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Specificity of gated neighbourhoods in the Bielany district (Warsaw)

Magdalena Górczyńska

Abstracts

The article investigates the phenomenon of gated and guarded neighbourhoods in the Bielany district (Warsaw) after the demise of the socialist regime in 1989 in Poland. The number of secured housing estates grows respectively among newly built neighbourhoods and older housing stock, the latter often being fenced and therefore also detached from the surrounding. Large offerings of gated estates (from luxurious apartments to rather standard blocks of flats) have made living in guarded neighbourhoods a standard in Bielany. In spite of the diversity of the organisational structures and security modes of gated neighbourhoods, they rarely offer additional functions to their inhabitants. Thus, the security functions seem to be the most basic feature of gated estates in Bielany. However, at the same time, a sense of insecurity triggers the motivation for living within gated estates but does not fully explain this phenomenon. Further research is planned in order to assess supply driven forces and the impact of increased offerings of gated estates on the housing choices of inhabitants in Warsaw.

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1After the Second World War, the implementation of the socialist housing policy with a strong egalitarian tendency in Poland (Węcławowicz 2005) restrained to some extent the emergence of gated communities. The socialist society was supposed to ensure security and diminish the pressure of socio-economic disparities. Hence, the creation of fenced and gated estates was not in line with the socialist ideology (Kotus 2005). Nevertheless, during the socialist period, political elites sometimes isolated themselves mentally and physically from other social groups (Kotus 2005). Since the demise of the socialist regime in 1989, the growing number of gated or guarded neighbourhoods became an important feature of Polish cities as a manifestation of the need to outline spatial limits of social categories and as a part of new consumption trends (Gąsior-Niemiec 2007). Furthermore, the security factor has gained great importance both in the demand and supply of dwellings in Poland as one of the consequences of transformation (Glasze and Pütz 2009). Gądecki (2009: 30) argues that in the case of Warsaw, the emergence of gated neighbourhoods corresponds to “the process of creating elites through the use of the urban.”

2As there are no formal criteria or definitions for gated neighbourhoods in Poland, the statistics are rather sketchy and derive from punctual studies carried out by researchers. Hence, it is estimated that there are more that 200 or even 300 guarded estates in Warsaw (Zaborska 2006), and their number continues to grow. The majority of new estates is planned as gated and guarded (Polanska 2010). In consequence, this phenomenon has gained certain attention in the media (especially in the newspapers), where guarded estates are usually discussed in the context of isolated islands in the city (Bartoszewicz and Majewski 2005; Bartoszewicz 2012). What is more, debates were organized in Warsaw in order to convince the inhabitants of gated estates about the need for reflection on negative aspects of isolation (Bet 2008, Brzezińska 2008; Miłosz 2008, 2010).

3This paper focuses on the Bielany district (a peripheral district situated in the northwest of Warsaw), which has undergone important changes since the beginning of the 1990s in terms of its functional and social structure (Górczyńska 2011). The objective of this article is twofold. It aims at presenting the specificity of gated and guarded neighbourhoods in the Bielany district (their types and forms), and then it focuses on the demand for gated neighbourhoods in the context of insecurity. In order to present specific features of gated neighbourhoods, field studies were conducted. The level of insecurity was assessed through analysis of statistical data on crime rates. The results were then juxtaposed with the opinions of the inhabitants of Bielany concerning security issued from the RESTATE programme and with an analysis of security modes mentioned in advertisements about the housing market.

Forms and typologies of gated neighbourhoods

4Gated communities have become widespread: fenced and guarded neighbourhoods (Marcuse 1997) that possess certain local features (Caldeira 2000; Frantz 2000; Giroir 2002; Glasze and Alkhayyal 2002; Le Goix 2006). The phenomenon of gated communities has spread across Central and Eastern Europe since the beginning of 1990s, but their features and forms as well as the motivations of their inhabitants to live in them have little in common with Western gated communities (Hegedűs 2009). The nomenclature referring to gated communities in Central Europe differs (i.e., in Hungary gated communities  are called “residential parks”) (Hegedűs 2009; Cséfalvay 2011). Polish researchers proposed several synonymous terms for gated communities that correspond to Polish versions of this phenomenon: communities behind the gate (Jałowiecki and Szczepański 2002), communities that isolate themselves spatially (Kotus 2005), or social ghettos (Bachvarov 2005; Szczepański and Ślęzak-Tazbir 2007; Priveli and Rykiel 2007).

5There exist numerous classifications of gated neighbourhoods that correspond to their functional, organisational, or morphological parameters. The classification elaborated by Blakely and Snyder (1997) presents three main types of gated communities with regard to inhabitants’ characteristics and motivations: gated communities inhabited by people with the same lifestyles, inhabited by elites, or by those searching for security. According to studies carried out in Central European countries, the typologies of gated communities differ slightly from those proposed for Western countries.

6One of the classifications of the gated communities elaborated in the Czech Republic concerns the modes of security. Brabec and Sýkora (2009) have distinguished three main categories of gated communities in Prague: (1) guarded and walled, (2) guarded, and (3) walled communities that correspond to the level of luxury of each type of community (the first type is the most luxurious). The first type constituted almost half of gated communities investigated in the capital city of the Czech Republic. Another classification prepared in Hungary was based on the additional functions of gated communities (amenities for inhabitants such as playgrounds and swimming pools) and the existence of particular gates and fences. Using these features, three types of gated communities were distinguished: (1) gated communities with complete functions, (2) with incomplete functions, and (3) lacking any physical separation but delivering amenities (Hegedűs 2009). According to the results of field studies in Hungary, the proportion of the third type of gated communities was the highest.

7In Poland, the existing typologies of gated neighbourhoods are mostly based on the morphological features of estates (Glasze 2001; Tobiasz-Lis 2011) or on the modes of protection used (Gąsior-Niemiec and Glasze 2007; Lippok and Pütz 2007). According to Glasze (2001), there exist two major types of gated communities: condominiums (usually luxurious buildings in the central districts) and gated estates composed of single-family houses, multi-family houses, or terraced houses (Glasze 2001). The inhabitants of luxurious condominiums are usually employed as directors or managers and are characterised by important cultural capital described as the tertiary education level of their fathers (Jałowiecki 2004; Krajewska and Olejniczak 2004). Thus, this type corresponds to the elite type enumerated by Blakely and Snyder (1997). Concerning gated estates composed of several buildings, their differentiation in terms of size, standard, and quality is extremely large in Warsaw, and their inhabitants represent both upper and middle classes. This differentiation is characteristic for various cities in Central Europe. For instance, in the cases of Prague and Bucharest, the first luxurious gated communities constructed in the 1990s and at the beginning of the 21st century were designed for the upper classes and rich foreigners (Rufat 2003; Brabec and Sýkora 2009), whereas the following projects also targeted the middle class population (Brabec and Sýkora 2009).

8A more complex typology of gated estates in Warsaw was proposed by Chabowski (2007), who focused on eight features: (1) the extent of closed space, (2) the period of construction, (3) the scale of closure, (4) the period of closure, (5) the number of storeys, (6) architectural types, (7) quality and price of dwellings, and (8) characteristics of surrounding areas. This typology corresponds to the great diversity of gated neighbourhoods in Warsaw.

9Concerning the reasons for living in gated neighbourhoods, the need for security is highlighted by numerous authors as the most important motivation in case of Polish cities (Mierzejewska 2006; Zaborska 2006; Paquot 2009; Tobiasz-Lis 2011). Even though the crime rates are at an average level, the spread of a “culture of fear” (Polanska 2010) may be treated as one of motivations for living in guarded estates. However, as Mostowska states (2009: 72): “For some residents it is not security but rather a sense of order, control, well-maintained space, peace, quietness and generally lack of nuisance that is the most important factor in an enclosed space.” At the same time, in other Central European cities security measures are considered a way to express prestige rather than to prevent crime (Cséfalvay 2011). Furthermore, the Hungarian research revealed that among the main triggers for moving into a gated community, the need for newly built and well-designed modern flat was first, whereas the security reasons were listed later (Hegedűs 2009).

10Simultaneously, numerous authors point out that gated communities contribute to fragmentation of urban space; the privatization of public space by gated communities often leads to spatial separation and division (Zaborska 2006), sometimes within one street (Jałowiecki 2010), and subsequently to the destruction of the urban fabric (Gądecki 2009). Moreover, it is not meaningless that by closing space (Grant and Mittelsteadt 2004) and providing spatial isolation, gated communities have an influence on shaping urban space. They are also thought to threaten and lessen social interactions and relationships (i.e., Tobiasz-Lis 2011). However, the aforementioned mutual interdependencies between the emergence of gated neighbourhoods and social structures have not been studied in detail yet in the case of Warsaw’s housing estates.

Spatial organisation and types of gated neighbourhoods in the Bielany district

11The attractiveness of the Bielany district as a residential area has been ameliorated since the beginning of the 1990s. The construction of additional underground stations (opened in 2008) of the single underground line in Warsaw has directly connected Bielany with the city centre. It was one of the drivers that encouraged housing developers in the 21st century to invest in this area, which was formerly perceived as less attractive because of the localisation of the ironworks in the heart of the district.

12Currently, the Bielany district (32 sq km; population has decreased from 135,600 in 2005 to 133,400 in 2010) (Panorama Dzielnic Warszawy 2010) is diversified in terms of land use and functional structure. As a peripheral district, Bielany might be divided into four functional zones: residential, industrial, agricultural, and vacant space (Illustration 1). Concerning the residential zone, there are four types of housing structures that should be distinguished: (1) the old part, comprised mostly of multifamily buildings and single-family houses constructed before the Second World War; (2) extensively located multifamily blocks of flats constructed mainly in the 1950s and 1970s; (3) multifamily buildings constructed between 1990–2000; and (4) single-family houses or multifamily buildings constructed in the last 10 years. The ownership structure in Bielany is diversified (2007, Local Data Bank, Central Statistical Office): 58.7% of dwellings still belong to housing cooperatives and 27.7% to private owners, whereas municipal stock constitutes 11.1%. However, this structure continues to change, and in 2010, almost half of the dwellings completed in Bielany were constructed by private developers and destined for sale.

Illustration 1. Bielany district: location in Warsaw and land use structure

Illustration 1. Bielany district: location in Warsaw and land use structure

Source: Author’s elaboration on the basis of Studium Uwarunkowań i Kierunków Rozwoju m.st. Warszawy, Załącznik 2, Rys. 01; REAS database.

13The majority of newly built neighbourhoods in Bielany is gated or guarded (Illustration 2); however, the tendency for closing the estates that were built as non-gated should also be highlighted. At first, it became a standard to some extent that newly built neighbourhoods comprised of multi-family or single-family houses, assigned for middle class or wealthy persons, are almost always equipped with video surveillance, surrounded by fence and walls (Illustration 3), or guarded permanently by a property protection agency. This tendency is also seen in case of new buildings constructed by social housing associations and designed for the middle class.

14In addition, the idea of establishing gates and fences for housing stock constructed before the 1990s shows the specificity of the phenomenon of gated neighbourhoods in Warsaw. In many cases, housing cooperatives or associations of homeowners (condominiums) decided to start to protect their place of living through the construction of a fence or gate. What is more, fences also play a role of quasi-protection for green areas in front of the buildings, whereas the main entrance to the building is not secured (Illustration 4) or is closed for a certain period of the day (Illustration 5). Another example concerns parking areas for the middle class, which became fenced and guarded (Illustration 6).

Illustration 2. Distribution of guarded and fenced neighbourhoods in the Bielany district

Illustration 2. Distribution of guarded and fenced neighbourhoods in the Bielany district

Source: Author’s elaboration on the basis of field studies.

Illustration 3. Example of a gated housing estate in Bielany

Illustration 3. Example of a gated housing estate in Bielany

Illustration 4. Fenced green space in front of the building

Illustration 4. Fenced green space in front of the building

Illustration 5. Open gate but the plate says that the entrance closes

Illustration 5. Open gate but the plate says that the entrance closes

Illustration 6. Fenced and guarded parking in front of a neighbourhood

Illustration 6. Fenced and guarded parking in front of a neighbourhood

15Classification of gated neighbourhoods in Bielany combines the typology of Glasze (2001) and Chabowski (2007); however, the luxurious condominiums do not appear in this district. Several specific types of gated housing estates might be distinguished in Bielany, which include single-family houses (Illustration 7) or multifamily buildings (Illustration 8). The former group encompasses two types, and both comprise recently built stock. Type A corresponds to independent villas. The estate is usually comprised of less than 10 single-family houses, which sometimes possess additional fences. The entrance to the estate is guarded and equipped with cameras. This type of gated estates was observed mostly in the northeast part of the Bielany district. Type B represents semi-detached houses (10 or more) aligned with a rather narrow street (usually a cul-de-sac) with closed entrances to the neighbourhood (sometimes guarded). This type was dominant in the southwest part of Bielany the district (formerly agricultural or vacant areas).

16The spatial organisation of gated estates comprised of multifamily buildings is much more complex. In the case of Bielany, five major types of gated neighbourhoods were observed:

  • “U”-shape with an internal yard (Type C);

  • larger and smaller buildings aligned with an internal street (Type D);

  • buildings are stuck one to another in order to avoid simple rectangular shapes (Type E);

  • neighbourhood composed of more than five separate buildings, a diversified network of smaller and larger streets (Type F); and

  • neighbourhood composed of fewer than five separate buildings, with a diversified network of smaller streets (Type G).

17Type C corresponded to one of the older gated neighbourhoods in Bielany, constructed in 1990s in the heart of the estate previously inhabited by workers employed in the ironworks. The more recent constructions, the more diversified are the forms of buildings and internal streets.

Illustration 7. Guarded neighbourhoods in the Bielany district comprised of single-family houses

Illustration 7. Guarded neighbourhoods in the Bielany district comprised of single-family houses

Source: Author’s elaboration on the basis of field studies.

Illustration 8. Guarded neighbourhoods in the Bielany district comprised of multifamily buildings

Illustration 8. Guarded neighbourhoods in the Bielany district comprised of multifamily buildings

Source: Author’s elaboration on the basis of field studies.

18It should also be stressed that in case of older gated neighbourhoods, the internal, fenced parts usually comprise parking places for inhabitants and playgrounds for children, whereas more recent housing investments are often equipped with underground parking.

19In addition, hardly any supplementary functions and amenities are seen in most of the gated or guarded neighbourhoods in the Bielany district. In some cases, basic services are located on the ground floors of multifamily buildings, but they are accessible not only for the residents of the gated neighbourhood. Protection seems to be the main function of gated estates in Bielany. Thus, this feature distinguishes gated housing estates in Bielany from the examples of other gated communities in other Western or Central European cities.

Need for security or sense of insecurity?

20The number of gated estates in Warsaw is increasing, and one may think that the capital city of Poland is an extremely unsafe and dangerous place to live. Not only are new estates gated, but also the older neighbourhoods have introduced this kind of protection. However, between 2003 and 2009, the crime rate (number of crimes per 100,000 inhabitants) in Warsaw has dropped from 5,354.06 (2003) to 3,318.32 (2008). What is more, since 2007 Warsaw has had the lowest crime rate compared with five other large Polish cities. The decline in the number of crimes may be associated with the Warsaw’s Safety Map project (concerning all districts), implemented in order to improve safety by establishing cooperation between different actors: local authorities, police officers, and other organizations, associations, and condominiums. A list of unsafe sectors was elaborated to reinforce patrols there, and new video surveillance was put in place in these areas.

21Crimes committed in the Bielany district constituted 4.8% of all crimes identified in the city in 2008. Between 2003 and 2008, the index of crime in Bielany (per 1,000 inhabitants) has dropped from 34.67 to 24.98 (Przegląd statystyczny Warszawa, Rok XII Nr 4/2003, 2004; Przegląd statystyczny Warszawa, Rok XVII Nr 4/2008, 2009). The number of crimes has declined and represents less than the average crime rate in the capital city; that is why it does not justify an extreme need for security.

22Simultaneously, the results of the survey conducted among the inhabitants of Bielany reveal that many inhabitants have a sense of insecurity (Węcławowicz and Guszcza 2005; Kozłowski 2005). The survey reflected the opinions of inhabitants of the Wrzeciono estate, which is comprised of housing estates constructed in the 1950s and 1960s, with an important proportion of municipal dwellings. The respondents pointed to burglary in dwellings (56% in Bielany) and in cars (81% in Bielany) as a great problem in their place of accommodation. Moreover, more than a half of inhabitants in Bielany felt unsafe in their neighbourhood.

23Comparing data on crimes in Bielany, that security is an explanation for a growing number of guarded neighbourhoods is not sufficient to comprehend the spread of gated estates. In spite of the moderate number of crimes, the inhabitants still feel unsafe. Thus, their motivation for living within guarded or fenced neighbourhoods might be explained by the culture of fear. The need for security modes that would contribute to better protection of dwellings and neighbourhoods was also confirmed by the analysis of advertisements on the secondary housing market in Bielany. Of the advertisements published on www.gratka.pl (one of the largest services with advertisements in Poland) between the 12th and the 14th of February 2011 (the posted advertisements lasted 14 days), 382 advertisements were for the Bielany district. Considering the limited sample of advertisements and short period of investigation, the results leave space for scepticism. Besides, the advertisements reflect only these features that seem important from the point of view of a person who sells an apartment; though, the terminology used by a seller might have been incidental in some cases.

24The advertisements were divided into three groups by the period of construction of a dwelling that was being offered: dwellings constructed in the 1970s and 1980s, in the 1990s, and since 2000. In buildings from the 1970s and 1980s, security modes such as guards and fences appear rarely in advertisements. However, more than one-third of sellers mention an intercom system. Concerning dwellings constructed in the 1990s, about 35.4% of advertisements in Bielany indicated a location within a closed or protected area. About 66.0% of dwellings for sale built since 2000 in Bielany are gated or protected; about one-third of sellers also mention that the housing estate is guarded. In some cases, sellers add information about anti-burglary doors or anti-burglary blinds, or indicate the location of a police station in proximity or just the intention of the condominium to fence the area.

25In the case of older buildings, fencing the surroundings is not possible because of problems with land property, or the inhabitants of older apartments are less affluent and, as a consequence, are not capable of completing such a project (information acquired from representatives of housing cooperatives operating in Bielany). Despite the lack of guarded space, sellers of older dwellings very often emphasise an intercom system as a security mode. Hence, the different kinds of security modes became a standard on the housing market.

Conclusion

26The gated housing estates in the Bielany district possess particular features when compared with other Western or Eastern European examples. Almost all newly built neighbourhoods are gated, and also the older ones have become fenced. These estates in Bielany rarely offer particular services or amenities for their residents and are concentrated about protection. Broadly speaking, living in a secured and guarded estate became to some extent a standard way of living in Warsaw, as protection modes are highlighted in the majority of advertisements of dwellings for sale. At the same time, guarded or gated neighbourhoods in Bielany differ in terms of their size and spatial organization, as well as considering their origins (built as non-gated or built as gated estates). However, the example of Bielany does not indicate all the features of gated estates in Warsaw. Supplementary investigation in the city centre would be crucial to distinguish other types of gated neighbourhoods that are specific for central districts.

27In addition, the growing supply of gated neighbourhoods shall also be investigated in the forthcoming research in the context of particular planning policies in Poland, as it has been claimed so far that weak urban policy and spatial planning probably encourage the emergence of gated communities (Polanska 2010). Private developers take advantage of gaps in the planning system and construct gated estates of different size, architecture, and in many cases with very limited cohesion with buildings in the proximity. Harmony and integrity remain more and more only wishful thinking.

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List of illustrations

Title Illustration 1. Bielany district: location in Warsaw and land use structure
Credits Source: Author’s elaboration on the basis of Studium Uwarunkowań i Kierunków Rozwoju m.st. Warszawy, Załącznik 2, Rys. 01; REAS database.
URL http://articulo.revues.org/docannexe/image/2022/img-1.png
File image/png, 183k
Title Illustration 2. Distribution of guarded and fenced neighbourhoods in the Bielany district
Credits Source: Author’s elaboration on the basis of field studies.
URL http://articulo.revues.org/docannexe/image/2022/img-2.jpg
File image/jpeg, 60k
Title Illustration 3. Example of a gated housing estate in Bielany
URL http://articulo.revues.org/docannexe/image/2022/img-3.jpg
File image/jpeg, 32k
Title Illustration 4. Fenced green space in front of the building
URL http://articulo.revues.org/docannexe/image/2022/img-4.jpg
File image/jpeg, 56k
Title Illustration 5. Open gate but the plate says that the entrance closes
URL http://articulo.revues.org/docannexe/image/2022/img-5.jpg
File image/jpeg, 56k
Title Illustration 6. Fenced and guarded parking in front of a neighbourhood
URL http://articulo.revues.org/docannexe/image/2022/img-6.jpg
File image/jpeg, 44k
Title Illustration 7. Guarded neighbourhoods in the Bielany district comprised of single-family houses
Credits Source: Author’s elaboration on the basis of field studies.
URL http://articulo.revues.org/docannexe/image/2022/img-7.jpg
File image/jpeg, 32k
Title Illustration 8. Guarded neighbourhoods in the Bielany district comprised of multifamily buildings
Credits Source: Author’s elaboration on the basis of field studies.
URL http://articulo.revues.org/docannexe/image/2022/img-8.jpg
File image/jpeg, 65k
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References

Electronic reference

Magdalena Górczyńska, « Specificity of gated neighbourhoods in the Bielany district (Warsaw) », Articulo - Journal of Urban Research [Online], 8 | 2012, Online since 29 June 2012, connection on 23 October 2017. URL : http://articulo.revues.org/2022 ; DOI : 10.4000/articulo.2022

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About the author

Magdalena Górczyńska

PhD in Geography. Institute of Geography and Spatial Organization. Polish Academy of Sciences. mgor@twarda.pan.pl

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Copyright

Creative Commons 3.0 – by-nc-nd, except for those images whose rights are reserved.

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