Home, safe home Security is a high priority for homeowners these days, and they've got the deadbolts, motion-detectors and gated communities to prove it.

March 15, 1998|By Karol V. Menzie | Karol V. Menzie,SUN STAFF

Call it defensive urbanism. Paranoid architecture. The architecture of fear. America the besieged. Fortressing.

In a world perceived to be big, bad and dangerous, people are doing whatever they can to make themselves feel more secure in their home environments. It may be as simple as installing a 1-inch double deadbolt on a steel-core door, or as complex as moving into a community that is surrounded by fences and gates, as castle walls protected feudal estates in the Middle Ages. One new development in California is surrounded by a 25-acre moat.

"Human beings want to feel safe," said Paul Spring, a former contractor who is editor in chief of Today's Homeowner magazine. "It's the reason people form communities, it's the reason police are given power to enforce the laws -- it's the whole social compact."

But people's ability to feel safe in society is being eroded by a variety of factors, he said. One of those is fear of crime, fueled by horrific sights of murder and mayhem nightly on the evening news -- even though, in fact, those events may be happening far from the viewer's home, and even though government statistics show that serious crime across the nation is declining.

Baltimore architect Nick Mangraviti recalls his parents discussing a lurid murder in Philadelphia when he was a child in the '50s. It was unusual, he said, because "it was a period when we didn't have so much focus on crime. Now every day there's a report about some murder, you see a body being carried out on television."

The nightly sights are a visual reinforcement of apprehension, Mangraviti said, so even though "employment is up and crime is down, the impression of insecurity is higher than ever."

"Crime is scary stuff," Spring said, "but beyond the physical invasion, there's a psychological invasion that people are feeling.

"Part of it is time," he said. "There's less time at home, there's less time to ourselves. And part of it is the electronic invasion -- with faxes and beepers and cell phones, we're never alone. So the one place that people feel they can be safe is in their home -- that's their castle."

Most people these days have taken some elementary steps toward protecting their castles, installing bigger locks, steel doors, motion-detector lights and security systems.

Ray Sibol, hardware manager at Stebbins-Anderson in Towson, said Club-like patio door protectors and double deadbolts are always popular items among homeowners seeking a little more security -- "though a lot of times they'll do it after the fact, after somebody breaks in."

Safe cars, too

Particularly in the city, younger new-home buyers are looking for security for what may be their next-largest investment, their cars. They want garages.

"It's a consistent requirement, particularly among well-off first-time home buyers," said Rod Petrick, of O'Conor, Piper & Flynn-ERA.

But those who can afford it may be taking things a step further by establishing their homestead inside a walled community, protected by fences, coded entryways or even by guards.

"What people want is the security," said Marie Pequignot, spokeswoman for Talles Homes. Talles' new Greene Tree development in Pikesville, where town house prices range from $250,000 to $400,000, is attracting three types of buyers, she said.

Twenty-five percent are younger professionals. "They're too busy fool with a house, but they want a nice home and security for their children." The second group is older professionals. "It's a husband and wife, no kids, they're busy with their professional lives but they want an upscale home."

Finally, she said, there are the empty nesters. Younger empty nesters "want to sell their larger [family] home, and they want to have more time for hobbies and travel." Older couples may be looking toward the time when one spouse is no longer around, and they want security and no maintenance, Pequignot said.

Petrick said upscale gated communities such as Cross Keys and the new Homeland-Southway are attracting single home buyers, especially women.

At Bluff Point on the Severn, where 19 homes are nestled between gates and the river, providing a safe environment for their children is often the biggest issue among homeowners, said Kathy Langsner, who's with O'Conor, Piper & Flynn-ERA in Severna Park.

Resident Suzan Hurst said she relishes the fact that she can send her two young children out to play on the street and monitor them from the driveway, without having to "walk by their side every moment." Having the gate, she said, gives you a very comfortable feeling.

Although it can be a mixed blessing: "It can be a bit inconvenient if you have deliveries." And because the streets are private roads, "you have to have private trash service and private snow removal."

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