My uncle retired at age 65 after 50 hard years as a sheet-metal worker. As a PAYE employee he always paid his taxes to the nearest dollar. His life of lawlessness totals three parking tickets. He deserves a peaceful retirement.
By the time he was in his late 70s, he and his wife were living happily in their house in one of the Central Coast suburbs north of Sydney. Then the unemployed young man next door joined a band as a drummer and he practiced for several hours on most days of the week. No amount of pleading could stop him and the police said that they could do nothing as the noise was not after 9pm and was under the decibel limit during the day.
An elderly person’s tolerance for noise is much lower than when he was younger - and this elderly man’s health, and that of his wife, were noticeably deteriorating due to the stress. Once the decision was made to sell, getting out could not come quickly enough. They sold cheaply to get that quick sale, but without a place to live, they had not the time to look around and negotiate. This, together with the costs associated with exchanging residences, meant that they had to settle for an inferior residence to the one they had left.
They are now living in a cluster of cheaply built villas in which all the owners are retired people. These developments almost invariably have too many town houses or villas on the site - leaving the residents with no sense of open space. Nevertheless, they are now with their own kind.
Danger can be real or imaginary. Fear is always real
I have in-laws living in a gated community south of Sydney. The couple are in their early 50s. The one entry has a gatehouse which is manned 24 hours a day. The 320 townhouses surround a large central park with a lake. The whole development, including the golf course, is owned by the residents. Because of the relatively high cost of living here, most residents are financially established and around the age of this couple - so, there are very few children. And, dogs are excluded.
What’s their problem? Why the guard on the gate? In their paper, Gated Communities: The search for security, Dana Quintal and Susan Thompson at The University of New South Wales said: “Fear, anxiety, and insecurity increasingly occupy the minds of contemporary urban inhabitants. Individuals [in traditional suburbs] may feel that they have little influence or control over the course their lives”. I feel that my relatives would agree with that.
Some believe that people on all socio-economic levels and of all ages living together make a robust society and that gated communities cause divisions within society. The fact is that divisions are required because the responsible cannot live happily with the irresponsible - in particular, irresponsible young males.
It is difficult to determine if “rough” suburbs are getting rougher or if it is only a perception. Is vandalism increasing due to an increase in the numbers of destructive young people or are the targets for vandalism increasing? It is sickening for me to see how quickly plate glass on shopfronts, railway stations, bus shelters and new rail carriages are scored. However, when I was a child there was nothing like the areas of plate glass on offer to be scored. There were also station masters at the stations.
It matters little if danger is real or imaginary. Fear is always real. Hoons roaring up and down your street, the sounds of abusive language at the top of someone’s voice and the sound of breaking of glass at night will naturally make you feel tense. You may read of a man bashed after leaving a local pub or of drunken youths urinating up against walls. At the time the thought runs through your mind: “I wish I could afford to live somewhere else.” While you are not a victim of any crime, you still feel like a victim.
Those who can afford to live somewhere else have always been on the move. Once we only moved to be closer to facilities, to get a bigger house or a house with a better outlook. It is predicted that in future more of us will be moving mainly to escape from others.
Herein lies a negative feedback mechanism. As those who can afford to flee, flee, left behind are those who cannot afford to flee. The suburb gradually becomes a suburb in decline. Property values are subsequently lowered which sends the suburb further into decline.
A friend of mine lives in a suburb of the steel and coal city of Wollongong. She has been a single mother for more than 20 years and life has been a struggle to keep her head above water. She has a master’s degree. The number of dysfunctional families abusing drugs and alcohol in her neighbourhood is increasing. Her chances of escaping an environment in which she is an alien get closer to zero with every passing year.
There has always been demographic divisions based on relative incomes - but the divisions did not have walls around them. There seems to be nothing on the horizon in this country to stop the trend. In the US, gated communities can have as many as 75,000 residents. A community of that size can have its own all-services commercial centre, its own bus service and its own state-of-the art health service - as well as the ability to fund its own rapid-response police force.
Your grandparents will tell you that the problem comes down to the lack of respect by today’s young people for their elders. That may sound simplistic - but I feel that there is a lot of truth in it.