Urban space, originally common and open for everyone, now features more and more restrictions that seem to go against its very nature. Fences and walls emerging at every turn seem to be a natural element of the landscape, comparable to Medieval defensive walls – only with a difference that the contemporary gated communities are built inside cities, creating divisions not only in the space of a city, but also between its residents. The idea which not so long ago attracted people to cities was a promise of anonymousness. Today, it is not more than mere appearances. Blending into the crowd is made difficult by CCTV cameras and personalization of services (even so basic as collective transportation with more and more popular municipal cards). Adding to it the ubiquitous fences and walls, as well as prohibitions, it is difficult to stop oneself from asking a question of whom it all is supposed to serve.
Gated communities, which started to emerge in the 1990s, were supposed to be the synonym of welfare, development and catching up with the West.
Such tendencies of course did not emerge from nowhere. Gated communities, which started to emerge in the 1990s, were supposed to be the synonym of welfare, development and catching up with the West. However, in reality, we come closer to different patterns – South American countries or the RSA. As early as in 2008, Warsaw could boast 400 gated residential estates, as opposed to Berlin and Paris, where gated communities are rare cases. Cameras and electronic municipal cards are in turn supposed to testify to technological development. Unfortunatelly, when intruducing them, no-one takes into account the influence they have on social life and privacy of residents.
One word is being repeated as a mantra: "security". Very often we are being persuaded that various limitations are necessary to ensure it. However, we rarely realize that it's more about an individual sense of security than its objective increase. How these limitations affect our lives may be analyzed on several levels. The most visible are real violations of privacy, connected with cameras "following" us and the necessity to use different access cards (which are always connected to some databases). Pieces of information from different sources may be integrated with each other, as in the case of municipal cards which are not meant to be simply a new form of a municipal transportation ticket, but a tool enabling the use of a whole set of services (payment card, bonus card, library card, parking card, a zoo or a museum ticket, swimming pool card, electronic wallet). This feature of municipial cards creates a risk of combining and collecting in one place a very wide scope of information on their owners.
More and more often our entire functioning takes place in the surveilled space. A guarded residential estate, public transport, video monitoring on the street, at work, in school, in a shopping mall…
One cannot forget about the psychological influence, in the long run a lot more disturbing and difficult to grasp. More and more often, our entire functioning takes place in the surveilled space. A guarded residential estate, public transport, video monitoring on the street, at work, in school, in a shopping mall… Paradoxically, instead of giving the sense of security, they act as a warning. They tell one to be careful, inform about a potential danger. Gradually we become dependent on constant control and we lose the sense of responsibility for the common space. Because why should we react in a situation of a real threat, when a camera or a guard can do it for us?
Of course, nothing is unequivocally black or white. In urban space, shared by thousands of people, various values have to clash. We have to negotiate public security, peacefulness or privacy of residents, freedom of movement, access to the common space. However, introducing further restrictions often lacks justification. It rather serves as a symbolic tool of social control.
We are convinced that security and freedom are not mutually exclusive values. It is possible to design policies that take both of them into account. But certainly, blind trend-following and a mindless belief in fences and cameras is a road to nowhere. We are trying to show that perspective in our publications, through discussions, social campaigns and happenings. Fortunately, we are not alone: various grassroots, neighbourhood initiatives show that not everyone forgot that interpersonal ties are a better safeguard of security than institutionalized surveillance.