Bunker Mentality

Courtesy of the Great Recession, we already knew the walls of a gated community can’t keep out economic reality. Terse notices about uncut grass and mandated paint schemes proved no match for a rising tide of sinking property values that easily swamped those stuccoed seawalls. It didn’t matter how strictly residents adhered to the rules; the ugliness flowed right over the top.

Recently, we’ve seen again just how ineffective those walls really are.

On March 23, there was a brutal robbery—I refuse to use the more fashionably militaristic “home invasion”—in Green Valley. At about 8 p.m. that night, four masked men broke into the home of a Henderson attorney, stole cash and jewelry, and stabbed the homeowner. I can only assume that the assailants did not bother to check in with the guard beforehand.

And the deaths of David Amesbury on March 25, and Nancy Quon five days earlier, serve to remind that HOAs are also susceptible to rot from within. Amesbury and Quon were both defendants in a federal probe into corruption that involved taking over HOA boards then steering construction and legal work to their accomplices. Amesbury was found dead in California, where he was recuperating from a savage beating inflicted on him in the streets of a Henderson gated community.

And, further afield but somehow close to home, there is the ever-evolving tragedy of Trayvon Martin, who was shot and killed in February by a self-appointed neighborhood watch commander while walking, unarmed, in a Florida gated community.

The Valley has invested heavily in life behind gates. The first thing anyone knows about Las Vegas is the Strip; the second is our sea of homogenous suburban neighborhoods ruled by HOAs. They’re a necessary evil in transient Las Vegas, we’ve convinced ourselves, because the fabric of neighborhood life is torn. They’re also an expedient tradeoff; a little inconvenience for more security and control.

Then a resident gets robbed, ripped off or beaten in a planned development, and we wonder why the walls didn’t work. Maybe they weren’t high enough, or maybe the citizens of the fortress were too lax in deciding who belonged there, and who didn’t.

Maybe those are the wrong questions.

Rich Benjamin, a black writer who lived in gated communities all over the country to research his book Searching for Whitopia, put it this way in a March 29 New York Times editorial in response to the Martin shooting: “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.”

Maybe the gates all over the Valley, and all over the country, are easily breached because they’re a cause of our social disconnect, rather than a symptom of it.