New landscapes of gated communities: Australia's Sovereign Islands

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  • This article was downloaded by: [University of Otago]On: 21 December 2014, At: 19:23Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registeredoffice: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

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    New landscapes of gated communities:Australia's Sovereign IslandsMatthew W. Rofe aa School of Natural and Built Environments , The University ofSouth Adelaide , AustraliaPublished online: 23 Jan 2007.

    To cite this article: Matthew W. Rofe (2006) New landscapes of gated communities: Australia'sSovereign Islands, Landscape Research, 31:3, 309-317, DOI: 10.1080/01426390600783483

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  • SHORT COMMUNICATION

    New Landscapes of Gated Communities:Australias Sovereign Islands

    MATTHEW W. ROFESchool of Natural and Built Environments, The University of South Adelaide, Australia

    ABSTRACT The gated community phenomenon is well entrenched in numerous cities around theworld. Stimulated by concerns over eroding public safety and legitimated through a discourse ofcommunity civility, gated communities are the physical manifestation of complex social anxietiesand aspirations. Typically, gated communities rely upon aggressive mechanisms of exclusion,such as gates and walls that are policed by private security guards. However, this need not be thecase. Socio-spatial exclusion can be established and maintained through the more subtle, butnonetheless effective, creation of landscapes that are so imbued with a sense of prestige that theyarguably initiate a process of self-othering amongst those beyond their margins. Here, theSovereign Islands development in Queensland, Australia is examined to explore how thelandscapes of gated communities themselves can be physically and discursively constructed so asto obviate the need for aggressive barriers of exclusion.

    KEY WORDS: Gated community, exclusion, Sovereign Islands

    Introduction

    Gated communities are cited as heralding the emergence of a hostile, fortress-orientedurban future (Davis, 1992). Stimulated by discourses of eroding public safety, gatedcommunities arguably offer decent citizens residential security. The currentliterature on gated communities asserts that residential security is achieved throughthe fortification of space. In response to what is predominantly a North Americanliterature, this paper represents an initial examination of the Sovereign Islands gatedcommunity to provide an Australian perspective. Located north of QueenslandsGold Coast region, it is proposed that this development has been physically andvisually created so as to reduce reliance upon aggressive mechanisms of exclusionsuch as gates, walls or guards. Rather, through an extraverted display of wealth andprestige a process of self-othering is initiated in order to dissuade transgression byoutsiders. This suggests that the act of enclosure need not be premised upon the

    Correspondence Address: Matthew W. Rofe, School of Natural and Built Environments, Urban and

    Regional Planning, The University of South Adelaide, GPO Box 2471, South Australia, Australia 5001.

    Email: matthew.rofe@unisa.edu.au

    Landscape Research,Vol. 31, No. 3, 309 317, July 2006

    ISSN 0142-6397 Print/1469-9710 Online/06/030309-09 2006 Landscape Research Group LtdDOI: 10.1080/01426390600783483

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  • aggressive fortification of space. Thus, the Sovereign Islands represents an interestingre-fashioning of the traditional gated community philosophy.

    The Sovereign Islands is a prestige residential development 30 minutes drive fromSurfers Paradise (see Figure 1). Developed by the Lewis Land Group of Companies,the development is situated on the Broadwater, an estuarine system of waterwaysthat link the rivers and canal systems with the Pacific Ocean. Reconstructed fromnatural sand deposits, the islands have been created to accommodate prestige,waterfront allotments. In total, six residential islands are planned, containing a totalof some 700 residential allotments. Currently, Islands One to Five are complete withdevelopment on Island Six ongoing.

    It is not implied that the development is completely divergent from the typicalgated community model. Indeed, the Sovereign Islands is fortified in the sense that itis surrounded by a moat and contains a private security presence. However, it isasserted that these factors play a secondary role in the securing of space. As such, theprocesses active in the construction and maintenance of difference reflect a departurefrom the traditional concepts within the literature. Accepting that landscapes are notpassive, but are inscribed with meaning (Duncan & Duncan, 1988), a reading of thephysical form and numerous marketing representations of this landscape willelucidate how this development functions as a landscape of power (Zukin, 1991).The term landscape is here employed not to uncritically denote . . . the appearanceof the land as we perceive it (Hartshorne, 1939, p. 150), but as an encapsulation ofthe complex entwining of the physicality of place with more ephemeral and contestedsocial meanings inscribed upon space. Consequently, landscapes are socialconstructions that emerge as groups struggle to . . . stamp their vision into thelandscape (Crump, 1999, p. 299, emphasis added). The ability to stamp meaningon space is a direct function of power. Accordingly, Mitchell (2002) argues thatuncovering how landscape works as an ideological medium is crucial to criticallandscape analysis. Here, Cosgroves assertion that landscape is as much a way ofseeing, or understanding, as it is a physical object is most instructive (Cosgrove,1998). What Mitchell (2002) and Cosgrove (1998) are suggesting is that how we see

    Figure 1. Study site location.

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  • the landscape should not be approached unproblematically. Consideration must begiven to the landscape itself and representations thereof. Landscape and its variousforms of representation constitute a text. Texts by their very nature are partial andsubjective. Authorship rests at the heart of this subjectivity, as texts are not mirrorsthat reflect the physical reality of the world; they are active in its construction (Rose,2001). This is particularly the case in marketing exercises that project highly specificdiscourses of prestige, exclusivity and security onto space. Hook and Vrdoljak (2002,p. 199) reveal that gated communities embody a marketed form of security statussymbol. In short, a new ascetic of affluence and lifestyle, reified by a celebration ofhigh-tech security measures, has emerged the world over (see, for example, Bremner,2000; Connell, 1999; Davis, 1992; Leisch, 2002). A central theme of such advertising isthe association of spatial exclusion and residential exclusivity with prestige.

    In order to expose the Sovereign Islands discourses of prestige and exclusivity tofurther scrutiny, a critical reading of both the developments physical landscape andpromotional materials, including sales brochures, a promotional video and websitematerials, are combined. This approach draws upon deconstructive analyticaltechniques as detailed by Rose (2001) and Winchester et al. (2003). Specifically,Roses (2001) discussion of discourse analysis I and II was most instructivethe firstto identify the explicit rhetoric of prestige created about the Sovereign Islands andthe second to reveal the implicitly socio-spatial discourses about exclusion andlegitimacy mobilized through the developments physical and textual landscape.Such an approach . . . offers a way of working out the relationship between mind,society and environment in concrete studies of real places (Walton, 1995, p. 65).From this undertaking it is suggested that, rather than being premised upon explicitand aggressive exclusionary practices (see Davis, 1992; Hook & Vrdoljak, 2002)commonly associated with other gated communities, the Islands discourse ofdistinction is enmeshed within a subtly crafted extension of social distinctionsembedded within wider societal discourses.

    Fortressing the Landscape

    Notions of security are multi-faceted. The creation of defensible space not onlyimplies physical security; it is also shot through with inferences of social andfinancial security. Implicit within these notions is the rhetoric of drawing away fromthat which is considered dangerous and/or unpredictable. However, this turningaway may not be prompted by the fear of social interaction per se, but rather thefear of indiscriminate social interaction. Setha Low (2003) argues that the potentialfor indiscriminate social interaction induces a sense of personal vulnerability,thereby heightening anxiety. This sense of personal vulnerability, further stimulatedby media discourses of crime and violence, has material consequences. Theemergence of the car as a means of secure conveyance (Sibley, 1995) andpanoptic-style shopping malls (Davis, 1992; Judd, 1995) exemplify these materialconsequences. The creation of defensible boundaries then stems from the recognitionthat spatial boundaries are in fact permeable (Morgan, 1994).

    While not a new phenomenon (Landman & Schonteich, 2002; Leisch, 2002), gatedcommunities have recently proliferated throughout the world. This proliferationreflects Bremners assertion that [s]ecurity has become a way of life (2000, p. 48).

    New Landscapes of Gated Communities 311

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  • However, disparities between actual crime rates and the fear of crime suggest thatresidential security is more complexly situated than a response to ensure personalsafety. Gated communities have thus been studied as an act of enclosure in responseto questions of community and belonging (Davis, 1992; Hillier & McManus, 1994;Low, 2003; Morgan, 1994). This literature contends that gated communities are elitelandscapes that construct a communal persona founded upon belonging andexclusivity. This is achieved through the alienating aspects of the development, suchas walls, screening vegetation and inward-facing houses that turn their backs on theother. Gated community logic then is essentially about securing a buffer zone aroundprivate spaces (Morgan, 1994, p. 394). In essence, the act of personal seclusionreinforces the exclusion of others through the establishment of physical barriers.

    Blakely and Snyder have located gated communities in the United States as . . . partof a deeper social transformation (1997, p. vii). They position the gated community asa dramatic form of residential boundary in which normally public spaces are privatized.Davis (1992) argues that the destruction of public space occurs through the privateprovision of security services that police residential areas. Essentially, territory andcommunity are defined by deterrents, which challenge the right to participate incommunity. Via segregation gated communities are able to . . . physically insulate . . .real estate values and lifestyles (Davis, 1992, p. 172). In a dubious moralistic sensedevelopers refer to this as positive ghettoism (Judd, 1995, p. 159). Here the public/private dualism is conflated within the confines of physical margins.

    In the case of the Sovereign Islands, the materiality of bounded space isaccentuated by the cognitive reinforcement of difference through overt representa-tions of wealth and status. The cognitive separation of the Sovereign Islandsdevelopment represents the edges of bounded space. Entry to this space is denied notprimarily by the maintenance of physical barriers, but arguably by the maintenanceof an identity of difference.

    Of Gates, Towers and Bridges

    Promoted as the finest residential islands in the world, the Sovereign Islands areexplicitly positioned as a . . . paradise reserved for a fortunate few (Lewis LandGroup: Island Three Promotional material). Physically, the islands do indeed containseveral segregation features common to all gated communities. These include a singleentry point, replete with sliding gate and security station. The gate box, combinedwith the developments observation tower, embodies Foucaults discussion of gazeas an exercise of socio-spatial power (Foucault, 1977) (Figure 2). Indeed, theobservation tower itself is reminiscent of Benthams panopticon model prison, whichexercised authority through the principle of visible yet unverifiable monitoring.

    However, a closer reading of these features reveals them not as an aggressiveapparatus of segregation but as highly ambiguous features of the development. Thetrue nature of the developments observation tower is a case in point. As part of themanagement complex situated at the developments entrance, the tower adoptsthe ambiguous architecture of a guard tower. Due to its location and form such amisreading is not unsurprising. However, the tower is a sales observation platform,serving to provide potential investors with panoramic views of the development.From without it undeniably appears as a guard tower. From within it enables

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  • prospective investors and residents to both observe their domain and exercise acommanding gaze beyond the developments margins. The very presence of thetower, despite it not being employed as a security measure, is reminiscent ofFoucaults observation of the purpose of architecture:

    . . . so to arrange things that the surveillance is permanent in its effects, even ifdiscontinuous in its action; that the perfection of power should tend to render itsactual exercise unnecessary. (1977, p. 201)

    Ostensively a guard tower, the observation platform serves as a potent symbol ofthe Sovereign Islands as a landscape of difference. By its sheer presence the platformarguably prompts people outside to question their ability and/or right to enter thedevelopment. This architectural ambiguity is important, as within the Islandspromotional discourse security measures are not overly emphasized.

    Analysis of promotional materials released between 1991 and 2004 revealssurprisingly few references to formal security measures. Indeed, the function ofsecurity personnel is depicted as being more inclined towards personal service thanthe vigilant policing of the developments margins. Despite claims that [l]ife at theSovereign Islands is comforting . . . [being] protected by 24 security (Lewis LandGroup, n.d.), the author has never observed the gates closed nor been refused entry orquestioned as to his purpose within the developments margins. Of greatersignificance are representations of security within promotional materials thatregularly typify guards as reifying the affluent status of residents. Figure 3 isindicative of this, depicting a guard saluting the arrival of residents. Similarrepresentations are present within the promotional video for Island Three, whichdepicts an elderly security guard subserviently doffing his cap to arriving residents.

    Figure 2. The panoptic observation platform. Source: Lewis Land Group, Island Threepromotional material.

    New Landscapes of Gated Communities 313

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  • Security then is more an implied feature of the development. This constructionprovides a sense of ontological security (Giddens, 1984). Residency within thedevelopment provides a cognitive sense of security by reducing the potential ofunexpected social interaction. Hence the implication of security perceivably reducesthe permeability of the developments margins. The result is the construction of theIslands security as a management presence rather than a constant reminder ofthe unpredictable other, which must be maintained beyond the margins of thedevelopment. The promotional video depiction of the security station echoes thispoint, as the guard embodies a welcoming doorman ensuring . . . these Islands canonly be reached by their fortunate residents and those they welcome (Lewis LandGroup, n.d.).

    The developments bridge further enhances spatial segregation. Linked to themainland by a single vehicular bridge, the development is reminiscent of the moatedmediaeval city. Visual representations enhance the isolated, island nature of thedevelopment from what is perceived as the outside. In many respects the bridge isreminiscent of Boddys discussion of skywalks between inner-city buildings (Boddy,1992). Boddys examination of the abandoning of the streets to undesirablesresonates strongly with Connells observation that freeway flyovers in Manila linkislands of affluence enforcing social distance (Connell, 1999, p. 435). TheSovereign Islands bridge forms a conduit transporting residents from the externalordinary to the internal extraordinary. In doing so, differentiation is achieved by asymbolic journey across a physical gulf and through a seemingly guarded portal intoa landscape of power.

    Figure 3. Guard depicted saluting the arrival of residents. Source: Lewis Land Group, IslandThree promotional material.

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  • The openness of the approach to the security gate enhances the visibility, yetunconfirmability, of direct monitoring. It is contended that the developmentsvisually open form serves to create a powerful discourse of exclusion. While theislands form and overt display of wealth are telling texts of affluence and exclusion,the sheer visibility of this wealth masks the physical mechanisms of exclusionoperating to maintain the developments isolation. In this sense, the SovereignIslands embrace the raw essence of power as something unassailable andunattainable. While the island form of the development enforces physical isolation,as a form of walled exclusion this isolation is masked by the visually open nature ofthe development (see Figure 4). The resulting effect is a landscape which activelyrepels those outside, seemingly without the need for overt security measures. It is thismasking of overt security which arguably sets the Sovereign Islands apart from othergated communities.

    Re-reading the Islands

    Despite the presence of identifiable security measures, these are superficial at best.The ability to gain access to the development is arguably seamless. However, thedevelopment itself functions as a visual landscape of exclusion. Not closeted behindwalls, the prestige of the Islands residents is readily visible to those outside.Approaching such a visually powerful landscape prompts the outsider to questionboth their right and their ability to enter such an overtly affluent space.

    Much of this symbolic power revolves around the residents ability to confidentlyenter the development. This self-assurance confers the symbolic power of thedevelopment upon the individual. In essence the developments entrance forms aportal, a threshold transporting residents into a paradise, . . . untroubled by thegrind of everyday life (Lewis Land Group, n.d.). As MacDonald et al. argue:[w]hen one thinks of portals, one is mindful of an implied barrier (1989, p. 40,emphasis added). Halifax (1979) argues that portals both demarcate and dictate therequirements to enter through them. While the bridge and gate form an obviousportal, allegedly constantly protected by guards, the watery surrounds of thedevelopment itself constitute another form of symbolic portal resisting transgression.

    Exploring mirrors as portals, MacDonald et al. argue that: . . . mirrors give avision of realities in the . . . sense which are beyond reach (1989, p. 40). In this

    Figure 4. The Sovereign Islands viewed from the mainland. Source: Lewis Land Group, IslandFour promotional material.

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  • regard the open nature of the development, mirrored by the intervening water, is asalient reminder to those outside of the developments exclusive nature. The abilityto view the Islands luxurious residences reinforces the individuals sense ofdifference by . . . focusing awareness upon the portal between realities (p. 53).The effect is to naturalize the lifestyle gulf between those within and those without inthe observers mind. This is not to say that the developments margins cannot bepenetratedindeed they can be with ease. However, what hinders transgression isthe reflection of affluence on the outsiders mind which serves to . . . mock theviewers self and immediate situation (p. 40). In a panoptic sense this mockeryprompts the outsider to modify their behaviour, thereby limiting their perceivedability to transgress the developments bridge.

    Central to this extroverted display of wealth is the Islands creation of a new physicalspace, rather than the ideological recreation of an existing space. The development ofthe Sovereign Islands on reclaimed land has arguably provided the developers with aspace seemingly neutral of discourse. For the developers, the provision of a space ofneutral discourse frees them from the necessity of re-negotiating or suppressingconflicting discourses commonly associated with other gated communities. Con-sequently the discourse mobilized by this development is not one of aggressivedifference. Narratives such as those of defence, commonly evoked by other gatedcommunities, seek to renegotiate the former identity of their environments. Theconsequence of aggressive distinction is to naturalize the notion that the world beyondthe community gates is dangerous and, as yet, untamed (Judd, 1995). However,distinction as enacted through the Islands is realized essentially in the affluent seclusionprovided by the Islands themselves. In effect, the developments seclusion and displayof affluence exist in a symbiotic relationship, each reifying the other.

    Conclusion

    Rather than reliance upon overt security measures, the Sovereign Islands establishesand maintains its spatial boundaries through the reinforcement of social distinction.When approaching the Islands, the overt display of wealth sets in motion anaturalized process of self-othering. The individuals ability to enter the developmentis hindered primarily by doubt as to rights of access. Essentially, there exist nophysical barriers to impede the majority of persons. However, what does exist is apowerful cognitive barrier, which prompts those outside to question their right totransgress the bridge and enter such a powerful landscape. At this point it is not thepotential of surveillance that speaks to those outside, rather it is the naturalizedawareness of hierarchical relations, which hinders transgression. As Foucault argues,control enacted via self-monitoring embodies [t]he perpetual penalty that traversesall points and supervises every instant . . . compares, differentiates, hierarchies,homogenizes, excludes. In short, it normalizes (1977, p. 183, original emphasis).This is the heart of naturalized socio-spatial power. Drawing upon a framework ofnaturalized power relations, the open display of wealth and status embodied by theSovereign Islands creates a powerful, exclusionary cognitive barrier transcending theneed for obtrusive physical barriers. The initiation of cognitive rather than physicalforms of spatial control shifts the exclusion process from those within to thosewithout. Here social segregation is deliberately enhanced by the creation of an

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  • exclusionary space devoid of walls in their traditional sense. Consequently, the caseof the Sovereign Islands subtly challenges the universal application of traditionalgated community theory.

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