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