March 30, 1993 - From the March, 1993 issue

Walls Across Our City: The Gating of Los Angeles

Gated communities are becoming commonplace in Los Angeles neighborhoods. Bill Christopher argues that these communities will only fragment the community fabric of Los Angeles and further increase crime.

Christopher is a founding member of PLAN/LA, a citywide coalition of homeowner/community organizations. With this ssue, Christopher becomes a Contributing Editor of The Planning Report.

It is becoming ever more fashionable to become a gated community in Los Angeles. Why? Fear of crime initially and then, probably, fear of change in adjoining areas. It is the perception, if not the reality, in most communities that the LAPD cannot provide a basic level of protection. Hence, the proliferation of rent-a-cops in the more affluent areas, and finally, walls and gates. 

Fear and Gating in L.A. 

Yet the gating of Los Angeles runs deeper than that — much deeper. Ultimately it is a manifestation of a fear of the unknown. As we traverse the political stage that is the race for Mayor of our City, it is clear that “gating” becomes a metaphor for the exclusionary attitudes that run through the electorate in particular and the population in general. It will be telling to see how high the walls must be to determine a measure of “security.”

The “gating” of Los Angeles has taken on different forms in different areas, designed to serve specific purposes:

1) The Crime Response

In response to specific crime issues or specific incidents of crimes, the City (usually either the LAPD or the Councilperson) will try to impose barriers blocking off certain streets to traffic. This has occurred. with mixed results, in the Sepulveda area of the Valley as well as the Mid-City area, primarily to deal with drug related issues. 

More recently, following a particularly brutal murder, barricades were erected at the south end of Windsor Village, along Olympic Boulevard. Following the erection of temporary barricades, that community is pursuing the idea of permanent gates and fences.

2) The Traffic Response

Concern about traffic is also a major factor in the proliferation of barricades. In Carthay Circle, just south of Wilshire Boulevard at Fairfax, partial barriers were successfully used to reverse the traffic flow along several highly impacted residential streets. Similar devices were used along the southern edge of the Miracle Mile to protect residential streets from commercial intrusion.

3) The Marketing Response

In many similar cases, new subdivisions in the Valley are creating new enclosed communities, selling safety as the magic marketing tool. These developments are the culmination of a long trend, emulating Fremont Place in the Hancock Park area (which has been an exclusive gated community for decades). 

Even those new developments without actual walls are designed to create the maximum number of cul-de-sacs and minimize the possibility that outsiders might actually wander through the neighborhood. This also serves the dual purpose of maximizing the number of lots in a given sub­division, by reducing the amount of land dedicated to circulation. If you have ever wondered why you can’t get there from here in the Valley, think about all the partial streets that don’t connect.

4) The Right-of-Way Issue

Recently, however, the Courts have ruled that the City cannot simply remove public streets from the public. In the recent Whitley Heights case, the Court ruled that Stale Vehicle Code provisions take precedence over the Government Code, meaning that the City cannot exercise its police power to close streets to traffic, without full compliance with the General Plan, including public hearings, plan amendments and CEQA certification. 


Similarly the Court has held, according to Attorney John B. Murdock, representing the plaintiff, that the City cannot install temporary barriers (at Windsor Village) in contravention of the Vehicle Code’s requirement for conformance with the General Plan. 

Multicultural L.A. 

In evaluating fences, walls and gates, a better issue to raise is '”Can we go on walling ourselves apart?” If, ultimately, we are all isolated in our own compounds, hidden away from larger society, that society will break down. The question then becomes, “What happens on either side of the wall?” Will we become a truly multi-cultural City or a series of mini­city-states constantly at war with one another? 

While we must acknowledge that walls and cul-de-sacs can create quiet, relatively safe enclaves in an intense urban setting, we have to look at the impact of the walls on the social fabric. For instance, who maintains the public improvements, streets, parks, libraries and other facilities contained within the walls, and does the public have a right of access to those assets? 

Inside the Walls ...

Inside the walls, values go up and crime goes down, or so the theory goes. But, if we all become disjointed pieces of a failing urban landscape, walls alone will not protect property values. Strong communities seemingly remain the best defense of real value. And walled communities do not as a rule enhance participation in broader community concerns. 

But Outside the Walls ... 

Meanwhile, outside the walls, there is less interaction and a lot more congestion. When wholesale sections of the City are declared off-limits, traffic and circulation must adjust and find ways around the problem. Animosity builds out of both a sense of elitism and frustration with disrupted movement patterns.

Beyond the surface frustration, the it emphasis on gating marks the deep divisions that remain between neighbors and between cultures in Los Angeles. While everyone in our city deserves some private space, public, common connections are at least as important. We cannot afford to allow people to randomly pull up the drawbridges and man the barricades if we hope to be able to govern this city in the future. 

We must find a way to provide a safe and secure environment for our children without imprisoning them. The common spaces of our communities must function as places of communication between neighbors without walls. Such walls only become symbols of mistruct and separation. 

A Mayoral Metaphor 

In the context of the Mayor’s race, we cannot let our leaders close gates either. Mr. Woo cannot be the Mayor of the Ethnic Communities, Mr. Katz cannot be the Mayor of the Valley, Mr. Wachs cannot be the Mayor of the School District, Mr. Riordan cannot be the Mayor of the Business Establishment, Mr. Holden cannot be the Mayor of the African-American community, Mr. Nava cannot be the Mayor of the immigrant community, Mr. Patsaouras cannot be the Mayor of the Transit Planners, Ms. Griego cannot be the Mayor of Women and Small Business and Mr. Houston can­not be the Mayor of the INS. Some­one has to be the Mayor of the whole City.


© 2024 The Planning Report | David Abel, Publisher, ABL, Inc.