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1Céline Loudier-Malgouyres is an urban planning consultant who has written a series of innovative studies that transpose the concept of gated community developed in the American context to the situation in France. By examining what drives the phenomenon, the author calls into question a number of common assumptions while giving a detailed account of French variations on gated communities.

2Closed residential communities, and generally speaking, “securitized” housing, are visible realities in France but at the present time they account for only 10 to 15% of the real estate market. The dominant process in France – the equivalent of a new “inhabiting mode” – is separation and isolation, which in turn involves creating a buffer zone between private household spaces and urban public space, an area shared by a small community of residents. These residential enclaves may be made up of either condominiums or detached houses and may be found in both urban and suburban contexts.

3It is this desire for “residential withdrawal” that Céline Loudier-Malgouyres seeks to explain: what makes this inhabiting mode so attractive? She first reviews the literature – in remarkably detailed fashion for such a short work. Residential enclaves, which for the author are by definition turned in on themselves, are a much more widespread phenomenon than gated communities in France. The author shows that this development is supply-driven, dictated by the profit motive and cost reduction goals in the real estate sector rather than an explicit preference on the part of future homeowners, though they later say they are glad to have bought a unit in such a property

4The author goes beyond merely describing what is involved in the spread of residential enclaves in France; she also analyses the particular type of relationship that develops in them. The very fact of isolation induces “territoriality”; that is, a feeling of belonging that in turn inclines residents to invest in maintaining common areas and amenities and developing social relations with their enclave neighbours. The collective management that is characteristic of these communities is seen as a constraint but one that residents approve of because it maintains property value by maintaining the property in its initial condition, in some cases by way of not-in-my-backyard (NIMBY) mobilizations to control change in the immediate environment. In addition to their shared economic interests, inhabitants of these residential spaces have what are called discreet social relations with each other that prevent them from feeling isolated even as they enjoy the “pleasure of being alone.” Through these relations and the labour of managing their shared spaces, inhabitants assert their sense of belonging to a group; that group in turn protects private life by making this form of residential withdrawal possible.

5However, the author also shows that this inhabiting mode does not imply becoming entirely focused on the private sphere but rather fits perfectly with the current metropolitanisation process and the ever-greater mobility it implies. Withdrawal into the home is understood to be both a compensation for increased mobility and what makes mobility possible. The residential enclave functions here as a “home base,” a place of respite, often linked in inhabitants’ collective imaginary to a restful vacation spot, but also an interface with the outer world thanks to the new information and communication technologies. The fact that a residential enclave is not only consistent with but can actually increase resident mobility should nonetheless be qualified by taking into account residents’ social condition: the city offers many opportunities, but to benefit from them individuals must have a certain level of means.

6The desire for independence expressed by enclave residents should not be seen as a desire to “secede” as in American gated communities. However, the demographic weight of some of these enclaves may endow their inhabitants with a degree of power over local policy. An extreme phenomenon here is the development of resident “clubs” where the group’s private interests take priority over the general interest.

7Loudier-Malgouyre’s study counters common assumptions about residential enclaves and shows that the private world created in them is not necessarily a bad thing as long as individual residents’ social lives extend beyond that world and as long as the enclave also invests in public spaces and is integrated into its local surroundings. As the author sees it, the public authorities should encourage such investment – by making public spaces attractive, for example.

8She supports her arguments with a wide, varied body of scientific literature as well as an occasional interview excerpt. However, she might have made more extensive, contextualized use of the survey material; specifically, she might have explained in greater detail how the interviews were conducted and criteria for inclusion in the sample. Her concept of residential enclave, more flexible than gated community, helps explain a phenomenon that is more widespread in France than gated communities and therefore more relevant for French cities and towns. But it also amounts to constructing a fuzzy research object, namely when it comes to collective apartment buildings, which encompass a considerable variety of realities. For example, in the last section, the withdrawal into the home that drives mobility cannot be seen as specific to residential enclaves; it is also found, at least to some degree, in free-standing homes generally.

Lorraine Bozouls
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Uploaded on on 26/09/2015
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