Stéphane Degoutin
No-go areas vs. Nogoland
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Paper originally presented at the International Conference on Private Urban Governance, Institute of Geography, Gutenberg University, Mainz, 5-9 juin 2002.


Originally, "no-go areas" is a military expression which designates the areas where the authority of the government is powerless or not recognized. By extension, in the popular speech, it designates any dangerous urban area: forbidden territories, dangerous districts, ethnical ghettos - which are therefore excluded from the "normal" public space (the one you can go to).

In its original meaning, the word could be used to speak about gated communities, but it is never used in that sense. This is why I created the neologism "Nogoland", an ironic mix between the words "no-go areas" and "Disneyland", to designate the areas which are voluntarily excluded from the public realm by their own inhabitants or users .

Nogoland territories include gated communities of course, but also theme parks, malls, office campuses, sects, airports, universities, etc.

No-go areas and Nogoland coexist in the same urban areas. Their opposition particularly explicit in Minneapolis's downton, where most of the buildings have been linked together by footbridges at the second floor level, forming a continuous network giving access to shops, offices and parkings. The network is air conditionned and patrolled by a private police. The street underneath, which used to be the place of public life, is now frequented only by the homeless.

Yet, this is a rather unique situation. The industrial district in Downtown L.A. is more representative of a neglected American inner-city: mostly inhabited by homeless people and dangerous.

Downtown L.A., photo by Ofer REYHANIAN

No-go areas and Nogoland are both excluded from the public realm; and they also exclude each other: they are built against one another.

The opposition between no-go areas and Nogoland is at the crosspoint between very accurate problems of today's society:

   1) the exclusion from public space of a large number of people from the society, wether voluntarily or not;

   2) The insecurity problem, in a broad sense;

   3) The vanishing of democracy and of the notion of state as we know it

1) Exclusion

This problem of exclusion today is different from the traditional rejection of certain social classes. Traditionnal rejection was based on race, religion or whatever, and it still exists.
But it is not the same process that leads to the modern forms of exclusion. Exclusion is not an ideology directed against a category of people, like racism. Nobody really wants to reject the people who find themselves out of the system. They are just not included.

Downtown L.A., photo by Ofer REYHANIAN

The traditionnal societies relied on the "exploitation" of the laborious classes by the upper classes: the untouchables in India, the Jews in medieval Europe, or the XIXth century european working class. These social classes were rejected, but at least had a function in the society: the function of being exploited. They were included in the society, even if they had the lowest possible place. The society needed them.

Therefore, their exclusion was the result of a (rather unequal) deal between them and the society.

Today's "excluded" are NOT EVEN exploited by the society. The society does not need them at all. There is no deal any more between the society and them.

The excluded are out of the public sphere, in a parallel society that is always more distant from the main society. BUT they still depend completely on the society. They depend on any possible kind of social help, social space, etc.

So, the society faces a huge problem: to have to feed a social class which is of no use to the society.

According to Hakim Bey, this problem will be solved radically:

"Zones which have been economically abandoned […] will gradually be eliminated from all other networks controlled by the spectacle of the state, including the final interface, the Police. […] The consuming classes will leave these areas and move "elsewhere".
"I believe this process will speed up to the point where it will be quite obvious, in 5 to 10 years, that portions of America are no longer on the map. They will produce no growth, neither will they consume, and they will no longer be serviced by any of the spectacle's vanishing bureaux - IRS, Healthcare, military/police, social security, communication and education. These areas (economic/social/geographic) will cease to exist for all practical purposes of control."

Hakim Bey, "The no-go zone"

2) Insecurity

Even in the most "urban" districts in Los Angeles, and even in the "good" districts, the street is no longer the place for public space. Any street is a no-go area.

photo by Stéphane Degoutin

This picture shows a sidewalk on a large avenue, very near the "center" of Venice, a "pedestrian-friendly" district in L.A.

Almost every house in the rich districts of L.A. display explicit "Armed Response" signs. These signs are provided by security companies which are supposed to intervene quickly in case of intrusion.

photo by Stéphane Degoutin

Different kinds of gated communities proliferate, for almost any kind of people:

- California's Château, Palmdale, L.A., CA is an example of a middle class gated community:

photo by Stéphane Degoutin

- Cardiff by the Sea, San Diego, CA is a Lower middle class appartments gated community:

photo by Stéphane Degoutin

- This community in Inglewood is a Low budget appartments gated community:

photo by Stéphane Degoutin

- Manhattan Village is an upper class gated community, designed in a Disney-like style:

photo by Stéphane Degoutin

The proliferation of gated communities in Dana Point, California:

photo by Stéphane Degoutin

In his science-fiction novel Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson gives a very realistic description of L.A. in a near future:

"Southern California doesn't know whether to bustle or just strangle itself on the spot. Not enough roads for the number of people. Fairlanes, Inc. is laying new ones all the time. Have to bulldoze lots of neighborhoods to do it, but these seventies and eighties developments exist to be bulldozed, right ? No sidewalks, no schools, no nothing. Don't have their own police force - no immigration control - undesirables can walk right in without being frisked or even harassed. Now a Burbclave, that's the place to live. A city-state with its own constitution, a border, laws, cops, everything."

Neal Stephenson, Snow Crash

The proliferation of gated communities reflects the ever increasing feeling of insecurity. The casual question is: why does the feeling of insecurity continue to increase, even if the crime rates have dramatically decreased in the 1990s ? And the usual answer to this question is: because of the over-exploitation of the theme by the media.

I do not think this answer explains everything, because the feeling of insecurity, in the broad sense, does not only depend on crime rates.

It comes from the fear of instability of the society: fear of losing one's job, social position, financial security, wife or husband, friends... The feeling to have no control on what's happening around you; the fear to wake up one day and realize you've become suddenly useless to the society; the fear to disappear overnight from the mainstream society and become part of the excluded.

The presidential elections in France have proven in a dramatical way the intensity of this feeling of insecurity. The theme has monopolized the campaign, to such an extent that no other debate seemed possible. The traditionnal political partys were not able to propose a credible promise of security. Everything indicates that French citizens do not believe any longer in a strong and protective state - and this can be considered as a bad presage, coming from a country which has always believed in the State and the Republic more than any other.

3) Vanishing of Democracy

In the text "Religion and government", in Human, All too human, Nietzsche explains what will happen in the future of democratic societies.

The need for religion does not disappear with the discovery of the "death of God". Religion becomes a private affair, and everybody can choose his own religion. Therefore, religion is replaced by a profusion of sects.

So on for the government: when every individual has the choice to rule his life, how could a state government survive ? Therefore, government itself will become a private affair, and private governments will proliferate. Private governments are to public government what sects are to religion.

According to Nietzsche, democracy will kill itself:

"Step by step, private companies incorporate state businesses; even the most stubborn vestige of the old work of governing (for example, that activity which is supposed to secure private parties against other private parties) will ultimately be taken care of by private contractors. Neglect, decline, and death of the state, the unleashing of the private person (I am careful not to say "of the individual") - this is the result of the democratic concept of the state; this is its mission."

Friedrich Nietzsche, "Religion and government", in Human, All too human

When the democracy vanishes, and with it any kind of social contract, there is no use to feed the "useless/excluded" anymore. Therefore, the excluded disappear and the upper classes depend less than ever on the society.

Already today, the members of the upper classes of the world are more close to each other than they are to the excluded of their own country. One example of this trend is the population we belong to, who frequents international symposiums.

The society is divided in two major classes: the included and the excluded. The most included of the included are the first to exclude themselves of a system in which they do not believe anymore. For them, building walls and gates is a preventive measure against the excluded - just the same as when Americans were building nuclear bunkers in their gardens during the cold war - to be ready just in case the democratic society would disappear a little too quickly.

© Stéphane Degoutin