Re: cohousing communities with security gates
From: Kay Argyle (
Date: Tue, 9 Jan 2001 17:23:29 -0700 (MST)
Whenever the subject of security comes up, we can count on a couple of
members to say they "don't want to live in a gated community."  They don't
even want fences  except for certain units that were preapproved to have
them, and them only grudgingly (some households through whose yards the
kids run wild are quietly implementing their own traffic-taming measures
with landscaping).  Then there's the other school of thought, whose
adherants respond that we are not a public facility.

Wasatch Commons is in the Glendale neighborhood of Salt Lake.  Glendale is
working-class and ethnically diverse -- Hispanic, Tongan, Bosnian,
Vietnamese, Navajo.  Small houses slapped together after the war on little
yards, some weedy with rutted drives, some immaculate; narrow curving
streets that stop and start; mature trees.  It's bordered by trainyards,
warehouses, homeless shelters, freeways, and light industry. (The place
that sells used rails and railroad ties is handy, and the big truckstop has
the best gas prices in town.  However, I could do without the company that
tests jet engines.)

On evening visits during construction sometimes we ran into curious
neighborhood people.  We'd introduce ourselves and explain a little about
cohousing.  They'd listen thoughtfully to our brief description of some of
the group members -- the computer tech, the patent attorney, the
pediatrician, the nurse-midwife, the personnel director, the
microbiologist, the economics professor -- and after a baffled pause,
they'd ask, "Why would people like that want to live in Glendale?"

The Recruiting Committee got police statistics showing that Glendale
actually had lower crime rates in most categories than Salt Lake's more
affluent neighborhoods.  We experienced some vandalism during construction:
a half-dozen broken windows, spray paint on our sign, obscenities & bike
tracks in wet cement.  One of the construction workers moved into a trailer
on-site, and on weekends when he went home we took three-hour shifts
hanging out at the site.

During the first year there were bike thefts and sliced-up garden hoses.
The Safety and Security Committee passed out whistles and got the city to
install street lights.  There were fewer problems the second year -- I
think word got around, especially after the night when somebody wasn't
satisfied with a stranger's answers about why they were strolling through
at that hour of the morning, they blew their whistle, and several residents
came piling out of their houses, one of them waving a bat and --how shall I
put this delicately? -- wearing rather less clothing than typically
considered appropriate in public.

Security-minded folk might want to lay out the community so they don't have
through-traffic.  Strangers can be approached with, "Hello!  May I help
you?"  A few in the beginning who mistook us for an ordinary new housing
development assured us they were "visiting their friend" but when asked who
-- just being friendly, you know, "We know everybody who lives here --
somehow they weren't sure where the friend lived or even what the friend's
name was.

Last weekend my roommate was telling me that so-and-so's father was
visiting.  I said that must be the older man who walked past this morning;
I was wondering if the Welcoming Committee had an event, because there were
two other strangers a little later.  She said, imagine reporting that as
news where we lived before -- "I saw a stranger walk past today!"

The property is mostly on the interior of a block, abutting  backyards
(fenced) and vacant fields.  There's a grassy alley that passes our playing
field and ends at our "wild area," a drive coming in between a couple of
noncohousing houses to a parking lot, and another parking lot on a street
that currently has only one other house on it.  The property across that
street has been obtained by a developer who plans to build about 40 starter
homes, and the city council member is opposed to him putting in a
playground; we're a little concerned about our path becoming a shortcut to
the grade school, our parking lots becoming skateboard parks, and our play
areas being over-run.  (Our policy is that kids must be visiting somebody,
not just hanging out.)

We've discussed various ways of communicating that we are private property
without actually posting the fact -- signs saying "Welcome to Wasatch
Commons, a cohousing community," or open archways over the sidewalks from
the parking lots.  A knee-high fence along Utah Street was rejected in
favor of a berm with bushes.

Kay Argyle
Wasatch Commons

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