We spent a few days in Auckland recently. We were in the city's Most Go-Ahead Suburb. I know this because real estate signs told me so.

We appeared to be in Auckland's most frightened suburb as well. I know this because every second house seemed to have a security gate.

I hate security gates. Aesthetically, I dislike the blankness and blandness they bring to the streets they front. And I hate the break-down of community support that they seem to concede.

Once we had signs telling baddies that "If I Don't Report You, My Neighbour Will". Now we have high walls (which make it impossible for your neighbour to see anything that they can report), locked gates, an electronic keypad, and a sign for a private security company. I can't imagine kids at weekends flowing between such houses, playing in their driveways, deepening that sense of community which real neighbourhoods have.


Actually, do the folk who live behind such gates ever see their neighbours? They certainly can't chat over the fence, unless they fetch a step-ladder. Maybe they lift a hand as they turn into the driveway in their BMWs.

I mention expensive cars because houses with security gates also seem to reflect the deepening economic imbalance within NZ.

Max Rushbrooke's admirable Inequality: A New Zealand Crisis notes that the top 1 per cent of our population now have incomes 300 times greater than those on the lowest levels.

It's a disparity 10 times greater than it was three decades ago. If I belonged to that bottom level and were passing a security gate, I'd feel like throwing something at it. I guess that's one reason it's there: our rich are afraid.

I know that some of the folk behind these gates come from countries and cultures where such defences are necessary; where daily life is fraught with danger. But is Auckland, especially better-off Auckland, so lawless?

I've read that security gates on houses are a necessary part of the war against crime. Certainly, like all declarations of war, they encourage you to see others as your enemies. I find myself resenting them the way I resent strangers who cross to the other side of the road as I meander towards them.

I remember Prime Minister Keith Holyoake saying in that gloriously ripe-plum voice of his how he never locked his door when he went out. I'm sure the Pahiatua police must have ground their fillings together when they heard him.

But even allowing for the purple (plum-coloured, maybe) mists of nostalgia, I seem to remember that this country got along pretty well for a couple of centuries without security gates for our houses. What does it say about us that so many people feel the need for them now?

When I hear the word "gated", I think also of its other meaning: the kid in stories who's punished by being confined to home. This use of the adjective presents the world as something you want to get out and explore. "Gated" as in houses presents it as something that people want to deny, to lock themselves away from.

I find streets of such houses among the saddest, loneliest urban sights I've seen. To Auckland's Most Go-Ahead Suburb, I say: "You keep going ahead. I'll go somewhere else, thanks."

David Hill is a Taranaki author.
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