Gated communities have proliferated across suburban America and are now encroaching on rural Northwest Colorado. Developers use gates -- and frequently, a manned guardhouse -- as a marketing tool to sell real estate, citing security as the primary reason and claiming their customers demand them.
In my opinion, the secret behind many gated communities is the snob appeal of appearing to be rich enough to live in such places. Security is the red herring that covers the tracks of elitism. As our own Scott Ford's recent article, "Gated Communities Are An Unnecessary Threat To Our Sense of Community," published in The Local, states, "The key risk associated with a gated community is that is disrupts the elusive sense of community which we enjoy. Gates by their very nature create an 'us and them' perspective."
Getting to know and trust neighbors supports our ranching heritage and is a core element of our community's heart and soul. It is hard to do that when residents live behind gates that signal "Private club for the wealthy only -- all others Keep Out!" It's not a good way to make friends, meet your neighbors and become part of the community. But the new developers in town believe the formula of gated communities is necessary to sell their lots. Well, they are dead wrong.
Up to now, folks have moved here because of our sense of community -- the small-town atmosphere, welcoming Western hospitality and a flat social structure that doesn't care about the label on your jeans or the size of your bank account. These are a part of our heart and soul. All that will change if we allow these new "formula developers" to install gates around their developments under the guise of security. What are we supposed to fear in what is one of the safest places on earth?
Hey, we're a friendly bunch and, also being curious, we might want to drive by a new development to see what's up, introduce ourselves and say hello. What's wrong with that? Is good old Western hospitality something to now fear?
The good news is that one developer has seen the light. Jeff Temple -- as local guy as you can get -- had his eyes opened at a recent Routt Planning Commission hearing for his development in the lower Elk Valley. Temple told me he was surprised at how strongly people feel against gated communities. As a result, he convinced his out-of-town partners that they should not gate the development. Jeff is intent on making it a welcoming, community-supportive place.
My hat's off to Jeff Temple. Unfor-tunately, we can't count on future developers to voluntarily adhere to the high bar Temple is setting. The only solution is for the county commissioners to prohibit gates and all the negative signals they project -- on any development, and do it post haste. They have the power, and it would be a symbolic action that shows just how much we care about the heart and soul of our community.
Now if I can convince Temple to put a big old "Welcome" sign up at his entrance, I'll buy him a beer at The Old Town Pub.
Lyman Orton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.