urbanism – landscape – ideas – theory – whimsy

Development in Toronto Part VI – Gateism


I’ve been noticing an increase in “gateism” along the residential streets of Toronto. While they say that “good fences make good neighbours”, there’s something about fences that are higher and more robust than seems necessary that leads to a few worries. Fences alone are one thing – they do a great job of defining space and ownership and are an easy way to quickly read the definition between public and private urban space – while without gates they can also be penetrated with ease. Gates on the other hand, are more worrying. The gate doesn’t rely on subtle hints to define public and private, but demands compliance through a physical barrier. Usually, one would assume a gate is either intended to keep something in or keep something out. If these gates and fences are being erected to keep dogs in I would be very surprised. If they are in response to some perception of a threat from the general public, it suggests a worrying trend for this city’s public space.

In countries such as England, gateism as a response to perceived security threats from public space have led to broken glass and barbed wire on the tops of walls, and no side passage left ungated. Increasing numbers of houses in Toronto seem to be gating their side alleys in a city where there used to be a relative permeability between front yard and back. On the other hand, increasing densities and busier street and foot traffic demand responses to maintain the privacy, security and serenity of the urban home. This current form of gateism does not seem to be desirable, but it’s obvious that people are expressing a desire for more privacy than the typical form of the city and its open front yards is supplying. The city should be encouraging more creative and beautiful solutions that rely less on the aesthetic of the security perimeter and more on an integrated landscape strategy. In the meantime, we will probably have to get used to a streetscape defined less by semi-private overlooking porches, and more by visually impermeable fences, hedges and gates.


1 Comment so far
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Sadly, you’re on to something very important here.
I noticed the same thing on Major Street today. Now,
some will write it off as decorum and landscaping
design but really a fence is a fence. Just ask people
in Mexico.

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