Dec. 26—Walkability, a friendly community and amenities such as a hot tub are all reasons Carter Drake enjoys life at the Reserve at Arbor Lakes. Security from problems in the core cities is another.
"Some people are noticing the crime in Minneapolis. I am glad we don't have to deal with that," said Drake, a retiree living in the largest gated community in the state. The crime, protests and unrest of recent years may be kept out by the automated gate at the 529-unit complex, one of a number of such communities popping up in the metro area.
The east-metro area — which has never had a large-scale gated community — will soon have two, in Oakdale and Lake Elmo. The west-metro area has more than 10 gated projects operating or planned.
Residents say they like the fenced-in lifestyle. They cite security, as well as the swimming pools, clubhouses and a stronger sense of community as all positives. Critics, however, say the function of gating communities is to separate people.
"They are for older white people who want to get away from other people," said Fernando Burga, assistant professor of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey School of Public Affairs. "They fragment and divide. Their politics tend to be reactionary and inward-looking."
FEW GATED COMMUNITIES IN MINNESOTA HISTORICALLY
The U.S. Census reported that 11 percent of U.S. homes were behind gates in 2015, the latest year for which data was available. The gated communities have been mostly a Southern phenomenon, with thousands proliferating across the Sun Belt.
Minnesota actually moved away from gated communities in the 1980s, when its largest one — North Oaks — removed its gates and guards.
A handful of small communities was built in the 1970s and '80s. But the first large-scale neighborhood opened in 1996 — Bearpath, a 301-unit enclave in Eden Prairie.
Others followed, but in general there were few in the state. Today, a single southern city of fewer than 100,000 has more than all of Minnesota — Boca Raton, Fla., with 30. But they are increasing in Minnesota.
GATED COMMUNITIES IN LAKE ELMO, OAKDALE
In Lake Elmo, a 300-unit gated project opened in May. In Oakdale, a 280-unit gated community will be part of the Willowbrooke residential project.
In Maple Grove, developer Kelly Doran is adding a fourth building to the Reserve complex, which will bring the total to 693 units by the end of next year. He's building another one, too: Triple Crown in Shakopee, a 600-unit gated complex.
"This is definitely a trend," said Doran.
As with many residents, he lumps the security of the gates together with other amenities, including swimming pools and a clubhouse.
"People are looking for the whole package," said Doran.
NEW FRIENDS AND ACQUAINTANCES
Are his residents fleeing the chaos of the inner cities? "I think there's an element of that, but it's not overwhelming," said Doran.
He said that gated communities don't isolate people — they bring them together. By putting gates around his buildings, he creates a community within. "It's better for making new friends and acquaintances," he said.
It is not known if the population of the core cities has changed significantly since the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May 2020 and the unrest that followed. Before then, the population of both cities was projected by the U.S. Census to increase 1 percent from 2020 to 2021, Minneapolis increasing to 435,105, and St. Paul to 314,997.
Experts on urban growth say the trend is a step away from the general Minnesota tradition of encouraging free public spaces.
Burga said suburbs are places to escape the perceived urban problems like poverty, protests, racial conflict, crime and inferior schools. Burga said that's often why suburbs fight against affordable housing — fear of poverty, crime and racial tension. It's also why, said Burga, gated communities don't have connections to mass transportation — they don't want people who can't afford cars.
Nevertheless, gates seem to be exactly what many residents are seeking.
Drake moved with his wife to the Reserve three years ago. He said he loves it.
"I go to the hot tub twice a week, and the gym three or four times," said Drake.
He said he likes the sense of safety, enhanced by the gates and the fences. "We feel," he said, "like we are more secure here."