*Territorial Imaginations

Graham PrisonAccording to the Community Association Institute over 54 million Americans have lived, or currently live, in Common Interest Developments (CID). CIDs include gated, master planned or intentional communities, town-homes and condominiums. The majority of CIDs are located in suburbs, and by 2005, 7 of the 54 million CID dwellers lived in gated communities.

"Common" is what many CID dwellers like about their communities. Residents often say that they leave the city to live in a "safe" neighborhood, where they "know" their neighbors and where their kids can play in the street. How the common is defined and enforced is often through a simple and vertical form of governance. In many cases, when a buyer purchases a home she also buys membership to a Home Owner's Association (HOA). These regulatory bodies care for the common property of the CID (ex. streets, parks, recreation facilities). By becoming a member, the new owner agrees to follow the rules of the CID and pay dues to the organization for services like private security, landscaping, and waste removal. The HOA board follows and enforces rules written by the developer, called "deed restrictions", that legislate how the land can be used after it has been purchased. The goal here is to ensure that the CID retains a specific demographic, aesthetic standard, and level of security. The HOA board can also create new rules and regulations as the community sees fit. Examples of these rules can include age commonality (ex. 65 and older), a square footage minimum, landscaping mandates (ex. no food gardens), vehicle limits, home business restrictions, pet weight limits, exterior paint and material mandates, and yard sign restrictions.

In CIDs, rules unite residents, functioning as a common denominator for the entire community. Fear of abstract crime, potential for change and varying cultural values drive residents to create, abide by and enforce rules that superficially prevent such contingencies, common in the unregulated “outside”, from making their way in. For a price, CID members can draw their own community, based not only on what common facilities are shared among neighbors, but on commonality to oneself.

The Illinois Dept. of Corrections is the state agency responsible for containing, feeding, working and monitoring approximately 46,000 men, women and children within the state's 52 prisons, boot camps, work camps and transitional centers. Illinois residents pay approximately 1 billion dollars a year for the state to carry out various aspects of incarceration. Just a few, new dollars go to localized community prevention, mental health and drug treatment services. Most of the state's incarcerated population are not from the towns in which they are held captive - over half are from the city and suburbs of Chicago.

I teach an art history class at one Illinois prison, located in a small, downstate town. In each class, we inevitably talk about Chicago. Students bring in pictures, sent by family members of Millennium Park, the Southside, Humboldt Park and various neighborhood scenes from around the city. Although students can have these images, maps of the city or state are prohibited in prison. In class, we discuss western arts’ centuries long preoccupation with illusionistic, or realistic, images. To supplement these discussions, I once gave an assignment for students to draw their room -- their cell. Immediately, I got a huge uproar from the class, "We can't do that. They won't let us." But I thought, for sure, if it was a class assignment, it would be “ok’d”. So I asked the officer on duty about the assignment. He explained that inmates aren't allowed to draw any room or building on the prison grounds; drawings would be understood as an attempt to escape. Each time I go to the prison for class, the front gate officer looks through my papers and books, double-checking all media for "security reasons". Sometimes when I bring in postcards for exhibitions, which often contain directional maps, the front gate officer has to call her superior and sometimes her superior's superior to “ok” the map. They allow the map if it contains partial information, or is from another country, but detailed information is banned.

In 18th century England, when John Howard advocated solitude and self-reflection as a form of criminal rehabilitation, he would have never imagined the future reaches and extrapolations of solitude. Today in Illinois, state “corrections” comes in the form of draining and depopulating specific, mostly urban, neighborhoods, dislocating inhabitants and prohibiting spatial imaginaries.