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Emergence of Gated Communities in Russia: Causes and Consequences

Émergence des communautés fermées en Russie. Causes en conséquence d'un modèle résidentiel
Maria Zotova


L'article analyse la ségrégation résidentielle dans les villes russes en focalisant sur l'évolution des gated communities. Les principales causes de l'émergence et de la diffusion de ce modèle résidentiel sont analysées, du point de vue de leur diversité typologique. Deux études de cas sont mobilisées. L'une porte sur la région métropolitaine de Moscou, l'autre sur la région métropolitaine de Saint-Pétersbourg. Un souci particulier est porté sur les impacts sociaux, notamment du point de vue de l'urbanité, des communautés fermées.

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1The emergence and expansion of gated communities began in American cities as residential housing designed for retirees (Low, 2001). Since the 1970s, gated residential developments have been transformed to match a broader market consisting of the American upper middle class and middle class. They created new forms of exclusion and residential segregation, exacerbating social cleavages that already existed (Blakely and Snyder 1997). The classic study of Blakely and Snyder (1997) defined gated communities as residential housing where access is restricted and public areas within the development are privatized. The trend of gated and guarded residential areas reached Europe in the 1980s and 1990s and mainly hit large cities (Glasze, Webster & Frantz, 2006). Since the collapse of Communism in 1989, countries of Central and Eastern Europe have been also experiencing the occurrence and popularity of gated communities (Polanska, 2010). Though some gated communities already existed during Communism and served mainly high representatives of the Communist Party (Stoyanov & Frantz, 2006), they were qualitatively different from the ones that are emerging today (Atkinson, 2008). The phenomenon of gated housing has intensified since the 1990s and has spread to upper and middle classes in Russia too. Studies on gated communities in post-Communist environments are still few compared with the amount of research on gated communities in the West. Studies on Russian gated communities are especially limited; most describe residential segregation in Moscow (Vendina, 2002; Makhrova, 2006; Lentz & Lindner, 2003; Medvedkov, 2007).

2The purpose of this study is to make a brief survey of the development of gated communities in contemporary Russia. The following article includes the features of their formation, their spreading, and their influence on the urban environment. The main interest lies in the fundamental differences between gated communities in Russia and in the West. Also we examine qualitative and quantitative changes of gated communities in modern Russia. The database of the research was founded on the three types of official sources of information: academic discourse, mentioned in the previous studies; housing market reviews created by developers; and information in the local and national media. The methods of the study included general scientific methods, interdisciplinary approaches, and content analysis of the media and Internet.

3During the last twenty years Russian urban systems have shown the opposed trends. On the one hand the quality of urban environment has improved, urban activity has been revived in city centres, trade and entertainment functions have developed, and the look of the cities has improved. On the other hand there is a lot that is getting worse. Public areas are washed out of social objects and green plants, ecologic situations have become worse, and traffic problems have grown. Russian metropolises have moved from extensive to intensive model of urban development, with more clearly marked urban segregation that shows prestigious and non-prestigious urban districts, the reduction of public spaces, and an organization of closed, isolated living communities. In the Soviet era, the natural process of segregation was held back, and urban segregation was based only on socio-professional characteristics. The modern urban system, however, is more hierarchic, and is determined by the different factors in various spheres.

4The prototypes of the modern closed communities could be called separated and more comfortable houses for the governing party in the central and prestigious districts and “dachas settlements” in the suburbs—so-called “party and state” dachas behind green fences with security at the entrance. The higher the status of workers the more closed the settlement. They were apart from the rest of the population, which very often didn’t know what was behind those high fences. These harbingers seeded the ground for the modern “gated communities,” basing the rights of the upper class in special privileges provided by their power or financial position.

The fundamental differences of the Russian gated communities

5In the US, gated communities include single-family residential developments where there are covenants and cross-easements and other legal restrictions imposed on individual property owners (Merriam, 2011). They usually have a much higher degree of teamwork, share responsibilities and resources, and may offer exclusive amenities to residents as a means of creating a community feeling. American gated communities are physically, socially, and politically isolated from the larger community. They are homogeneous generally in their social and economic status, and they tend to exclude those of lower economic and social classes, resulting in a somewhat socially sterile environment. They tend to turn inward in terms of their decision-making and orientation, and they leave the larger public community without some of the leadership, common resources, and support that the community would otherwise have (Leone, 2009). They typically provide for themselves by maintaining the roadways and utility systems, thereby relieving the municipality of some of its fiscal burden.

6Russian gated communities considerably differ from classical Western ones because of the different economical and social conditions: a high degree of centralization, different tax system, underdevelopment of the municipal government, and a local control system. The emergence of gated communities in 1990s was produced by developers when accommodation of the middle and lower-middle class was not in demand. Their spread was also assisted by the growth of crime and menaces to wealthy people. “Purchasing power” became the new regulating mechanism of the urban environment. The public good of “security,” along with the responsibility for the provision of infrastructure in living areas, becomes increasingly privatized rather than fulfilling their function in a society with highly unequal distributions of opportunities (Lentz, 2006). Formally, there are no truly gated communities in Russia similar to the American ones. Fenced territory around the house or the township is not sufficient grounds to consider it a gated community (Vendina, 2004). Russian gated communities have only a visual resemblance with the Westerns ones. They are closed and isolated, but at the same time they do not create a community feeling and are not independent from the surrounding system because the residents could not manage them entirely.

7Gated communities in Russia play a symbolic role. They extend the Western lifestyle—a high standard of living. This explains the widespread use of Western names in Russian closed communities: “Chamonix,” “Italian quarter,” “Сote d’azur,” “Sherwood,” “Benelux,” “Barcelona,” “Hyde Park,” etc. Their residents want to be isolated from the rest of the background; they aspire not to be social but to property homogeneity. So it is very difficult to draw a line between “privacy” and “gating.” Russian gated communities are more “ghettos” then “gated.” The term “ghetto” here means the social regrouping of an urban population that was connected with spatial segregation. A truly gated community is a phenomenon of a rich society. It has appeared in the society without the important problems and imbalances. So it has changed to a “ghetto” for the rich.

8As a result of the deformation of the notions of private and public property in Russia, the term “gated community” is not clearly defined. It is not widespread in Russian media. The closest terms to it are the “closed condominium,” “residential compound,” “gated complex,” “upscale dwelling,” “residential village,” and “closed cottage settlement.” In our survey we suggest examining Russian gated communities as a residential area with controlled access and a closed perimeter of walls and fences, used to protect the privacy and safety of residents (in a similar way to the Russian realtors and mass media).

9There are two main causes for the formation of closed complexes in Russia. First is a desire of the prosperous people to protect “private territory” in the terms of disorganization after the collapse of the Soviet system and growth that endangered their life and property. Russian cities’ crime rates nowadays remain rather high, although the trends change and according to official data the crime rates that were going up in 2006 have slowly begun to come down. Anyway, today in Moscow the number of registered crimes is 3 times higher in comparison with 1990, and in other large cities it is 1.5 times higher (Russian Regions, 2010). Gated complexes appear to isolate certain social groups from the perceived risk and unwanted encounters.

10The second cause is the high social stratification of the population, differentiation in incomes, and social fragmentation, which provoke the urge of the wealthy people to stand apart from “the poor” and to live in a homogeneous environment. In Russian cities (especially in Moscow), processes of social segmentation of urban areas and social stratification of the population are expressed by the mechanism of the housing market (Makhrova, 2006). Moscow, as with other early bourgeois cities, can’t provide its residents adequate conditions for living because of the rash growth of population (Regnier, 1973). Wealthy people move one to another and aspire to be isolated, usually in a zone behind the fence. Practically in all megalopolises, the rich build their own mini-towns: well-managed, quiet, well guarded, inhabited by similar people, and closed to outsiders, guaranteeing their residents comfort and safety. Living needs of the urban population are increased, including new social needs such as the desire for exclusivity and individualization, isolation, and closed nature.

11According to the structure of consumers and the types of buildings, Russian gated complexes could be dividing into: 1) luxury/upscale compounds; 2) complexes for the upper middle class; and 3) complexes for the middle or lower middle class.

12Luxury compounds present high-quality houses situated in the city centre or pollution-free prestigious quarters. Consumers of the accommodation in the luxury complexes pay attention to the individual features of a house, its architecture and quality of the construction, and comfort. Indispensable conditions are the presence of parking, fenced and guarded territory, and a pleasant landscape.

13Luxury cottage settlements have most expanded in the surrounding areas of Moscow and Saint Petersburg—not far from city but at the some distance from highways and built-up areas. The main ideology of their residents becomes isolation and so-called “behind fence hiding.” Communities are secured and access from the outside is practically impossible. They are often called “gilded ghettos” or “reservations for the rich.”

14The gated communities most resembling their Western counterparts are the residential compounds of the expats (employed by transnational corporations), who need a common space for communications and a comfortable environment. “Pokrovsky Hills” and “Donskoy Posad” were the first gated communities for the expats that were organized in Moscow in 1996. Nevertheless they are also not gated communities in a full sense, because their residents don’t take part in the management of the community; they delegate to a management company. What do the expats search for in Russian gated complexes? Personal contacts with similar members of the public or isolation from trouble? According to the business manager of the Hines International real estate firm, they want “more gated, less community.”

15The closed condominium for upper middle class, with high, stable revenue and individual ideas about private accommodation, presents quality apartment housing with improved decoration and a closed area; it can be situated all over the city. The upper middle class want to live in comfortable surroundings with high-quality infrastructure, and they are ready to pay for it—but not to overpay.

16Closed complexes for the middle or lower middle class—standard apartment buildings surrounded by fences—include as a rule a secured playground, open parking at the adjacent territory, and not a large rest area. They can be organized everywhere in the city, mainly in the less prestigious residential districts, where the middle and lower middle class want to fence off from a surrounding quarter with a marginal population, newcomers, and migrants. They are organized mainly for the purpose of increasing safety.

Closed settlements in Moscow and suburbs

17Moscow always had prestigious and non-prestigious districts. The upper class of society lived in the centre and west of Soviet Moscow, the working class lived in east and south, while the top strata of scientists and intellectuals lived in the southwest and northwest. Today the privileged people—wealthy people, authorities, top managers, and tycoons—are situated in western districts in upscale housing zones.

18Poor neighbourhoods and ethnic migrants are located in the eastern sector of the city where there is the cheapest housing. These areas suffer from pollution. Gradually Moscow has become a city of contrasts even from a geographical point of view. Closed complexes increase the urban space fragmentation; they are territorially isolated from the surrounding social life. Privileged people enjoy the high social status and comfortable milieu that meets their requirements.

19Residents of the closed complexes. Inhabitants of closed condominiums form a specific social group with special requirements (Materials, 2011). Muscovites are the main consumers of the gated residential dwellings among Russian citizens. The share of residents from other Russian cities (mainly from oil and gas industrial regions) is considerably low (Figure 1). Usually apartments in the luxury complexes are bought for residential purpose (93%) and only 7% purchase them as an investment (Materials, 2006). As a rule, wealthy entrepreneurs—top managers of large corporations and owners of profitable businesses—more often purchase apartments in closed settlements (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Consumers of the closed complexes (2011)

Figure 1: Consumers of the closed complexes (2011)

Source: Materials of the realty portals IRN and BPN, 2011

20Conveniences and amenities of the gated complexes. It is quite hard to estimate the exact number of all closed complexes in Moscow. They form about 15% of the total quantity of new buildings, and more were built during last 10–15 years. They are different in structure and spatial organization: they can be an isolated building or a group of buildings.

21Small complexes have about 600 apartments, and bigger ones have than 2,000. Their courtyard in prestigious green zones in the western districts is 30,000–70,000 square metres, and in the historical centre they are much smaller—about 3,000–7,000 square metres (Materials, 2011).

22In the Moscow suburbs we can observe three types of gated complexes: gated cottage villages or settlements, townhouses, and closed condominiums. Their number continually increases (Figure 2). They considerably transformed the space of suburbs despite not comprising more than 3% of the territory of the Moscow region. The idea of living in the countryside became attractive first of all because of the favourable ecological situation, closeness to nature, healthy living style, calm, and comfort. At the same time the country housing in Moscow suburbs attained the character of secondary housing used for seasonal or temporary living, as opposed to “classical” suburbanization. Prospects of using cottage villages for residential living like the type in Western suburbs are quite questionable because of traffic, lack of engineering and social infrastructure, shortage of land in the nearest city surroundings, and the high price of cottages. At present only 30% of houses in the cottage settlements are used as a permanent residence (Makhrova, 2007). So a suburban style of living has not yet emerged in Russia.

Figure 2: Closed complexes in Moscow suburbs (2004–2010)

Figure 2: Closed complexes in Moscow suburbs (2004–2010)

Source: Materials of the realty portals SOB, IRN, BPN, 2011

23Infrastructure in the closed complexes. Proposed services usually depend on social status and the material needs of dwellers. Closed condominiums in the city are managed with minimal services—parking, children’s playgrounds, and security (Figure 3). But privileged people who live in luxury dwellings in the historical city centre require their own infrastructure.

24The suburban cottage settlements also have a more developed infrastructure. They are situated in the city`s surroundings, where there is a shortage of the quality services suitable for the social status of the residents. The most developed infrastructure is formed in the small club villages, oriented to certain customers, or in the vast cottage settlements with hundreds of houses, which make living in the suburbs similar to urban life.

Figure 3: Structure of the closed complexes by the set of the infrastructure objects (2010)

Figure 3: Structure of the closed complexes by the set of the infrastructure objects (2010)

Source: Infrastructure in the housing estates: Where residents keep swimming pools and restaurants, 2007 (​news/​19728.html)

25The presence or absence of infrastructure can be interpreted in two ways. It can be considered an advantage (it is not necessary to go far from) and a disadvantage (residents have to pay operating costs) (Infrastructure, 2007). Since the maintenance of the infrastructure became the responsibility of future dwellers, the developers have moved away from the practice of its construction within the small villages; now it covers a group of settlements.

Geography of closed complexes

26According to the theory of the “diffusion of the innovations,” gated complexes, as the new phenomenon, spread from Moscow after the turn of the century to economically successful regions: Saint Petersburg and its suburbs with a delay of 1–2 years, then to the cities with a population of 1 million or more and prestigious resort zones with delay of 5–6 years, and finally to the regional capitals and to all other cities and towns (Zubarevich, 2004). As opposed to Moscow, in other large cities (Perm, Yekaterinburg, Kazan, Rostov, and others) closed condominiums are situated towards the centre, but often near barracks and slums. The regional market of the closed complexes is less developed because of the different financial level and social needs of its population, the lack of experience of local developers, and the weak expansion of capital and international companies.

27The gated cottage settlements in large Russian cities are available only for some privileged people. Therefore, the market is not developed: there are only about 15–20 objects (Figure 4). Regional cottage villages are simply a range of enclosed houses without any concept. Regional developers are worried firstly about the fastest financial returns and not about the quality of life in the community. They usually utilize the experience of Moscow properties, altered to the reality of regional markets. Placement and price have more importance for the success of a project than a certain architectural style and individual particularities.

Figure 4: Cottage villages in the surroundings of Russian large cities (2010).

Figure 4: Cottage villages in the surroundings of Russian large cities (2010).

Source: Materials of the realty portals SOB, IRN, BPN, 2011

28At the same time the market of the Black Sea Coast has huge prospects of growth and will develop even in crisis period because of the Olympic Games in Sochi, where are located about 80% of total amount of construction. The main consumers of cottage settlements are the residents of Moscow and its suburbs (more than 50 %). The second part is presented by customers from Siberia (oil and gas industrial regions, 21%), Ural (Yekaterinburg, Chelyabinsk, 14%), and Saint Petersburg (13%). The residents of the two capitals usually buy houses to use as summer residence (about 35%) or as investments (60%), while buyers from northern regions buy houses mainly for residential living.

The influence of the closed complexes on city life

29The active expansion of gated complexes in large cities led to the process of gentrification and the formation of enclaves. Closed enclaves are changing the internal structure of the city—huge areas are enclosed from common use and make obstacles to the walking path of ordinary people. The open public spaces of suburbs (which are supposed to be for all population) are also fenced; access to huge green areas, rivers, and lake coasts is closed. Gated complexes provoke the negative emotions of underprivileged towards privileged people behind the fences (i.e., feelings of “second-order people”).

30Gated cottage settlements in suburbs often destroy green zones. According to the idea of the 1935 general plan of Moscow, the echelon of forests or parks was made to protect the capital and to create normal living conditions for residents. But after the fashionable cottage construction of the post-Soviet period nothing was left of it. In addition, the new cottage settlements are alienated from social surroundings (small towns and villages) as a rule. The Russian village is so destroyed that the closed settlements’ penetration into this social and environmental tissue is no longer possible. Modern closed settlements often don’t build their own infrastructure facilities, and thus increase the energy consumption and load of the existing engineering systems.

31At the same time gated condominiums create a feeling of comfort and safety for their residents, and seek to improve the environment. According to the architects’ opinions, closed complexes don’t harm the city’s look. The enclosures are often hidden, placed within inner yards of city blocks, and not seen from the street.

32The closed complex-forming process has been treated by Russian expert-architects as a sequence of social polarization of the urban environment typical of modern Russia. Some of them are tolerant of this process, inclining to the idea “social-territorial stratification,” which didn’t exist in the Soviet era. The appearance of fenced areas such as enclosed yards seems to the experts to be a normal practice. They recognize that city loses part of its territory, although the territory is not simply removed; rather, it gets a new function. These experts consider voluntary processes of gentrification necessary and hope that market mechanisms are capable of dealing with the investment process (Fesenko, 2006).

33Other experts recognize facts of gentrification and the formation of the gated communities without enthusiasm. They suppose that the number of closed condominiums will only grow, and Moscow will little by little be transformed to a city for rich people, and the government won’t change this direction and regulate problems of social, ethnic, and other inequalities until the first public excesses. “Until the social structure hasn’t changed the society is condemned to high enclosures and guard status” (Stadelbauer, 2007).

34Expert-urbanists suppose that the increase of ethnic migrants in the near future will lead more city residents to stand apart and become isolated in the closed condominiums, primarily for safety-related fears. According to their opinion, the appearance of gated complexes doesn’t contribute to the quality of life in the city, or the creation of a full social environment and improvement of the urban area. In other words, such communities are “non-centralized formations and don’t assist in the effective development and utilization of land” (Makhrova, 2006).

35Therefore, most experts consider the gated complexes as the intermediate and natural stage of developing the urban environments of Russian cities, but they don’t deny that their formation has become one of the most important urban social problems (Pusanov, 2003).

36The more problems megalopolises have, the faster the increase in demand for closed complexes. Modern Russian society is not united; it aspires to segregation, and at the same time the residents prefer to live in a homogeneous social environment. Gated communities are caused by the modern reality; they don’t improve the solidarity of the society, but they serve the needs of the upper class. But a united society functions more efficiently than a fragmented one. Today all the largest Russian cities from a sociological point of view resemble most of all the agglomeration of relatively isolated social communities—local, industrial, functional. In order to decrease the need for separation it is necessary to improve social mobility and make the infrastructure suitable for the requirements of the middle class.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 1: Consumers of the closed complexes (2011)
Crédits Source: Materials of the realty portals IRN and BPN, 2011
Fichier image/png, 45k
Titre Figure 2: Closed complexes in Moscow suburbs (2004–2010)
Crédits Source: Materials of the realty portals SOB, IRN, BPN, 2011
Fichier image/png, 31k
Titre Figure 3: Structure of the closed complexes by the set of the infrastructure objects (2010)
Crédits Source: Infrastructure in the housing estates: Where residents keep swimming pools and restaurants, 2007 (​news/​19728.html)
Fichier image/png, 28k
Titre Figure 4: Cottage villages in the surroundings of Russian large cities (2010).
Crédits Source: Materials of the realty portals SOB, IRN, BPN, 2011
Fichier image/png, 20k
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Maria Zotova, « Emergence of Gated Communities in Russia: Causes and Consequences », L’Espace Politique [En ligne], 17 | 2012-2, mis en ligne le 25 juin 2012, consulté le 25 mars 2017. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/espacepolitique.2385

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Maria Zotova

Russian Academy of Science, Institute of Geography, Centre for Geopolitical Studies

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