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The Life and Afterlife of Gay Neighbourhoods: Renaissance and Resurgence
Bitterman and Hess delve into the ways in which gay neighborhoods in cities across the globe cater to and provide safe harbor for LGBTQ+ residents, citizens, and visitors in settings intended to be accepting and non-judgmental.
The book explores ‘gayborhoods’ in significant detail, focusing on their formation, solidification during the sexual liberation and social movements (of the 1960s and 1970s), maturation (during the 1980s and 1990s), and changes since 2000.
Why are you two interested in this topic?
Hess: We explore two phenomenon in significant detail that have characterized the decline and ‘de-gaying’ of LGBTQ+ neighborhoods since 2000: (1) gentrification, which has raised property values and replaced longtime LGBTQ+ residents with non-LGTBQ+ residents, often in condominiums, and (2) friction between generational cohorts, characterized by the different perspectives of baby boomer ‘pioneers’ of gayborhoods who claimed disused urban space and renovated buildings and established communities, versus today’s generation of LGBTQ+ millennials who prefer broad inclusivity over the segregation of sexual minorities and who choose ‘gay-friendly’ coffeehouses over gay bars...
Bitterman: This reflects the struggle for (physical and social) space in gay neighborhoods, which is often borne out in the absence of reliable data about how LGBTQ+ individuals live and why they chose (or do not chose) to live in various communities.
Were there surprising findings in your research?
Bitterman: We arrive at the compelling argument that gayborhoods are currently at a plateau in their spatial and temporal evolution, and there are various trajectories for the future form (or ‘afterlife’, as the book’s title suggests) of LGBTQ+ urban spaces. We project the future form of gayborhoods, drawing on available U.S. census data showing a dispersion of same-sex couples from traditional gay enclaves to other districts across metropolitan areas. Through this analysis, we imagine various types of decentralized (but no less substantial) residential nodes for future settlement of LGBTQ+ residents, especially among more affluent baby boomer and Generation X white gay men and lesbian women, while less affluent LGBTQ+ individuals may find “strength in numbers” by remaining in or near established LGBTQ+ neighborhoods.
Hess: Perhaps unsurprisingly, we also reach a relatively straightforward conclusion: gay neighborhoods matter to everyone (not just LGBTQ+ people) and are important—both historically and currently—to the proper functioning of contemporary urban culture. In this way, gay neighborhoods support the health and well-being of both LGBTQ+ individuals as well as mainstream society. The book provides three chapters of examples about how this is so.
What will interest readers about the topic of LGBTQ+ neighborhoods?
Bitterman: Our book aims to address a significant gap in scholarship and inform community conversations. As gay neighborhoods have reached a generational plateau, now is a critical time to capture the current state of importance and challenges vis-a-vis the history of and potential future for gay neighborhoods.
Hess: In concluding the book, we use the remarkable events of 2020 to argue that far from signaling the demise of LGBTQ+ spaces, the COVID-19 pandemic (like the HIV/AIDS pandemic before it) demonstrates the enduring appeal provided by neighborhoods as places of physical proximity. Quarantine measures and the 'new normal' of technologically-mediated meetings certainly suggest that the economic viability of gayborhoods may be flattened, but perhaps hearts will grow fonder after an enforced absence, leading to a second wave of place attachment and localized activism.
Bitterman: Elevating lessons learned from the HIV/AIDS pandemic and the urban pioneers who used gay neighborhoods as a formative organizing space to fight disease, as applied to the continued fight against AIDS and now COVID in terms of organizing, increasing awareness and consciousness about disease, and decreasing stigma related to disease.
The movement from distinctly clustered communities of gay people to a more integrated settings is perhaps common knowledge. So, what else is there to be solved?
Hess: We agree! Initially, this was our exact reason for undertaking the research to support this book—to better understand the relevance of gayborhoods given societal changes in the last two decades. We have observed changes and decline in gayborhoods during our travels, and we naturally wanted to question “why” this appeared to be occurring. However, upon closer inspection, we found the reasons for settlement, neighborhood choice, and formative community are influenced—strongly—by factors related to economics, race, opportunity, mental health, and social support structures.
Bitterman: Surprisingly, we uncovered that much remains to be addressed, legitimized, recorded, and researched. In this manner, we believe, we have only begun to scratch the surface of what could prove to be a much broader and long-lived endeavor, especially considering up to 75 percent of the LGBTQ+ world remains (by legal standards) in the closet.
What does Open Access designation mean for the book The Life and Afterlife of Gay Neighborhoods?
Hess: By designating this as an Open Access book, we make the research available to everyone—not just an elite group of academics affiliated with large universities. This is significant, since more than half the LGBTQ+ world—nearly the entire “global south” (including all of Africa), most Asian countries including China, Russia, and countries through Central and Eastern Europe and the Middle East—live in oppressive societies with few rights and dangerous conditions for LGBTQ+ individuals. Our scholarly efforts can help to shift the collective conversation for LGBTQ+ individuals and researchers as we remain mindful that while certain places may have advanced LGBTQ+ acceptance over the last 75 years, other places have not.
Bitterman: By making this book Open Access, we ensure two main objectives: (a) We document the fact that LGBTQ+ individuals and couples are not—in most places in the world—counted in large surveys and national censuses. (b) We ensure for a future generation that the current state of affairs is documented as an important milestone in the challenging history of the struggle for LGBTQ+ rights, equality, and freedoms.
Three images attached courtesy of the authors, depicting gay neighborhoods in Chicago (USA), Toronto (Canada), and Manchester (UK)
Alex Bitterman is Professor of Architecture and Design at Alfred State College, State University of New York.
Daniel B. Hess is Professor and Chairperson in the Department of Urban Regional Planning at the University at Buffalo, State University of New York.
Our cities are 'naturally challenged': here's why
By Dr. Nicola Dempsey, Co-Editor of the book Naturally Challenged: Contested Perceptions and Practices in Urban Green Spaces
"'Lockdown has been a time when many have appreciated the urban nature around us. Maybe it has been noticing the weeds growing through the cracks in the pavement or hearing birdsong that couldn’t be heard before. Many more people have been visiting parks, which have provided much needed respite from the challenges lockdown has brought.
... We have long known about the health and wellbeing benefits of urban green spaces – and Covid-19 certainly demonstrated how urban green spaces are an essential service. So why are there still longstanding problems in accessing, funding and managing our parks and green spaces? A new book (published by Springer), which I edited with Dr Julian Dobson at Sheffield Hallam University, aims to answer this question.
Our new book Naturally Challenged: Contested Perceptions and Practices in Urban Green Spaces sheds light on why the health and wellbeing benefits of urban green spaces jar with the asset management approaches that view public green spaces as liabilities. With contributions from international green space management experts, the book demonstrates that it depends on how the wellbeing benefits of urban nature are analysed and valued.
Too often, urban nature is not valued highly enough for local and national decision-makers to invest significant funding. There tends to be a ‘business as usual’ approach to dealing with green spaces which are underpinned by logics of ‘we’ve done this because we’ve always done this’ or ‘that couldn’t work here’ without any exploration of the alternatives.
Such logics mean that decision-makers don’t meaningfully prioritise urban green spaces, and that is often attributed to (or blamed on) others. “It’s the public who aren’t interested in the outdoors”. “It’s the housing developers who can’t provide too much green space because it makes a development unviable”. “It’s because of other government departments and their silo mentalities”. “It’s because academics don’t provide the right evidence”.
These are all examples of ‘logics of inaction’ that are examined in the book and their implications are considered by experts from the UK, Italy and New Zealand. Knowing these logics of inaction exist means we can challenge national policymakers to secure funding for our green spaces in life beyond the pandemic."
Dr. Nicola Dempsey, Senior Lecturer in Landscape Planning, Department of Landscape Architecture, University of Sheffield, UK
How much more evidence do we need to invest in green spaces?
by Dr. Julian Dobson, Co-Editor of the book Naturally Challenged: Contested Perceptions and Practices in Urban Green Spaces
"We know green spaces are good for us. The evidence is overwhelming. So why don’t we invest in what we know to be healthy and helpful, when we can find £522 million to subsidise people who want a meal out?
In case there’s any doubt about the evidence, earlier this year a team at Sheffield Hallam University produced a report, Space to Thrive, which reviewed nearly 400 recent academic papers on the social benefits of urban parks. As well as supporting physical and mental health, which you’d expect, parks also play an important community role, bringing people together and enabling people to feel more involved in society.
But we also know that parks and green spaces are underfunded. A parliamentary inquiry three years ago found they were at a ‘tipping point’ of decline in England. So why are they considered less important than roads (£27.4bn investment over five years in England), private houses (£3.8bn diverted to the better-off through the suspension of stamp duty in 2020-21), or prisons (£2.5bn to create an extra 10,000 prison places)?
‘We want to invest, but we can’t’
It’s not as if local councils, which are responsible for most urban parks and many other green spaces, think parks are unimportant. But between 2010 and 2017/18 central government funding for English local authorities fell by 49.1% in real terms, and spending power (taking locally raised resources into account) fell by 28.6%. There is no statutory duty for councils to create or maintain parks.
Even this year, when the importance of parks has been spotlighted during the Covid-19 lockdown because they were among the very few public places people could use, local authorities are still discussing how they can save more money from parks budgets.
And even when there is a chance to invest, council officers often feel disempowered and unable to make the case. In recent research in Sheffield we found a series of ‘logics of inaction’, justifiable reasons for not making the improvements council staff knew would be helpful.
Unsurprisingly, the main logic was a financial one – people believed they would not be able to justify investment compared with actions generating a perceived immediate economic benefit, like mending roads, or where there was a legal duty attached, such as social services. But we also found people were institutionally disempowered: ten years of austerity have instilled a ‘finance says no’ culture within local government.
Evidence-seeking as myth and ceremony
A common expression of this culture of disempowerment is to seek more evidence to justify investment, but then to argue that the evidence is insufficient. One parks professional we interviewed put it like this:
‘…what we need to do is be better and savvier at using statistics, using the work of yourself and research in the city to say, Parks and Countryside have got so much x, it provides y, the benefits are pounds and economic savings.’
But in further discussions, another made the revealing comment that ‘I don’t even try anymore’. In a new book published by Springer Nature, I and my co-editor Nicola Dempsey argue that evidence-seeking has become an excuse for kicking the can down the road, deferring commitment on the basis that evidence is still not good enough.
In Naturally Challenged: Contested perceptions and practices in urban green spaces, we investigate the ‘logics of inaction’ affecting suggested investments. Drawing on John W Meyer and Brian Rowan’s classic study in organisational theory showing how organisational structure is often a result of ‘myth and ceremony’ which services the purpose of legitimising activities, we consider evidence-seeking through the same lens.
While organisations engage actively in the search for appropriate evidence, the evidence legitimises a process of decision-making that does not require evidence to be acted upon. Evidence-seeking becomes a justificatory activity. We argue:
‘The myth of evidence-based policy … enables proposals to be rejected on the basis of insufficient evidence, effectively masking the politics of decision-making. A concern with “what works” and “good practice” provides an appearance of logical inevitability for what is actually a political choice.’
Where does that leave the case for investing in parks and green spaces? In our view, the evidence is good enough: it is the consequent action that has failed.
We are on the brink of a spending review that will set priorities in the UK for half a decade or more. In the run-up to that review, professionals, academics and campaigners are amassing the evidence and making the case for serious and significant investment in green space. The National Trust, for example, says we need a £5.5bn fund to improve green spaces and create new ones.
If the spending review does not deliver, it won’t be for lack of evidence. It will be a political choice. And if the political choice is for prisons rather than parks, we should ask what that tells us about our priorities."
Dr. Julian Dobson, Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research, Sheffield Hallam University, UK
Resilient Urban Futures
By Dr. Zoé Hamstead, Co-Editor of the book Resilient Urban Futures
“Cities must wage simultaneous battles to curb global climate change trends while adapting and transforming to address local climate impacts. How do cities develop anticipatory and long-range planning capacities for more resilient futures, earnest collaboration across disciplines, and radical reconfigurations of the power regimes that have institutionalized the disenfranchisement of minority groups?
This volume brings the science of urban transformation together with practices of professionals who govern and manage our social, ecological and technological systems to design processes by which cities may achieve resilient urban futures in the face of climate change."
Dr Zoé Hamstead, Assistant Professor of Environmental Planning and Founding Director of the Community Resilience Lab at the University of Buffalo's School of Architecture and Planning, Buffalo, USA.
As a champion of both fundamental research and research intended to have a direct impact on societal challenges, we at Springer Nature are proud of the attention our authors, editors and publishers pay to the future of cities.
Some of what we publish relates to issues relevant to all cities – modelling of transport or food systems, for example. Much important research is focused more regionally, or on individual cities. Such research may be conducted by working directly with city officials, or with networks of city planners. It can make an immediate difference to the health (in the broadest sense) and other needs of people who live and work in cities, as well as to the development of more sustainable aspects of citizens’ lives. SDG 11 includes targets for cities that Springer Nature’s publications speak to directly.
We invite you visit the Springer Nature SDG 11 hub "Sustainable Cities and Communities".
"I have published 3 books with Springer and a further 2 are in preparation. The first of these, Urban Morphology, has been downloaded more than 20,000 times and has 140 citations - four years after publication. Springer, and in particular the team of The Urban Book Series led by Juliana Pitanguy, are effective partners. From the discussion of the first idea for a new project, the submission of a proposal, the referee evaluation process to the completion of the book, everything is framed by excellency and high professionalism."
Professor Vítor Oliveira, Secretary-General, International Seminar on Urban Form
Computational Urban Science
A new open access journal that focuses on the intersection of computational sciences and urban sciences in building intelligent and resilient cities.
Editors-in-Chief: Hui Lin, Jiangxi Normal University, China; Xinyue Ye, Texas A&M University, USA
Discover Sustainability aims to support multi-disciplinary research and policy developments addressing all 17 of the UN SDGs. The journal publishes open access research from across all fields relevant to sustainability, including cities and urbanization.
Editor-in-Chief: Walter Leal Filho, Hamburg, Germany
npj Urban Sustainability
An open access, online-only journal, dedicated to publishing high-quality papers that describe the significant and ground-breaking research covering urban environments through the lens of sustainable development, studied across a broad range of research topics.
Editor-in-Chief: Thomas Elmqvist, Professor in Natural Resource Management, Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University, Sweden.