From the street, it is hard to see what lies behind the always-locked gates that separate Sandstone village from the rest of Kelowna, B.C. To enter, visitors must use an intercom system—and only those with an invitation are granted immediate admission. Inside, the chosen few are greeted with an archetypal suburban scene: nearly identical bungalows, distinguishable primarily by the colors of the cars parked in their identical driveways, sit among pretty gardens on tidy miniature lawns. Other than the murmur of a manmade stream running through the neighborhood, there is no sound—no noises of children at play, no droning lawn mowers. In Sandstone on a Saturday afternoon, there is an eerie peace.
To hear critics tell it, gated communities are antisocial American-style anomalies that play on irrational fears of crime, especially among the elderly. But there is no arguing with the demand. Sandstone is part of a surprising trend in Kelowna, a city of 89,500 that has become something of a regional capital for the exclusive developments. Since
the early 1980s, Canadian Adult Communities, which built Sandstone, has developed 12 gated villages in Western Canada—10 of them in Kelowna. No children live within the gates, although they are welcome to visit. Gardening for Sandstone’s 189 homeowners is more a hobby than a necessity—the yard work is done by a landscaper. Most residents are retired, lured to the Okanagan region by its short winters and long summers.
And the close-knit villages seem to satisfy longings for a sense of community—and security.
Colleen Vance—the voice on the other end of Sandstone’s intercom—is a snowy-haired, 66-year-old grandmother who moved seven years ago from suburban North Vancouver with her husband, Larry. As chairwoman of the village’s residents’ council, she describes how the community deals with uninvited visitors—say, people sneaking in behind a resident’s vehicle. “If a car drives in after us, we pull over, wait till it passes, and then look to see if we know them,” she says. “If we don’t know them, we follow them to see where they go.” In all her time at Sandstone, she remembers only one crime: a couple who lived along the fence returned home to find that a burglar had come in through an open window. “Now you tell me," says Vance, “if the rest of Kelowna has a safety record like that.”
RCMP Const. Garth Letcher acknowledges that Kelowna’s gated communities are among the city’s safest areas— and that in recent years some districts outside the gates have experienced a surge in break-ins. But while the high fences may keep trouble out, they might also keep help out. “All hell could be breaking loose in there and we’d never know it,” Letcher says. And like many Kelowna residents, the constable is ambivalent about gated communities. “They tend to be a bit of a debate in Kelowna,” says Letcher. “Some think that people who live behind gates aren’t very community-minded.”
But within the walls of Sandstone, most homeowners seem satisfied with their well-tended little village. Outside one bungalow, Hazel Berry is overseeing her husband, Richard, cut some carpet. The newly married couple, both in their 70s, say they love their community. For Hazel, the promise of safety was the most important consideration when moving to Sandstone from Vancouver. “It’s not safe anywhere for women—especially older women—not even in Kelowna,” says Berry. “Where else can a widow go out for a midnight stroll and feel safe?”
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