The Free Press, Mankato, MN

January 18, 2014

Krohn: Midwesterners not comfortable with gates


The Mankato Free Press

---- — I always had a soft spot for Savage, located along the Minnesota River just south of the Twin Cities.

I used to drive trucks of grain from our farm to Port Bunge or one of the other massive grain terminals that loaded corn and soybeans onto barges that make their way down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico. It was a gritty, blue-collar town with 1950s homes, local businesses and the big Dan Patch Saloon where truckers and grain workers congregated.

So it was startling to see Savage has been pegged as the site for Minnesota's first gated, upscale apartment complex.

As you might expect, the wrought-iron fenced community of 300 apartments wouldn't be anywhere near the old town of Savage but to the south on what is now a farm field surrounded by picturesque landscape.

The Springs at Egan Drive, as it would be known, is making local developers and city planners giddy with visions of economic development.

Less giddy are existing residents, worried about traffic and simply the idea of people wanting to fence themselves off from the neighbors. Homeowner Tom Gavinski told the Star Tribune: “I’m curious on the fencing ... is that to keep people in or out?”

Oh, it's definitely there to keep you out, Tom.

You have to wonder why anyone would feel the need to protect themselves from the working families living in Savage.

Gated communities have been big in the South and Southwest but just don't sit well with Midwestern sensibilities.

Gated communities give the people living there the things they want: a sense of affluence, superiority and safety.

The upscale compounds certainly scream money and entitlement. But whether they really offer any more safety is up for debate.

Richard Schneider, a Florida professor of urban and regional planning, wrote that there isn't strong evidence people in gated communities are any safer from crime than people living in other middle- or upper-end neighborhoods.

“You’re just as likely to be burgled by your next-door neighbor, especially if there are teenagers.”

He said criminals from outside also learn gate-entry codes from pizza delivery people or others to target gated communities.

When Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by George Zimmerman in an area inside a gated community, many saw a connection.

Martin, they said, may have believed the outdoor commons area was a public area while Zimmerman, a neighborhood watchman, instantly viewed an outsider walking through the gated community as a threat.

Author and professor Rich Benjamin wrote that "gated communities churn a vicious cycle by attracting like-minded residents who seek shelter from outsiders and whose physical seclusion then worsens paranoid groupthink against outsiders."

Let's hope the gated community idea doesn't catch on here, but maybe it's inevitable. Some people aren't content to simply be better off than everyone else; they want to make sure everyone knows they are.

Farmers have been making scads of money in recent years, but I don't think we'll start seeing farmers by Vernon Center or St. Clair gating in their farmsteads. Most of the farmers I know are pretty sociable and kind of like seeing someone unexpectedly coming up the driveway to visit. Besides, they'd have to figure out how to put 50-foot doors on their gates to get the combine in and out. And farm dogs, who have an instinct to roam the countryside, wouldn't like it at all.

Maybe we can't stop people from putting gates and guards around their neighborhood, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't try.

The staggering and growing income inequality in America is an issue resonating with more and more people who know that no society can really prosper when a few hold most everything and the rest fight for the scraps.

Rubbing the income disparity in the faces of the unwashed by building gated communities in their midst only makes the problem more glaring.

As the Five Man Electric Band said in their 1971 song "Signs":

"What gives you the right?

To put up a fence to keep me out or to keep Mother Nature in

If God was here, he'd tell you to your face, Man, you're some kinda sinner."

Tim Krohn can be contacted at tkrohn@mankatofreepress.com or 344-6383.