Skip to main content
European Commission logo print header

The Challenge of Private Urban Governance and the Rise of Gated Communities in Europe

Final Report Summary - GATEDPUG (The challenge of private urban governance and the rise of gated communities in Europe)

Main purposes of the research projects

Europe's metropolitan areas are facing the new challenge of the emergence of private urban governance and the rise of gated communities. Therefore, in the last decade the research on gated enclaves predominantly focused on field studies; today, however, the weaknesses of this research practice become even more obvious. First, comparative studies that could clarify differences and similarities in the development of gated communities among particular European countries are largely missing. Second, a comprehensive theory on private urban governance that could explain these differences and similarities is missing too. Because of the lack of comparative studies and a comprehensive theory the main purpose of the research project was to close these gaps with a cross-European comparative study and an innovative research framework. Hence, the overall aim of the research project was to achieve major theoretical and empirical steps toward understanding gated communities and private urban governance in Europe.

Results of the interdisciplinary literature research

As starting point of the project the research fellow carried out a broad interdisciplinary literature research. This inquiry indicated that the literature can be divided in two main camps: adherents of the market-driven process approach identify the economic benefits that result from cost sharing in a club as the main trigger, while scholars representing the politic-driven process approach place the emphasis rather on social issues, such as fear of crime and self-segregation of the affluent classes. The relevance of these approaches, their strengths and weaknesses has been thoroughly analysed by the research fellow and he published its result in a debate of the European Journal of Spatial Development, in December 2008. Similarly, this analysis provided the theoretical foundation for the issue paper presented in Leipzig, 2008, at the international Workshop on Gated and Guarded Housing in Eastern and central Europe, and its results has been published in 2009 in the conference proceedings.

Since according to the politic-driven process approach the fear of crime and the search of the (upper) middle classes for safe places are to be seen as ultimate driving factors beyond the rise of gated enclaves, this widely accepted thesis has been also challenged by the research fellow both theoretically and empirically. The case study of Budapest which was based on a questionnaire carried out amongst the residents in different gated enclaves clearly demonstrated that the fear of crime plays an important role in this process, but it was also significantly surpassed by the eagerness of the (upper) middle class for exclusive and prestigious places. It is true that gated communities in Budapest are equipped with the whole arsenal of the security measures, such as walls, gates, electronic devices and security guards, although these measures are implemented predominantly to indicate the social prestige of the places rather in order to prevent crime. The research fellow discussed these findings with experts on crime issues in the international workshop on crime prevention in Porto, 2008, and published the result of this discussion in the renowned French journal, Déviance et Société, in 2009.

This paper challenged the relevance of the fear of crime thesis, although in order to support this challenge more forcefully, further researches needed. Since the scope of questionnaires amongst residents in gated communities is by definition always very limited the research fellow undertook a comparative analysis of the spatial pattern of the crime rates and those of the gated communities in Budapest. The result of this spatial and statistical analysis demonstrated that gated communities are clustered in districts with relatively moderate or low crime rate while they are poorly presented in districts with high crime rate. This analysis has been published in a Scopus-indexed and peer-reviewed journal with high impact factor, in the International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 2010.

Innovative nature of the research project

Based on this broad interdisciplinary literature research the research fellow outlined his first initial hypothesis that can be labelled as the political trilemma of urban governance. In a fast changing global economy policy makers are facing a new kind of decision, where they have to choose among three desirable elements in a functioning system; however, they can have at most two out of these three at the same time, having to decide which one they wish to give up. According to urban governance there is a policy choice too among three objectives; lower congestion costs, higher efficiency in production of public goods and services, and higher social cohesion. If policy makers prefer residential areas with low congestion costs (to fulfil the demand of citizens to privacy), they have to choose between efficient production of public services or higher social cohesion. If policymakers prefer residential areas with highly efficient production of public services (to use the money of taxpayer in most reasonable way), they have to choose between lower congestion costs, or higher social cohesion. And if policymakers prefer residential areas with high social cohesion (to reduce social and territorial disparities via income redistribution), they have to choose between lower congestion costs or higher efficiency in production of public services. The trilemma of urban governance is that the objectives lower congestion costs, higher efficiency in production of public goods and services, and higher social cohesion are at the same time mutually incompatible. Since gated communities offer places with relatively low congestion cost and exclusive access to commonly financed and used goods and services, policy makers are confronted with the consequences of lower social cohesion at the level of the city as whole. The idea of this trilemma was presented by the research fellow and discussed in several conferences and workshops. The 5th International Conference of the Research Network Private Urban Governance and Gated Communities with the title 'Redefinition of Urban Spaces within the Privatization of Cities', in Santiago, Chile, April 2009, provided a unique opportunity to discuss this innovative research framework with scholars working on gated communities. In a similar way, the City Futures '09 conference in Madrid, June 2009, offered a further occasion to develop this idea in the discussion with researchers on urban studies. The result of the latest has been published online in the peer-reviewed collection of the papers presented at the conference.

Developing new research approach

The idea of the trilemma of urban governance proved to be an extremely fruitful theoretical research framework, the application of this framework to a cross-European analysis was, however, hindered by the lack of appropriate data both on country and city level. Furthermore, the discussion of the trilemma in different international workshops and conferences indicated that in order to understand the policy choices within this trilemma further and deeper analyses are required about the functioning of local governments. Hence, the research fellow has widened the theoretical horizon of the research into economic sciences dealing with issues of local governments, above all into fiscal federalism and public choice.

The fiscal federalism provided robust economic arguments to the question how and why responsibilities and finances are divided between the central and the local level of governments. Similarly, the public choice offered a new insight into the logic how and why political decisions are to be done at local government level. Both fiscal federalism and public choice proved to be a very challenging theoretical framework and they were therefore applied by the research fellow to the analysis of gated communities in a Scopus-indexed and peer-reviewed journal with high impact factor, in the Urban Studies, 2010. This paper outlined ten theses, and each of them provided economically rooted arguments to the pivotal question: Why are people moving to gated communities? As main result this paper stressed that the lack of financial resources with own discretion and the weak taxing power of local municipalities can be identified as one of the decisive triggers when it comes to the incentives for people to move into gated communities.

Cross-European analysis

After designing the new research approach the next obvious step was to test it in case of the European countries. This research step focused on a straight question: Why are some countries strongly affected, while others remain almost entirely untouched by the rise of gated communities? To give a proper answer to this question an extremely wide set of data have been collected on the fiscal situation of local government across the European countries and these data went into multifaceted statistical analysis. The statistical analysis proved that the gated communities are more likely in centralised countries than in countries where local governments have sufficient fiscal autonomy and taxing power and, hence, are able to reflect to the need of the residents.

The result of the statistical analysis has been deeply discussed during the 2010 International Conference on Humanities, Historical and Social Sciences in Singapore, 2010, and briefly summarised in the ISI-cited and peer reviewed conference proceedings. The whole statistical analysis with all its details and its theoretical foundation were published in a Scopus-indexed and peer reviewed journal with high impact factor, in the Regional Studies, 2010. This paper is to be seen as the most comprehensive summary of the research project that, as it was aimed at in the research proposal, responded to the weaknesses of the research in gated communities, namely, the lack of cross-European comparative studies and the lack of new approaches with regards of private urban governance.

Career development

Since in the research proposal the integration of the research fellow into the European scientific excellence networks has been identified as the main objective of the career development, the success of the research project was strongly influenced both by the excellent training facilities provided at Cardiff University and the teaching opportunities given at the School of City and Regional Planning. Trainings provided by Cardiff University aimed to improve skills in fields of teaching and presentation of research findings proved to be very helpful in various international conferences and workshops attended by the research fellow. Similarly, the teaching opportunities at School of City and Regional Planning gave the unique opportunity to discuss and confront the research ideas with the students. Moreover, the numerous lectures and seminars also offered an opportunity to deploy the teaching and presentation skills learned during the trainings. As a result, in the last two terms of its fellowship the research fellow gave not only guest lectures, but he also undertook two modules with colleagues of the School of City and Regional Planning.