This article examines the notion of gated communities and, more generally, privately governed urban neighbourhoods. We do this by reviewing the idea that they are an innovative built-environment genre that has spread globally from a diverse set of roots and influences. These include the mass growth of private urban government in the USA over the past 30 years; rising income inequalities and fear in big cities; the French condominium law of 1804; and many other locally and culturally specific features of urban history. We contrast the popular notion that gated communities are simply an American export with the idea that they have emerged in various forms for different reasons in different places. We contrast supply-side and demand-side explanations, focusing on the idea that much of their appeal comes from the club-economy dynamics that underpin them. We examine the social and systemic costs – territorial outcomes – of cities made up of residential clubs, considering, in particular, the issue of segregation. We conclude with a reflection on the importance of local variations in the conditions that foster or inhibit the growth of a gated community market in particular countries.