Landscapes of Privacy

I have always lived either in small towns or in the pre-WWII parts of larger cities where the streets are connected and anyone can walk or drive past your home. Last March we visited friends and relatives in Florida and I got an outsider’s look at two types of development that are very much a part of American life, although not of mine.

#1, High rises near Miami. Here you live surrounded by hundreds of people, yet you feel alone. After you drive through the gatehouse and enter the lobby, greeting 2 employees, you go up the elevator to your private space. The balcony is next to, above and below other balconies, but you perceive nothing of them. It is quiet and you can watch the boats on the intercoastal waterway from above. As in most apartment buildings, it is rare to meet someone in the hall or the elevator. Dogs are not allowed to walk in the halls, so when our hosts’ son brought his dog over, he had to push it in a cart! One strange thing about the neighborhood is that the more expensive building next door, probably 20 stories high, only has a few lights on at night. Apparently the owners of most of the units only use them during vacations, or they are speculators. The same is true of the mansions on the other side of the intercoastal, each with a pristine pool. They are rarely occupied. Some may be owned by companies that use them for parties.

#2, Gated community in West Palm Beach. This place is like living in a country club. The golf course and waterways surround you wherever you go. There is a club house with dining rooms, and a fitness center with tennis, weight room and multiple pools. Everything is landscaped and manicured to the ultimate degree. Only residents and guests are allowed in. The houses and tree-lined streets are very nice, and heaven forbid if you have a truck in your driveway or put your trash out the day before the pickup. (Association rules are strict, and any hint of “white trash” is clearly outlawed.). Our host remarked that it is kind of like living in an ancient walled city, but they love their courtyard house.

These are landscapes of privacy. They are landscapes of exclusivity. Are they also landscapes of fear? Who would come in if you didn’t have the gates? What would people do if you didn’t have the rules?