Community versus High Walls

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Insecurity, selfishness, class definitions and lifestyle in the current changing world has seen many real estate developers, gated communities and individuals putting up massive walls and fences separating them from others.

By Ian Henderson

What works better when designing a house or a housing estate? High walls or open plan with a sense of community living?

When I was thinking about how to approach this subject, I took myself right back to basics. The question actually goes well beyond real estate because our approach to the answer is deeply ingrained in our cultural beliefs, our life experiences and our aspirations.

If we opt for high walls we are distancing ourselves from the community spirit, effectively saying: “I don’t necessarily trust you, my neighbour, not to steal from me or attack me, or to turn a blind eye to those who wish to attack me; I must fortify my house against the likes of you”.

On the other hand, if we choose open plan we are making an altogether different statement: “Let us work together as neighbours within the community and look out not only for our own family, but for every family as a collective unit”.

There is also an element of symbolism that cannot be disregarded when one decides to build a fortress of bricks, mortar and razor wire around their home, a negative sight that brings to the fore feelings of fear, intimidation and mistrust.

At Superior Homes’ flagship estate Greenpark, once you gain authorised access past friendly guards you will see lush gardens and children playing freely under minimal supervision, often with neighbours taking turns to look out for them.

In the village, the culture is certainly one of equality and sharing which extends to security and wellbeing and it generally works well not least because most people are on an equal footing and without any significant wealth.

As we gain possessions it is only natural for paranoia to take hold since most of us have been robbed or assaulted at some time, generally making us suspicious of strangers. We all want a more prosperous life individually and for our families and of course our aspirations include moving upwards within society; sometimes naturally isolating us from our current peer group. Many people subscribe to the ‘High Walls’ theory for all those reasons.

On the other hand, there is security in numbers and if a critical mass of like-minded individuals decide to band together formally or informally to protect one another’s property, the result is bound to be more effective than when it is every man for himself.

The brief from the Developer to the Project Architect drives the process from the outset because design will strongly influence the direction in which home buyers will go and this brief is drafted to maximise on profits.

At Superior Homes, our Architect’s brief for Greenpark was clear design; a development that can be secured and which allows neighbours to look after each other with the vision of establishing a strong sense of community that will be sustainable over the long term. Other developers are now following our lead and buyers are embracing this change positively so that it is likely that the trend will gather pace.

From a developers’ point of view, the perfect situation in Kenya would be a combination: a return to the community values of respect and co-operation that existed in the village life of the past combined with the luxuries of modern life such as clean, reliable sources of water and electricity plus regular refuse collection. Who wouldn’t want to live in such a place?

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