It is no secret that the face of Colombo has transformed significantly over the last decade with new developments coming up in every nook and corner; allowing residents to live comfortably and have access to the conveniences that are a part and parcel of urban living.
There are perks of living in the city, namely, access to key locations and better facilities and prospects overall compared to living in a less developed or under-developed part of the country. That said, with Colombo already being overpopulated, the internal migration from villages to cities is seemingly pressurizing authorities to relook at housing options, smart and compact ones at that, for the new settlers.
According to Head, Department of Geography, University of Kelaniya, Dr. Nishan Sakalasooriya there are two main settlements. They are urban and rural settlements. Other than that, there are suburban and peri urban or rurban settlements.
“In urban areas there are cities built up for various purposes like industrial cities, administrative cities, university cities, sacred cities and port cities. But in rural areas there are only an economic area where people are engaged in primary economy activities like agriculture, forestry and fishery and a livelihood area where people live,” Dr. Sakalasooriya explained.
Dr. Sakalasoorya mentioned that human settlements are categorized into patterns according to their shapes. Accordingly linear, circular and cluster settlements are some of them. Other than that there are flats, apartments and shanties.
While the world is developing in all aspects, its perspective towards human settlements has also changed. People are trying to live in more secure settlements. People are shutting themselves away in gated communities to keep out crime and undesirables.
A gated community or walled community is a form of residential community or housing estate containing strictly controlled entrances for pedestrians, bicycles, and automobiles, and often characterized by a closed perimeter of walls and fences. Gated communities usually consist of small residential streets and include various shared amenities. For smaller communities, this may be only a park or other common area. For larger communities, it may be possible for residents to stay within the community for most daily activities. Gated communities are a type of common interest development, but are distinct from intentional communities.
According to Founder Director/ Chief Executive Officer, Paramount Realty, Dr. Nirmal De Silva, gated community is a physical space or development which has restricted access to outsiders whilst having a common code of conduct among tenants (residents) within the development.
“It is a typical development that may be surrounded by fences, walls, or other natural barriers that limit the access to people who are not part or residents of that particular development,” De Silva explained.
According to Dr. Sakalasooriya, there have been gated communities in ancient Sri Lanka when Dutch were ruling the country.
“Dutch built forts in order to get secured from enemies. They were a sort of gated communities,” he explained.
While explaining the reasons for Sri Lankans to opt for gated living De Silva explained that irrespective of the geography people mostly opt for gated living due to the enhanced safety and security features and integrated facilities such as swimming pools/gymnasium, clubhouse, park etc. and also the quiet living environment usually associated with Gated Living projects.
Gated Living projects can be in a number of forms such as townhouses/terrace houses, villas, row houses, etc. Some gated living projects span large land areas and are similar to mini townships both in terms of infrastructure and how it functions. On the other hand it can also be smaller developments targeting a niche with a limited number of units.
“When it comes to classifying cities in Sri Lanka in terms of business, real estate and commercialization, we hear a lot about Tier I and Tier II. As Tier I cities are highly commercialized metropolises, people still wonder what exactly Tier II cities are then. In the simplest perspective, Tier II cities are emerging cities which have the potential to be a Tier I city in the future,” De Silva mentioned in a research recently done by Paramount Realty on gated living community.
Accordingly post-war Sri Lanka has seen a boom in the overall demand for housing both for living and investment purposes. Due to the continuous escalation of property prices in main cities, there is a rapid increase in demand for Tier II cities. Majority of the gated community/living projects have been completely occupied over the last few years.
“Although Tier I cities witnesses the bulk of development, the issue with Tier I cities is that when it comes to economic boom and investment, they are inundated with growing investments in the industrial and service sectors along with the boom of large-scale investments in the real estate sector. Many developers tend to focus on these cities in order to realize ROI’s faster. On the other hand, as a result of all the development and commercialization the cost of real estate also increases significantly making it unaffordable to the majority of the middle-class population,” he elucidated .
“It should be noted that majority of the demand for Gated Community living has come from the middle income/ professionals segment of the market,” De Silva commented on the Sri Lankan population that currently use gated living.
According to De Silva the enhance privacy and security, integrated services and recreational facilities, quiet living environment with usually low levels of traffic, cleaner and greener environment and a sense of belongingness can be identified as pros of gated living.
Gated communities provide a lot of benefits to the residents that live within them, though the amenities don’t come cheap.
The number one reason people choose to live in gated communities is likely the security element. Because a gated community is private, it is more difficult to access than a standard community.
Criminal activity is reduced in gated communities, and solicitors will have a more difficult time bothering residents.
“Sometimes totally cut off from the outside world and social integration issues can be occurred when living in a gated community. At the same time lower traffic also means longer distance to the main city,” De Silva mentioned the cons of gated living.
Higher management fees for the common facilities and maintenance is another disadvantage of living in a gated community.
At the same time making connections with people is hard in a gated community.
The gated community’s phenomenon has enormous policy consequences. It allows some citizens to secede from public contact, excluding others from sharing in their economic and social privilege.
Dr. Sakalasooriya questioned whether there is a need for gated communities in Sri Lanka. He mentioned that Sri Lanka is a much socialized country where there is a high level of democracy.
“Barriers are for undeveloped countries where there are no civilized people. When people are protecting themselves from each other it suggests that as a nation we are not developed enough to trust each other. It suggests our third world approach,” Dr. Sakalasooriya mentioned the negative impact of gated living to the country.
Some gated communities merely have an automated gate with a keypad, while others have live guards. The latter will be more expensive, but also provide much more security. However crimes still occur in gated communities and one shouldn’t let their guard down just because there’s a nice little fence around their community.
“In theory, gated community should be safer than conventional living options. However, this will actually depend on the type of development whether it is a manned or unmanned community, neighbourhood environment and crime rates and the resident commitment to avoid security lapses,” De Silva said comparing gated communities with conventional living.
According to Planning Assistant, Urban Development Authority, Arthy Yogalingam gated living and apartment housing is a successful answer for land scarcity in the country.
“Though there is the need for the houses there are not enough spaces. In such cases vertical development provides a solution with more houses in a small space,” she voiced.
“Before the construction the plan for the housing should get approved by Urban Development Authority, Physical Planning Department and local authorities like Urban Councils and Pradeshiya Saba,” Yogalingam explained.