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All-Inclusiveness versus Exclusion: Urban Project Development in Latin America and Africa

Centre for Latin American Research and Documentation, University of Amsterdam, Roetersstraat 33, 1018 WB Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Human Geography & Planning, Faculty of Geosciences, Utrecht University, Heidelberglaan 2, 3584 CS Utrecht, The Netherlands
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Sustainability 2017, 9(11), 2038;
Received: 24 August 2017 / Revised: 30 October 2017 / Accepted: 3 November 2017 / Published: 7 November 2017


This paper scrutinizes current processes of urban fragmentation, segregation, and exclusion that result from the increasing flows of capital in gated communities, walled-off condominiums, and similar exclusivist investment hubs in Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa. Gated community-like developments are growing and spreading into new areas. Although not all of the walled projects offer all-inclusiveness, they are unanimously based on the pre-selection of specific categories of residents. Moreover, all-inclusive urban developments are taking on new and more encompassing forms, such as ‘gated cities’. Hence, socio-spatial inclusion and exclusion in the urban built environment are continuously transforming under the influence of investment capital (i.e., new urban investment flows and speculation), urbanistic concepts (e.g., different interpretations of safety and crime), and human mobilities. This paper builds on a comparison of empirical cases from Latin America and Africa to develop a qualitative framework of segregation indicators. In Latin America, gated communities have a long history, but exclusionary developments are changing in form, as well as in implications. In Africa, research on gated communities has particularly focused on South Africa (where they have a longer history), but exclusionary developments are spreading rapidly across the continent, and will influence future real estate development and land markets. Based on such complementary experiences, this paper grapples with the question of how these new all-inclusive developments influence the possibilities of achieving inclusive and sustainable urban transitions, as advocated in Sustainable Development Goal 11 (SDG11) and the New Urban Agenda.

1. Introduction

Urbanization is currently at the top of the development agenda. Based on Sustainable Development Goal 11 (SDG11), ‘Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable’, the United Nations extended the SDG agenda by adopting the New Urban Agenda in 2016. Urban debates are thus increasingly taking into account the specific situations of cities and emerging urban regions in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. One key challenge in the global south, where the urban poor are facing persistent exclusion from the possible benefits of urbanization, is making cities more inclusive [1]. This is in part because large socio-spatial inequalities threaten sustainable urban futures in many ways. Here, the challenge of SDG11 and the New Urban Agenda, especially in terms of the implementation of new policies, arguably lies in its contradictions: whereas the New Urban Agenda emphasizes renewed attention for urban planning in order to sustainably deal with future city growth, this message indirectly promotes top-down master planning, which can produce new forms of exclusionary space. For example, all-inclusiveness is taking on new and larger forms in recently developed cities that are currently being designed across Africa and Asia. On the other side of the coin, cities in Latin America tend toward increasing ‘enclavization’, in which fences, gates, and security measures create ‘leftover spaces’ for ‘leftover citizens’ in the existing metropolises.
In this paper, we critically analyze current urbanization trends by delving into a specific topic of high relevance: the processes of urban fragmentation, segregation, and exclusion that result from global flows of capital in gated communities, walled-off condominiums, and similar exclusivist investment hubs, which are increasing and spreading into new areas. Although not all walled projects offer all-inclusiveness, they are unanimously based on a pre-selection of homogeneous categories of residents. Moreover, all-inclusive urban developments are taking on new and more encompassing forms, such as ‘gated cities’. Hence, forms of socio-spatial inclusion and exclusion change under the influence of new urban investment flows and speculation, and so result in new urbanistic concepts related to insecurity and human mobilities. Through an exploration of the nature and extent of all-inclusiveness versus exclusion in current urban developments and new city plans across Latin America and Africa, we aim to integrate several current urban debates, while also contextualizing the challenges and opportunities that exist for sustainable urban development.
The paper first contributes to debates on urban segregation, inequalities, and insecurity by shedding new light on the development of gated communities, gated cities, and the creation of separatist narratives about the city. Second, we touch upon issues of new investment flows and speculative urban investments in land and housing, in which a wide variety of actors are involved. This topic is taking on renewed relevance in the context of population growth, land scarcity, and land commoditization. Third, important aspects of inclusion and exclusion in the built environment involve the mobilities of people, knowledge, and ideas related to rural–urban migrants and inter-urban migrants, but also new types of mobile people, such as return migrants, remittance-senders, tourists, expats, and lifestyle migrants. Finally, urban sustainability and planning debates come to the fore, as all-inclusive developments—which are connected to urban sprawl, peri-urbanization, and unsustainable patterns of natural resource use—often contrast with the compact city model promoted in the New Urban Agenda.
The core of this paper deals with patterns of spatial exclusiveness in Latin America and currently gelling patterns of inclusion and exclusion in Africa. In Latin America, rapid growth and demographic transition took place in the second half of the twentieth century, while gated communities have a longer history. Yet, these exclusionary developments are changing in form as well as in their implications. In Africa, research on gated communities has particularly focused on South Africa; although these particular investment projects also have a longer history, exclusionary developments are spreading rapidly across the continent. Before we compare a selection of complementary and exemplary cases from both sides of the Atlantic (some are exceptional and illustrate extreme outcomes, while others illustrate common tendencies), we briefly outline some basic differences between regional urban systems, urban social inequalities, and financial ‘climates’. We do so to draw conclusions on the (possible) impact of project investment flows on the sustainability prospects for urban development in Latin America and Africa.

2. Urban Investments and Project Development in Latin America and Africa: Context and Methodology

Given that Latin America passed through rapid phases of urbanization between the 1950s and 1990s, and that the ‘first urban transition’ faded out at the end of the twentieth century, cities in Latin America can offer relevant insights with respect to this paper’s central theme of inclusive and sustainable development [2]. This is particularly the case since international organizations have attempted to turn Latin America’s current ‘second urban transition’ into a process of societal change that results in more equalizing and sustainable characteristics [3] (p. 17). In Africa, urban growth is on the verge of exploding, especially in the region’s primary cities. However, unlike Latin America, the primary cities in Africa are spatially fragmented and dispersed, which hinders sustainable economic development [4] (p. 70). Again, unlike Latin America, Africa urbanizes rapidly without much industrialization or structural transformation. This difference translates into an alternate economic horizon: Latin American cities started to develop when the per capita GDP was US$1860. Africa urbanizes when the per capita GDP is US$1018 [4] (p. 17; sum standardized to 2005). This makes African cities more dependent on foreign investments.
In terms of urban inequality based on the Gini coefficient, trends and prognoses between the regions also differ, which in turn indirectly steers project developments. At ‘moderate’ to ‘relative inequality’ (Gini 0.300–0.450), approximately half of Latin American cities do not demonstrate alarmingly high levels of inequality. In fact, 26% fall within the category of ‘high inequality’, 22% in ‘very high inequality’, and 2% in ‘extremely high inequality’, with a Gini coefficient higher than 0.600 (see Appendix A for inequality categories; the sample contains 139 cities from 17 countries covering 85% of the population; pp. 49–50, 59). In comparison, African cities have an average Gini coefficient of 0.581, which places them all in the category of ‘very high inequality’ [3] (p. 39; based on a sample of 37 cities). Cities in sub-Saharan countries, especially in South Africa, even rank among the most unequal in the world [3] (p. 39). Such indicators are relevant, as inequality can set a spiral of socio-spatial exclusion in motion. Nonetheless, it is important to mention that enclavization also occurs in relatively equal cities, as the next sections will show.
As segregation—which is not limited to socially unequal societies—might induce inequality in direct and indirect ways, we have developed a qualitative framework of ‘segregation indicators’ based on five archetypical cases (three in Latin America and two in Africa) that are themselves based on the following parameters: location; actors; financial construction; target groups; and socio-economic, political, cultural and spatio-environmental effects. Data on existing settlements stem from ethnographic fieldwork and secondary literature. Data on planned future projects are derived from a systematic analysis of available project information. We use an interpretative and integrated approach to point out the caveats of targeted urban planning.

2.1. Latin American Condominiums and Gated, Low-Income Housing

Spatial segregation in Latin America seems to be defined in large part by people’s everyday perceptions of inequality and insecurity, as opposed to quantitative measurements of inequality in terms of the Gini coefficient. Several scholars have described the fragmented Latin American city by examining socio-spatial contrasts in, and between, residential areas (see for example Borsdorf, Hidalgo and Sánchez [5]; Klaufus [6]). In fact, urban violence and perceptions of urban insecurity are among the most notorious problems of Latin American cities that often result in enclavization [7]. Whereas residents of high-end neighborhoods can afford to hire private security, residents in poor settlements need to organize their own security measures. For example, many poor neighborhoods across the region feature self-managed vigilante systems, as residents felt neglected by the state police (see Goldstein [8]). Caldeira’s well-known analysis of the causes and consequences of São Paulo’s walled-off enclaves demonstrates how high levels of violence and fear have set in motion a series of strategies that change urban landscapes as well as public interactions [9] (p. 258). Borsdorf et al. give a general account of the regime of the condominium, whereby individual housing titles are combined with collective ownership over land and joint facilities [5]. This property-law construction enables the member–residents of a condominium association to set strict rules and regulations with regard to the aesthetics of houses and landscapes, as well as regarding the requirements interested buyers must meet. In practice, a lawful pre-selection of residents acts as an exclusionary mechanism. Residents end up being surrounded by ‘similar others’. Such selection mechanisms, which prevent other social groups (especially those from lower social classes) from entering the gated complex, create the illusion of class-based segregation. In reality, middle- and upper-income condominiums employ low-income workers as housekeepers, nannies, cooks, gardeners, and guards. Caldeira holds that such mechanisms result in absurd logistics, in which rich homeowners try to avoid encounters with poor domestic servants by creating separate entrances [9]. Fenced-off residential zones, however, are no longer preserved for the rich; even social housing projects are nowadays developed as gated enclosures [5] (p. 366). What remains outside the walls and fences is considered to be ‘leftover’ space. Such formally designed gated communities are common in Santiago (Chile) and Buenos Aires (Argentina), both cities with high Gini coefficients.
In contrast to these highly unequal cities, Lima is formally ranked as an urban society with a ‘moderate’ level of inequality (Gini 0.400). Yet paradoxically, Lima’s urban space has more walls and fences than Santiago, Buenos Aires, or any other Latin American city [10]. The most disputed wall is the ‘wall of shame’, which spans over a length of 10 kilometres (km) and divides the residential zone of Las Casuarinas (Surco District) from the informal settlement of Pamplona Alta (San Juan de Miraflores District). Generally, most of Lima’s upper-class gated communities have been formally developed as walled-off residential zones. Yet at the same time, many middle- and lower-class barrios, which developed as self-help settlements, were later informally fenced off and equipped by residents themselves with security devices or guards. Thousands of such consolidated neighborhoods have gated streets, resulting in at least 3000 physical barriers and some 300 residential enclaves [10] (p. 24). This increasing reliance on physical barriers has turned Lima into an uneasy mixture of exclusive and exclusionary spaces, which reduces the amount of public space and obstructs mobility throughout the city [11]. This leads us to the Nordelta project near Buenos Aires, a typical suburban and higher class gated community that draws attention due to its enormous scale and environmental particularities.

2.2. Nordelta: A Mega-Gated City in Argentina

Buenos Aires is a fine example of a primate Latin American city. While the city proper counts around three million inhabitants, over 100 smaller towns accommodate another eight million residents in the actual built-up area of the Greater Buenos Aires agglomeration. Historically, the city expanded along railway infrastructure that connected new suburbs with the city center. Today, processes of socio-spatial reconfiguration are driven by the progressive development of road infrastructure. Along existing highways, greenfield areas in the 30–50 km zones around the city are ‘urbanized’ by land developers and made attractive with all kinds of services for the higher middle and upper classes [12].
Most of this development—privatized residential spaces for the urban elite—occurs in the Northern districts of the metropolitan area. However, since the 1960s, many informal settlements were also developed in these zones. In later decades, the population grew in numbers as a result of the outward mobility of blue-collar workers [13]. The new gated communities and gated cities for the middle- and upper-class families that have entered in these areas since the 1990s stand in sharp contrast with the social realities in existing low-income neighborhoods; they contribute greatly to the current processes of socio-spatial fragmentation in Buenos Aires.
The major new gated city in the north of the metropolitan area is Nordelta. As the largest gated city of Argentina, and situated in the swampy wetlands of the Luján River, it is portrayed by Michelini and Pintos as a ‘polderized gated community’ [14]. The origins of the Nordelta project date back to the early 1970s, when Argentinean companies Supercemento, SAIC, and DYOPSA purchased 1600 hectares of land in the municipality of Tigre. These large companies had a sound track record with the construction of infrastructure and public housing in Argentina and other South American countries. They also cherished good relations with the local municipal and provincial authorities, as demonstrated by the smooth process of project approval and legalization. A third national real estate partner devoted to the development of large-scale real estate projects, Consultatio S.A., joined the consortium in 1998, after which the sale of plots took off.
The master plan for Nordelta envisaged a city for 40,000 people; with 7000 houses already built, it now is home to 25,000 residents. Situated around various artificial lakes, the houses are built on land that was raised with the material from the lakes. The development of this gated city required an impressive amount of investment prior to the actual start of the construction; US$200 million was required to remove 20 million m3 of dirt to fill the terrain above the flood level, as well as to construct both a central lake and the infrastructure needed for the complex [14] (p. 44). Total investment amounted to one billion US dollars. In addition to the houses, Nordelta includes several retail centres, five private schools, two private health centres, and a branch of a private university [15] (p. 21). Basic infrastructure (water, sanitation, electricity) within the walls of Nordelta is provided by private companies. The area also has various restaurants and sports facilities, including a golf course and a football club. The Nordelta open-air mall concentrates over 100 businesses; these are unaffordable for the lower classes, and cater only to the wealthy residents of this private city [16].
Within the confines of Nordelta’s perimeter, separate neighborhoods are developed incrementally. While detached housing is the norm in most of the ‘barrios’, various four to 10storey condominiums (some still under construction) dominate the local skyline. Several ‘barrios’ are exclusively planned for the wealthiest households, complete with spacious waterfront villas and luxury services. In the neighborhoods of Los Castores, La Isla, and Lagos del Golf, for example, five-bedroom villas with a total floor space of over 500 m2 are on offer for amounts between US$1.5 million and US$4.5 million [17,18]. In other neighborhoods, house construction targets a more mixed populace; based on a diversity of needs and financial capacities of aspiring residents, one-room apartments of 32 m2 are listed for US$95,000, while two to six-room houses can be purchased for US$150,000–600,000. Nonetheless, the average house price in Nordelta is US$572,087, an amount that is beyond belief for those who live in the surrounding popular settlements.
Even though it is a fact of life that those who can afford to live in gated communities primarily do so because of security and safety reasons, it is also no secret that such private real estate ventures often function as hotspots where the upper and underworlds meet. Nordelta does not appear to be immune to that reality. Rumor has it that the complex is an ideal place for money laundering, and that it also is a safe haven for high-ranking drug traffickers and their associates [19]. Understandably, the Nordelta consortium highlight the positive aspects of living in this walled city. Developers boast about caring for the environment and promote the key marketing message on its website: living in this area implies the simultaneous enjoyment of ‘the quietness of nature and the comfort of the city’ [20].
Yet, in terms of environmental sustainability, the Nordelta experience is far from positive. It is very likely that this megaproject has been more damaging to the ecosystem than the development of any other gated community in Argentina, not only because of its huge size, but in particular because of its disruptive impact on the hydrological–environmental balance of vulnerable wetland areas in the lower Luján River Basin. The dredging of sediments and the radical reshaping of the landscape have resulted in completely modified watercourses. While the upper Nordelta has ample artificial lakes that can be used for water storage and flood control, the lower lying informal settlements have lost their natural storage and drainage capacities, because the water can be blocked by the walls of the gated city. As a result, significant flooding in the Luján River Basin, which occurred in 2013, 2014, and 2015, particularly affected the low-income settlements beyond the walls of the gated communities [13,14,21]. Thus, the ongoing development of gated communities, especially in the northern river delta parts of Greater Buenos Aires, simultaneously exacerbates both socio-spatial and environmental injustice.

2.3. Verticalization

Apart from the low-density, and horizontally-spreading condominiums in Argentina’s suburbs, we also see a growing tendency toward the vertical city in Latin America. In the packed, central parts of cities, high-rise condominiums are serviced with high-end sports and leisure facilities, and are based on principles of vertical distinction: the higher one lives, the more prestigious. The Barranco District is one area in Lima that has recently started to ‘verticalize’ under the pressure of enclavization. This part of metropolitan Lima, which is situated along the Pacific Coast and located south of upper-class Miraflores, was traditionally characterized by low-rise housing. Near the beach, the area features streets with lush monumental mansions for the rich Peruvian oligarchy, and streets with small homes and workshops for the working class. Over the last 15 years, a steady inflow of new residents has driven the housing demand, and concomitantly, the rising prices. The district has started to gentrify, and new upper middle-class groups have gradually replaced the working class. Public parks and even parts of the beach are increasingly privatized and off-limits, or better stated, illegally appropriated by private actors living in the vicinity [22] (p. 94).
A few years ago, real estate prices already reached US$1300 per square metre (m2) [23] (p. 14). As a result, young Limeños in search of housing faced financing difficulties. Housing units were designed in evermore smaller dimensions to maintain high sales levels. This resulted in the development of so-called micro-apartments: 42 m2 apartments in luxury high-rise condominiums. In the segment of apartment sales, the Barranco District now tops the pricelist in metropolitan Lima, with averages of US$2300 per m2 in April 2017 [24]. The benefits for private investors are clear. Whereas a decade ago, houses in Barranco were bought to live in, investors looking to rent out primarily generated the current demand. All over the Barranco District, plots with low-rise family homes are bought up and replaced by high-rise condominiums. This real estate boom is arguably enabled by a local administration that—in comparison to other districts in Lima—is rather indolent in terms of zoning plans and building regulation enforcement. The process of physical densification and verticalization thus alters not just the morphology, but also the identity and economy of this central part of Lima.
Similar verticalization processes have been described for other Latin American cities. O’Neill and Fogarty-Valenzuela examine how physical distance creates not just a social distance, but different cultural dispositions towards urban ways of life [25]. One resident in their study on Guatamala City stated, ‘Up here there is nearly everything. It’s really rare when one actually has to go down, when you have to go down to the city’ [25] (p. 387). Cocooned in a penthouse high above the city and literally positioned over the masses, the rich Latin American perceives the harsh urban reality on the ground as a mere theatre spectacle to be enjoyed from afar.
This attitude is mirrored in Gabriel Mascaro’s documentary film High Rise, which portrays the perspectives of all-inclusive condominium residents in Brazil. In one scene, we are introduced to a woman who spends her days in her Rio de Janeiro penthouse filming what she observes from the window. Her apartment offers a view over the Doña Marta favela. The woman reflects on her surroundings without sarcasm:
‘Here I see things differently as if they were closer to the sky […]. The Doña Marta slum has even changed colour. Nowadays it looks like a load of colourful doll houses! All colourfully painted. From here you can see the evolution that has occurred in Rio de Janeiro. The whole view has changed. These buildings did not exist before. You did not have the flying bullets before. They are beautiful! We have a free fireworks [sic] display almost every day! Flying bullets. Rather tragic but very beautiful!’ [26] (10′52′′).
The observations of O’Neill and Fogarty-Valenzuela [25] are clearly supported by the statements penthouse residents make in Mascaro’s documentary film. New hierarchies of privilege have created separate and quite removed narratives about everyday life in highly unequal cities such as Rio de Janeiro and Guatemala City.
To conclude, these examples of Latin American segregation show two tendencies. Regardless of the fact that it is not extremely unequal, due to insecurity, Lima exemplifies city-wide spatial fragmentation through the normalization of fences and gates in nearly all neighborhoods, both rich and poor. Unequal cities such as Buenos Aires and Santiago exemplify the trend of new horizontal and vertical condominium development, in which social realities are created that are far removed from reality. These environments are created not only by real estate developers, but also by the elites with their exclusivist lifestyles in their high-end bubbles. In this sense, both vertical and horizontal condominiums are walled-off and protected by guards, CCTV, or other security measures to prevent ‘strangers’ from entering the premises. In the next section, we describe another trend of enclavization, in which completely self-sufficient cities are built.

2.4. New Enclaves: All-Inclusive City Plans across Africa

National and local governments in Africa are encouraged to use urban planning primarily as a tool to attract investments in property and infrastructure. This often translates into incentivizing foreign direct investment; in various cases, investments by the diasporic population are also actively sought. Gated communities are all but new on the African continent [27], but their number is growing, and new types of all-inclusive enclave developments are emerging to cater to the so-called ‘burgeoning middle classes’ that are said to be rapidly rising across Africa.
Today’s plans for all-inclusive (and often gated) new cities in Africa differ from the older generation that we know from the North and South American literature. These gated communities are often larger in size and even contain entire cities. In terms of location to existing cities, new cities pop up in suburban and peri-urban areas, as well as at distances completely separate from existing cities. Also, many of the planned new cities are structurally and functionally different, as they do not merely include housing, consumption, and related services, but also aim to integrate offices, industry, and technology hubs into holistic ‘live, work, play’ concepts. However, as soon as plans are built, these cities run the risk of developing into consumptive enclaves more similar to the gated communities described above [28]. The size and complexity of the plans makes them difficult to realize and finance. As a result, many of these spectacular new city plans remain no more than initial constructions on large tracts of empty land. Other projects do not get past the drawing table. However, speculating on future development is enough to generate the desired spin-off in terms of competitive global positioning and city branding.
One example is Konza Techno City, a new city to be developed south of Nairobi. Although meant to become Africa’s main ICT hub, the Kenyan ‘Silicon Valley’ or ‘Silicon Savannah’, implementation of the plans has yet to advance. Planned as a public–private partnership and one of the main urbanistic components of Kenya’s Vision 2030 development strategy, the iconic project is meant to ‘spearhead technological innovation and development’ at the national level by attracting ‘high-tech industries, start-ups, and universities’ and by providing national and global connectivity [29]. Moreover, the holistic concept includes housing, tourism, and commercial functions. Promoted as a ‘smart city’, residential and commercial components emphasize high-tech services, sustainable planning, and good accessibility, as well as liveability. How the plan deals with existing levels of crime and security in Nairobi is not mentioned, nor is the extent to which the project will be ‘walled off’ from the rest of the city, except that there is already a large fence surrounding the construction site. Crime is a serious issue in Nairobi (see for example LeBas [30]); ‘secure’ or ‘walled-off’ living is often used as a marketing tool in parts of the housing market, and there are already quite a few smaller and gated residential communities. Konza Techno City is, according to its plans, meant to generate 17,000 direct jobs by the end of 2018, and to have 200,000 residents by the end of 2030. Although most of the area to be developed is currently nothing more than grassland surrounded by a fence, there have been ongoing land sales and speculation, as well as a few initial activities related to housing construction. Nevertheless, the project has already experienced a significant delay; the future trajectory of the development remains unclear, and surrounded by political problems [31,32].
Apart from this specific example, it is relevant to note that some of Africa’s new cities tend to target very specific groups. Waterfall City and Modderfontein, which are both near Johannesburg, South Africa, exemplify this. The existing gated community of Waterfall City is tailored partially to an Islamic population. The project blends religious conformity and a traditional interpretation of Islamic principles with private enterprise and consumerism [33]. It is important to note in this context that Johannesburg infamously leads the UN’s list of most unequal cities in the world, with a GINI coefficient of 0.75 [34] (p. 242). The new city to be built at Modderfontein is developed by the Chinese company Shanghai Zendai based in Johannesburg, South Africa. The city will be master-planned and multifunctional, and is to function as a hub for Chinese companies to establish a presence in Africa. It is expected that Chinese residents will therefore also be targeted, although not exclusively (since South Africa offers a large domestic market as well).
With such all-encompassing ideas developed into paper-thin realities, it is relevant to take a closer look at the parties involved in these projects. The main modalities of finance and development of new cities in Africa are: (1) entirely private investment and development; (2) foreign state involvement (e.g., China’s state-owned China International Trust and Investment Corporation in Angola); and (3) public–private partnerships between the national government and the private sector [28]. The latter is common for all-inclusive developments: a development company is set up to allow the government to collaborate with a complex international consortium of investors, developers, and architects. It is known that Konza Techno City is government-led (the Kenyan Ministry of Communication and Information is the leading government ministry in the autonomous development company Konza Technopolis Development Authority KoTDA, based in Nairobi, Kenya), while the master plan for phase I is prepared by a consortium of 10 international development companies, among which are global, US-based, Germany-based, and Kenya-based consultants, architects, and real estate advisors, and the IT firm Cisco based in San Jose, CA, USA. The US-based Tetra Tech consultancy is leading the master planning. The government’s responsibility is limited to acquiring and leasing out the land, as well as providing public infrastructure and regulatory guidelines. Other important actors include the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation and other international consultancy companies, such as McKinsey [31]. Konza specifically aims to attract international investment to its technological parts. Following from the international make-up of the consortium, the plan borrows from a variety of international examples and experiences, which are both western and Asian in origin. The target group for residential land sales is currently local and international private real estate developers, as well as local elites that are speculating on higher property prices.
For actual inhabitancy, investments may be particularly directed towards the people working in the techno hub who are expected to be mostly Kenyans, though expats might be needed, too. According to the plan for phase 1A, and without specifying income categories, the residential areas are developed for a mix of income populations, with most of the land being reserved for medium-income populations; parts are also planned for lower and higher income groups and temporary residents. The reality of such ‘inclusive’ plans, or how much of the project will actually be accessible to non-elite groups, is highly speculative.
Most new city projects are in a similar early phase. As a result, when it comes to surmising the implications of these projects—specific types of all-inclusive and enclaved spaces—it is difficult to draw conclusions. Waterfall City in South Africa is much further developed than most other new city projects in Africa. One of the main criticisms is that the preponderance of autonomous new-city governance and the privatization of space is bound to undermine the mandate of state governance. Murray demonstrates that self-governance and private management have replaced the role of public authority and control in Waterfall City [33]. The management plan includes the appointment of a ‘city manager’ or ‘mayor’ who is not part of any public authority, but acts exclusively on behalf of the large-scale property owners. Murray shows that this blurring of state authority with private business management creates a regime of exception, as the self-governing enclave endangers local territorial sovereignty.
Private management also undermines the public use of space, a key characteristic that infringes upon inclusive cities and the right to the city. While this happens in very direct ways in many gated communities and new cities by means of fortification and exclusion, it also happens in more nuanced ways. For example, property owners and businesses have been able to govern and securitize the everyday uses of specific areas by establishing an overlapping network of ‘non-profit’ companies, which operate similar to condominium associations. These networks enact a zero-tolerance policy toward the ‘unauthorized use’ of open spaces for social congregation, informal trading, loitering, and use of public space by ‘unwanted persons’ [33].
To be sure, Waterfall City is a unique example, because strictly speaking, one business family steers the project and defines the involvement of subsidiaries. This creates a highly hierarchic and monopolistic decision-making structure that enables the management of Waterfall City to function as a de facto municipality [33]. Naturally, not all ‘new cities’ are governed in this way. On the whole, more than the private development of space, it is particularly the privatization of governance in enclaved spaces that potentially results in problematic fragmentation. This autonomy not only undermines the mandate of local governments, it also affects the larger community, as elite populations might be less willing to pay taxes and form part of a larger urban citizenry and democratic system.

2.5. State-Led Gated Communities in Khartoum, Sudan

Urban development in Khartoum sheds new light on the role of public–private partnerships in the urban development in Africa. All of the land in Sudan is owned by the state. According to the 1925 Land Resettlement and Registration Act, which is still in force, all of the land belongs to the Sudanese government, which has made huge efforts to assign specific parts of urban land to specific groups of urban citizens. Under the rule of Sharaf Eldin Bannaga, the State Minister of Housing and Engineering in Khartoum from 1989 to 2001, the Ministry of Physical Planning of Khartoum State has drastically restructured the city according to land allocation schemes. These schemes were designed to relocate internally-displaced people into appropriate residential housing, as well as to restructure plans to assign land to specific governmental officials such as lawyers, architects, journalists, soldiers, and military personnel [35]. It seems that since the inception of these restructuring state policies, gated communities have become a common characteristic in Khartoum’s urban landscape.
One of the first and most striking examples of a state-led gated community is the Elnasr development in the centre of Khartoum. Executed in 2004 by the Elnasr Housing and Reconstruction Company from Cairo, Egypt, at the request of the Ministry of Physical Planning of Khartoum [36], it was originally developed as a condominium complex to provide housing for resigned military personnel. It later transformed into a condominium complex consisting of private flats in which 70% of owners live abroad; the additional 30% of owners live in Sudan and work for various Sudanese military institutions [36]. Elnasr is different from many other gated communities. Located in the centre of the city, it is surrounded by first-class business districts. At the same time, the project is exemplary in terms of Khartoum’s urban development, whereby specific neighborhoods have historically been developed—with the support of the local government—for particular target groups [37]. Although many of these areas were developed as ‘regular’ neighborhoods, the Elnasr plan was explicitly based on the gated community concept: a compound of condominium towers is surrounded by a wall, and guards and security cameras watch over the entrance gate.
In contrast, gated communities in the outskirts of the city are loosely hedged-off. Saria, for instance, is located in Selema, one of the poorest districts located in the outskirts of Khartoum. Saria was developed in the beginning of this century by three Sudanese businessmen who saw a promising future in this building concept. Through a partnership with the Bank of Khartoum (now the formal owner of the gated community), they financed the development of the project, which allows individual families to buy a plot on instalment and construct a villa. Potential buyers were recruited abroad through Sudanese embassies. Members of the Sudanese diaspora were especially encouraged to buy plots and build homes in the planned community in anticipation of returning to their home country at some point in the future.
However, as Saria is secured only by low wire netting, one might question the ‘gatedness’ of this gated community. Yet, in contrast to the Latin American and South African cases, urban violence and insecurity are not pressing issues in Khartoum. As such, issues of safety and security are not the major driver behind gated communities in Khartoum [36]. Although perceptions of security do rank highly, gated communities are more specifically developed as a concrete investment strategy that enables investors—whether institutionalized real estate developers or individual households—to gain prestige. Transnational families especially consider investments in gated communities to be lucrative; loans needed to build a new house can be paid off in approximately seven to eight years with the money earned abroad. Moreover, once the house is finished, investors can live off of rental incomes. In fact, due to the relatively high inflation rates of the Sudanese pound, these investors can pay bank instalments while still making a living. Hence, transnational and other wealthy families tend to buy plots and construct real estate in these gated communities; a window for future return opens up, while current risks are reduced.
Apart from being a lucrative and prestigious investment, the attractiveness of this form of urban development lies in the social cohesion of the community. In Saria, many wives and grandmothers live ‘alone’ in the villas together with their children while husbands work abroad, generally in Saudi Arabia or the Gulf States. Social cohesion in the community is very high. The old adage of ‘birds of a feather flock together’, which steers resident selection processes in Latin American condominiums, certainly applies here also. ‘Single’ women can fall back on strong social networks for activities such as shopping, bringing children to school, or accessing healthcare facilities (in contrast to the Latin American cases, these facilities are either poorly, or not at all, available in the community).
However, although gated communities in Khartoum became the new investment hubs for wealthy Sudanese, they did not enjoy the popularity that was expected. From the 20 gated community projects counted by Elhadary and Ali [36], only four have been finished. The majority of the projects are still under construction or remain stuck in the planning phase.
As a result, several people believe that the gated community concept is doomed to fail in Khartoum, because there is no real need for this housing type or style of living. People are used to living in large, detached houses and villas in more traditional neighborhoods, where extended families have been living together for generations. However, not only is the government of Sudan still pursuing this particular form of urbanization, there are plans to develop five complete satellite cities in close proximity to Khartoum to shelter the expected growing urban population [38]. As is common with new city plans in Africa (and confirmed by critical Sudanese town planners), these plans are not based on hard evidence of actual needs, but only on demographic projections and utopian ‘world city’ dreams. As one of the government officials in the Urban Planning Department of Khartoum State indicated: ‘They [the government of Khartoum] are transforming agricultural land into residential land, without a real evaluation of the current situation in the city or consultation with the local population’ (5 March 2017). Indeed, current new cities bring up the issue of ‘bubble urbanism’: rather than focusing on actual urban needs, such urbanistic projects focus instead on creating a modern world city image and speculating on future profits from rural–urban land conversion [39].

3. Discussion and Conclusions

Gated communities and walled cities in Africa and Latin America are usually developed by real estate companies and financed by large-scale professional investors, but there are also small-scale or individual investors (see Table 1). Most of the exclusive residential projects are designed to function independently and self-sufficiently without putting the SDGs first. They are designed as socially or culturally homogeneous enclaves that include a wide range of urban services for mixed use. The development of such residential projects is based on converting and privatizing urban or peri-urban land for residential, commercial, and productive-technological use for the upper and middle classes, or for specific cultural (lifestyle) or religious groups. Hence, they are associated with an increasing trend of new ‘urban land grabs’ [40]. The success of the projects is increasingly related to publicity and marketing strategies, which employ references to ‘world city making’ and other successful cities, technological innovation, and ecological sustainability, regardless of the actual fulfilment of such promises. While some of these residential projects are still on the drawing board (and may never get beyond that), we have shown that there are some gated high-rise buildings, streets, neighborhoods, and cities that have been realized over the last few decades.
The examples from African cities demonstrate that—perhaps more than in the Latin American cases—global consortia and actors are keen to get involved in the development of new projects. New, all-inclusive tech hub plans—such as for Konza in Kenya—are managed by consortia in which public–private development companies from all over the globe collaborate. Examples such as Waterfall City in South Africa indicate that, more than the private development of space and housing, the privatization of political governance can become problematic, because it might undermine local and national governments and the willingness of the elite population (locked safely up in enclaves) to pay taxes and form part of a larger urban citizenry and democratic system. While Khartoum is transforming because of the introduction of walled-off neighborhoods, the driving forces are clearly different here. Two successful examples of gated communities, Elnasr and Saria, demonstrate the demand of transnational families not only to invest in their home country, but also to maintain a transnational family regime in which women and children can run their households while their husbands are working abroad. Transnational lifestyles inspire and legitimize the presence of these new urbanistic forms. Yet, as in other parts of Africa, most of the projects get stuck in the planning phase, because the implementation of all-inclusive cities lacks any real demand or necessity. Nevertheless, the governments of Sudan, Kenya, and other countries are determined to promote these typologies in the hopes that they will stimulate local development or have positive electoral effects.
The case of the Nordelta in Buenos Aires exemplifies one of the most luxurious, all-inclusive yet separate cities of Latin America that exacerbates the spatial and environmental injustice faced by residents in neighboring low-income settlements. Most Latin American cities show that persistent perceptions of insecurity and urban violence are paralleled by the spatial and physical fragmentation of residential areas, even in not-so-unequal societies such as Lima.
Smaller, fenced-off, and thus controllable entities simultaneously create the illusion of reduced risk and stimulate citizens’ co-responsibility for their living environment [8,41,42]. Attempts to avoid risk result in a compartmentalization of the built environment with the exclusion of ‘others’ as the most prominent feature. Many Latin American middle- and working-class residents collectively invest in fenced-off areas that employ these exclusionary strategies to create more or less homogeneous and liveable neighborhood communities. On the other hand, Latin America’s upper-class population, residing in high-rise or suburban condominiums, has created all-inclusive enclaves that enable them to literally live ‘above’ or ‘outside’ the city without the need to be part of it. This city-in-a-city typology shows the extreme social consequences of fragmentation so vividly described by Harvey, who refers to this process as spatial colonization [43]. Older forms of suburbanization and newer geographies of verticalization are defining most Latin American cities nowadays, and the rapid metamorphosis of Barranco, Lima is just one striking example.
If we envision the socially and environmentally sustainable city as a heterogeneous and liveable urban realm where people’s lives can be enriched by encounters with unexpected others, then developer-based solutions for enclavization contradict that idea. In this sense, gated condominiums are not a panacea for wider urban insecurity, whether perceived or real. Regardless which side of the wall one lives on, the basic constitutive element of inclusive and sustainable cities is the possibility for all to interpret and use urban space and urban facilities to their full extent; in other words, to claim the right to the city [43]. As shown in the segregation indicators in Table 1, perhaps more than socio-economic inequality, a new kind of diligence to develop projects for specific target groups and with specific objectives has become a precursor of fragmentation and segregation. From the gated streets in poor neighborhoods in Lima, to a luxurious gated city near Buenos Aires, comfortable bubbles for transnational families in Khartoum, and elite enclaves in South Africa, each shows the negative impact of self-selection and social seclusion on inclusive and sustainable urban development.


The authors thank Mirtha Lorena del Castillo Durand for sharing information about recent developments in Barranco, Lima and Diky Avianto for sharing information about the consortium involved in the development of Konza Techno City. In addition, thanks to Eihlam Osman Hussein Elgamal for sharing information about gated communities’ development in Khartoum. Finally, we would like to thank the interlocutors in the various case studies for sharing their knowledge with us.

Author Contributions

Christien Klaufus, Griet Steel, Femke van Noorloos, and Paul van Lindert jointly conceived the paper, contributed ideas from their case studies, analyzed the data, and wrote the paper. Christien Klaufus specifically addressed sections on Latin America’s general trends and Lima; Griet Steel explored sections on Khartoum; Femke van Noorloos added sections on newly planned satellite cities in Africa; and Paul van Lindert added sections on the Nordelta case. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Appendix A

Table A1. Urban Inequality Categories Based on GINI Coefficients.
Table A1. Urban Inequality Categories Based on GINI Coefficients.
Urban Inequality CategoryGINI Coefficient
Low Inequality0.299 or less
Moderate Inequality0.300–0.399
Relative Inequality 0.400–0.449
High Inequality0.450–0.499
Very High Inequality0.500–0.599
Extreme Inequality0.600 or more
SourceUN-Habitat/CAF (2014)


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Table 1. Typological comparison: segregation indicators.
Table 1. Typological comparison: segregation indicators.
RegionLatin AmericaAfrica
TypologyPlanned ‘horizontal’ gated citiesPlanned ‘vertical’ condominiumsUnplanned gated low-income neighborhoodsPlanned gated cities Planned fenced communities
LocationSuburbanInner cityAcross urban areaSuburban, peri-urbanSuburban, few inner city
Case studiesNordelta, Buenos Aires (Argentina)Barranco, Lima (Peru), Guatemala City (Guatemala), Rio de Janeiro (Brazil)Lima (Peru)Modderfontein and Waterfall City (South Africa)
Konza Techno Hub (Kenya)
Khartoum (Sudan)
Distinctive characteristicsSpatial scale and development in river basin areaBarranco: speed of conversion
Guatemala City and Rio de Janeiro: separatist narratives
Self-organization of gates and security guards in existing settlementsSpatial scale
Used for global positioning
Political autonomy
State involvement
Religious and diasporic influences
Investors and developersDomestic real estate developers
Domestic professional investors
Domestic small private investors
Domestic real estate developers
Domestic small private investors
Low-income residentsDomestic and international real estate developers
Public-private investment partnerships
State-led urban development
Small private investors (transnational)
Exclusion/Inclusion: specific groups targeted and underlying reasons for all-inclusive developments Domestic middle and upper class
Lifestyle and security
Domestic and transnational middle and upper class
Lifestyle and security
Low-income residents
Safety, securitized zones
Domestic tech workers from middle and upper class
Specific religious and cultural groups
Lifestyle and security
Transnational middle and upper class
Specific religious and cultural groups
Lifestyle and security and social cohesion
Socio-economic and cultural effectsReinforces socio-economic differences Gentrification
Reinforces socio-economic differences
Obstructs mobility
Reduces quality of ‘left over’ spaces
Reinforces socio-economic differencesReinforces social differences between migrants and non-migrants
Socio-political effects: private vs. public administrationHigh degree of privatizationMedium degree of privatizationCommunity-based management under public tutelage Medium to high degree of privatizationLow degree of privatization
Spatial effectsSprawlDensificationFragmentationSprawlSprawl and fragmentation
Environmental effectsAffects hydrology and wetlands ecosystem
Induces environmental injustice
Affects daylight levels
Reduction of urban green zones and beaches
Innovative resource use inside
Possible resource depletion in broader area

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Klaufus, C.; Van Lindert, P.; Van Noorloos, F.; Steel, G. All-Inclusiveness versus Exclusion: Urban Project Development in Latin America and Africa. Sustainability 2017, 9, 2038.

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Klaufus C, Van Lindert P, Van Noorloos F, Steel G. All-Inclusiveness versus Exclusion: Urban Project Development in Latin America and Africa. Sustainability. 2017; 9(11):2038.

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Klaufus, Christien, Paul Van Lindert, Femke Van Noorloos, and Griet Steel. 2017. "All-Inclusiveness versus Exclusion: Urban Project Development in Latin America and Africa" Sustainability 9, no. 11: 2038.

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