An exploration of sense of community and fear of crime in gated communities

Wilson-Doenges, G.

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Wilson-Doenges, G. (2000). An exploration of sense of community and fear of crime in gated communities. Environment and Behavior, 32(5), 597–611.

Gated Communities , Perceived Community Safety , Perceived Personal Safety , Sense Of Community

As communities become more urbanized, there is concern about a decline in sense of community and an increase in fear of crime. Developers are creating gated communities to reverse this trend, but their success remains unknown. This research empirically addresses the issues of sense of community, crime, and fear of crime in a comparative study of two gated and two nongated communities with similar attributes. Mail surveys were conducted in both a gated and a nongated community in two contexts: public housing and high-income suburban communities. Results showed that high-income gated community residents reported a significantly lower sense of community, significantly higher perceived personal safety and comparative community safety, and no significant difference in actual crime rate as compared to their nongated counterparts. In the low-income communities, there were no significant differences between the gated and nongated communities on any of the measures. Implications of creating gated communities in different economic contexts are discussed.

Main finding
Gated residential communities are often framed as development strategies to provide safety and help create a sense of community cohesion among residents. This study interrogates the sense of community, crime, and fear of crime between residents of gated and nongated low- and high-income residential communities. Residents of high-income gated versus nongated communities reported higher perceptions of personal and community safety, but less of a sense of community (with no significant difference in actual crime per capita). In contrast, residents of low-income gated vs nongated communities indicated no differences as related perceived personal and community safety, as well as no differences related to sense of community (also with no significant difference in actual crime per capita). The author hypothesizes that the institutional nature of the security system (as opposed to a connection between residents) simultaneously creates a false sense of added security and less connection with other community members.

Description of method used in the article
Surveys distributed and collected by mail from residents of four residential communities in Los Angeles and Orange counties (two high-income, two low-income, gated and nongated). High-income communities were ~360 acres, and 774 and 1,523 units, respectively. Low-income communities were 44 and 21 acres, and 598 and 384 units, respectively. 200 addresses were randomly selected from each and surveys mailed to residents, with a response rate of 26% (N = ~208). Surveys contained items related to (a) sense of community, (b) perceived personal safety, and (c) perceived community safety. Surveys were distributed with a cover letter, entry ticket for a prize winning, and postage-paid return envelope. English and Spanish were sent to the low-income communities.

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