From macro-level policies to micro-level practices: changing global economic landscapes and proliferation of middle class gated communities in Mexico

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Gated Communities are a global phenomenon that has gained academic attention in the past three decades. The discussion about these fortified enclaves may have started in the United States of America (Blakely & Snyder, 1997; Marcuse, 1997; Davis, 1998; Low, 2001), but in the last decade, the debate has extended worldwide, particularly in contexts of large socio-economic disparities like Latin America. Gated Communities in countries like Mexico are no longer a “privilege” of the affluent classes but it has become a common choice for middle class groups. The conditions of insecurity, violence, and growing distance between socio-economic groups have normalised the presence of these enclaves to the point that municipal authorities, developers, financial institutions, and citizens, consider them as a desirable residential option for orderly urban development. The process of normalisation of gated communities in Mexico for the middle classes is not a simple matter of choice. On the contrary, the emergence and proliferation of gated communities can be linked to the policies promoted by global financial institutions. The proliferation of these large-scale enclaves for the middle classes could only happen in a context of neoliberal urbanism. Since the 1990s, national economic, housing, and urban development policies have aligned to global financial interests by deregulating planning, changing land tenure options, financialising housing development, and promoting a debt-driven economy (Zanetta, 2004). The “borderless world” of free market housing strategies is actually contributing to the creation of physical walls, fences, and gates segregating people by income. Segregation by design has become common in Mexico with tangible and intangible borders and the governance problems and tensions are already taking a toll. The growing inequality in the country is increasing strains between social groups fuelled by fear. Aspirations and anxieties are changing everyday practices decreasing shared spaces and increasing spending in security. The promised wall along the Mexican border by Trump is not that different from the walls separating poor neighbourhoods from middle class and high-income gated communities in most Mexican peripheries. The experience in Mexico where global economic policies have shaped modern peripheries can serve as an example to understand how trends are shaping political, economic, and spatial relations. European countries are known for urban development and housing policies that foster diversity, inclusion, multiculturalism, and sustainability. However, the current political context of fear, farright movements, and anti-immigrant groups might aim to promote divisive urban developments like those in Latin America. Learning from the proliferation of middle class gated communities in Mexico can provide some hints of the challenges and the risks of these sort of enclaves in terms of urban governance in the long term.
Book of proceedings: Annual AESOP Congress, Spaces of Dialog for Places of Dignity, Lisbon, 11-14th July, 2017
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