Gated Colonies – The new trend in urban housing

City planning has seen drastic changes throughout the history of India. While the Indus Valley Civilization saw walled cities, segregated between the rulers, the rich and the common people, modern city planning is largely dominated by ‘gated colonies’. Both government and private gated colonies (GCs) can be seen sprouting up across a majority of the metropolises in Asia and the demand for new GCs is soaring. Between the sense of security and the concept of social segregation they offer, there are a lot of factors that need to be considered in order to trace their evolution and predict their effects on urban planning in the near future.

The origin

Throughout the 1990s and the 2000s, urban living conditions are thought to have improved drastically with the introduction of gated colonies in Indian cities. However, in order to track the origin of the concept of gates colonies/communities, we must look back to some of the world’s oldest civilizations – the Indus Valley and the Egyptian Civilizations. Both civilizations, although believed to have developed independently of each other, have striking similarities in the way their cities were designed. Both civilizations built cities surrounded on all sides by walls. Walls were also used to divide the city between the ruling class and the common people. This is where, many researchers believe, the concept of modern-day gated colonies has its roots. Apart from acting as a fortress against invading armies, the walled cities also ensured that a segregation of the populace, based on economic or caste differences, also stayed intact.

How did they help?

In order to know the reasons for the sudden rise in popularity of gated colonies, Urban Update spoke to MrShubhagatoDasgupta, Senior Fellow, Centre for Policy Research. Dasgupta said, “One of the main advantages of a gated colony is its ability to keep the ‘unwanted’ elements of society away from the residents. Moreover, most gated colonies have high walls coupled with guards patrolling the society day and night, thereby providing a double layer of protection from crime and terrorism.”

Apart from this, gated colonies also offer refined public amenities. While people living in old, unplanned localities suffer from poor civic amenities and a resident welfare system to address their problems, residents of most gated colonies enjoy door-step delivery of countless services and round-the-clock maintenance. This not only ensures ease of living for the residents but also guarantees that the services offered to them on a daily basis meet their standards of quality.

With the concept of gated colonies, the concept of ‘private’ public spaces has also gained prominence. According to Dasgupta, this is one of the most alluring services offered by a gated colony. Most colonies have parks, gyms, community centres and even a shopping complex, along with jogging and cycling tracks, withintheir premises. Thus, there is no requirement for the residents to leave the confines of their societies. “They can avoid travelling to different locations for different needs and can, instead, enjoy leisure in the confines of their societies,” said Dasgupta.

A very dominant trait of human behaviour, according to a research paper titled “Gated Living: The Contemporary Residential Development in Indian Cities and its Spatial Implications”, is our willingness to engage with people who have as many similar areas of interest as possible. This makes people more comfortable and increases their level of social interaction. This is the reason why India, throughout the early 21st century, saw a rise in the number of sector-specific gated colonies, for example: The Press Enclave in Saket, or the Dentists Colony in Dwarka. Residing in a society with people with similar traits (such as profession) gives a person a greater sense of comfort, equality and oneness.

How they hinder urban growth

Despite the fact that GCs have been in high demand since the early 2000s, they have been a reason for a drastic and uncontrolled change in the landscape of urban centres in India, including Delhi-NCR, Mumbai, Bangalore and Chennai. According to Dasgupta, one of the most evident adverse effects of a GC is that it promotes social exclusion. Due to all the civic amenities it offers within its premises, it discourages people from stepping out of their societies. Thus, possible interaction between people from two different GCs is extremely rare.

Apart from hindering social interaction between wider groups of people, GCs also disable greater interaction of the people with public spaces outside their societies. Since they have access to parks, jogging tracks and gyms inside their societies, residents feel no need to use public open spaces built by the government. This not only puts these open spaces out of use but also damages the already broken public feedback system in cities. If no one uses the open spaces, no one will report their condition to the authorities and thus, they will remain either out of order or damaged and eventually be rendered useless.

The mere fact that societies take up a large area in order to set up all the amenities the builder plans to offer to its residents, the possibility of future development of that piece of land by the civic authorities is impossible. It also means that the absolute authority of the civic body inside the society is absent and thus, they cannot suggest changes, or improvements in the structure of the society. The civic bodies can only approve the building structure and see that they are built while following the building construction code. However, the layout of the society cannot be changed by them to better suit the needs of not only the residents but also of those living around the society.

The obvious changes that gated colonies have brought in the way people imagine urban living has been evident since long. However, experts are still debating the long term effects that these societies will have not only on urban living and lifestyle but also on urban landscapes and open spaces.

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