When I first commented on the Trayvon Martin murder, I noted that few people emphasized the fact that Martin wasn't murdered in a city like Baltimore, but rather in a gated community. Ironically it's called "The Retreat." A week later, Richard Benjamin examined the siege mentality produced by gated communities in a New York Times op-ed.
Kofi M. Boone is an Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture at North Carolina State University. Below, he goes into a bit more depth.
Along with the rest of the country I am horrified and outraged by the killing of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman, as well as the conspicuously prejudiced (in)action of the Sanford, Florida police department. Beginning with a little reported altercation that occurred on the night of February 26, 2012, and currently a national movement for justice, the Trayvon Martin case has challenged the popular trend in considering the election of Barack Obama as the tipping point in the construction of a "post-racial" America. It turns out that America is not color blind at all just "blind" when considering the lingering effects of race, gender, and class. Especially with regards to the perceived threat of young black men to non-black people when encountered in places where "young black men shouldn't be."
However as a designer and educator I am also struck by the place of Martin's death. I can't help but wonder if and how the environment where this crime occurred impacted the perceptions of Zimmerman that Martin was engaged in suspicious behavior, that in turn led to the lethal encounter. I'm also struck by the "witnesses" that have come forward, piecing together events from non-visual cues: cellphone calls, sounds through walls, glimpses through windows. Surely, crimes and even murders occur in all types of communities, but the juxtaposition of the mounting evidence of wrong doing by Zimmerman with the inability to deliver a clear picture of what actually occurred begs a question; does where this occurred matter??
Trayvon Martin was killed in The Retreat at Twin Lakes, a gated community in Sanford, Florida. I've watched the news coverage of the area for weeks and I'm struck by the many cues in the community layout itself that contribute to a lack of public community life, and possibly to a lack of perceived security. The Retreat is not extraordinary in any way from a design perspective. After penetrating the gate and fence, one travels along streets with chopped up or no sidewalks. There are few trees, benches, lights, or fences. Houses face the streets but they are dominated by large driveways and garage entries. There are front doors and stoops, but they are recessed and lack any connection to the street. Townhomes are close together, but with side yards separating units, which creates no real line demarcating public space from private space; a hallmark of community security. Rear yard space is continuous, lacking any boundaries to separate ones' rearyard from another. I have observed a few people on any sidewalk of street during news coverage; not a child playing in a park, or people using this community for more than their homes.