The Cost of Exclusivity in Gated Communities

Gated communities such as Sea Gate in Brooklyn and Breezy Point in Queens "have long held the rest of the city at arm’s length." Following Hurricane Sandy, residents are now seeking financial assistance from the city to rebuild their homes.
November 29, 2012, 7am PST | Jessica Hsu
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"Sea Gate, with its 850 homes on Coney Island’s western tip, is not an ordinary neighborhood," says Joseph Berger, "It is a 113-year-old private, gated community, where the razor-wire-topped fences and armed security checkpoints that keep outsiders from its streets, beaches and parks serve as a constant reminder that the residents of this community have chosen to live somewhat apart." Like other gated communities, Sea Gate assumes the costs of maintaining its streets, parks, and sewer systems and also employs its own police department. The residents have long been proud of the self-sufficiency and exclusivity of their communities, but post-Sandy, are now asking city, state, and federal governments to provide financial aid for rebuilding their homes and communal infrastructure. “We’d be foolish not to ask for help,” said Steve Greenberg, former chairman of the Breezy Point cooperative’s board.

Those on the outside of the gated communities have not responded positively to the residents' turnaround. “They seclude themselves,” said Cesar Catala, who has lived in Coney Island nearly his entire life. “We don’t have problems with Sea Gate, but they put their noses down at us. We get treated like we’re second class, just because they live in houses and we live in the projects and we rent. They say they need assistance and, fine, maybe they do need assistance. But they have insurance on their houses. We don’t have insurance. We don’t have much out here.” Berger adds, "Leaving aside the policy question of whether flood-prone communities should be rebuilt at all, these insular areas pose unusual challenges for public agencies."

City officials have hired private contractors to remove debris from Sea Gate's streets, and the Department of Environmental Protection has provided drinking water to Breezy Point residents. "Yet it is apparent that government officials are improvising for now," says Berger, "not sure what the fine legal boundaries are and whether their efforts will extend to rebuilding the infrastructure."

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Published on Monday, November 26, 2012 in The New York Times
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