The Gayborhood

8 thoughts on “The Gayborhood”

  1. Venice did have some natural advantages. It is at the mouth of the Po which drains everything from the Alps in the north and Milan in the east. Venice definitely attracted trade people from the countryside and from around the Mediterranean. There are a lot of reasons to head for the big city aside from sexual orientation. If nothing else that’s where the money was and where things were happening. San Francisco attracted gold miners, homosexuals, musicians and lots of others.

    People are right though. Bohemian pioneer communities are usually based on cheap rents, neighbors who don’t mind, base undesirability and proximity to a more conventional city. They’re often full of older buildings, costs written down, now waiting for reuse. Stewart Brand had a discussion of the conditions in his ‘How Buildings Learn’. Once the neighborhood is discovered, the rents go up, things get remodeled and the bohemians get priced out or kicked out.

    Right now I’ve been watching Seattle’s Capital Hill. Uncle Elizabeth’s closed, but now they’re painting rainbow crosswalks. It’s like those suburban developments where they name the streets for the trees they’ve cut down and the animals they’ve displaced. In forty years Disney will open an appropriate land of nostalgia at their theme parks. (Hey, Venice still had a few real Jews living in its ghetto when I visited.) Raise a bottle of beer at Disney’s squeaky clean recreation of Stonewall for me.

  2. Over last 2 years or so I’ve come across at least 3 long-form pieces discussing the dearth of “gaybhorhoods” in most Western countries, as general acceptance of such people increases and the majority of them who, other than their sex life or relationships, otherwise fit mainstream profiles would just no longer see the point in living in such self-segregated places. Apparently, sexuality-specific venues were also on a steep decline in places like San Francisco, London, New York, Paris. From what I read, there is a small, mostly older, subset of people within the gay and lesbian community who deeply resent this integration-by-acceptance that has been taking place because they lose their tight-knit ‘all-in-this-together’ community as others broad their social circles, go live elsewhere, and straight people come to ‘their’ places and take them over.

    As for immigrant enclaves, I’m opposed to them by principle. I favor pretty much the dispersal sink-or-swim model where cultural shocks to newcomers are delivered at once, without the cushion offered by ethnic-linguistic enclaves that feel halfway between home country and host country. People are generally resilient, and adapt fast, if they need to, especially younger ones; having ethnic enclaves delays this process and is overall detrimental if we all agree that the goal for an immigrant to US would be to learn English as fast as possible, learn the basic social codes , raise their children as Americans and shed away practices and social costumes that are in contravention to society mainstream values in US (from things that are outright criminal to strong enforcement of outdated moral codes like ‘women shouldn’t work’, dowries, honor-based relations, arranged marriages and what else).

    1. Metro regions like Chicagoland, Greater Houston, Greater Phoenix, Greater Atlanta are a mixed bag of mostly suburban fabric, but they work well enough for gay people. There’s a sufficient critical mass for like-minded people to find each other. Rural locations simply don’t work because of a lack of numbers. There are too few potential mates spread over too large an area.

      Gay neighborhoods like the ones in London, Toronto, or San Francisco serve a specific purpose for many people – if only for a short period of time. They’re a kind of clearing house for new arrivals from the hinterland who need to get their bearings and then move on to a more mainstream location.

      North America and Europe have a long history of successfully integrating immigrant populations, followed by periods of intense revulsion. New people are absorbed when cheap labor is required and trade and openness are valued. At a certain point the immigrant populations reach a level of perceived threat. The cleaning ladies and garbage men start to make the locals uncomfortable. Security and economic contraction rules the day along with fear. Then the gates are locked shut for a while and some internal “cleansing” ensues. That pendulum has swung back and forth for centuries. The trick is to understand where we are in the cycle and plan accordingly.

      If I were an Arab living in France or the US these days I’d think about migrating to Asia or Latin America right about now – more opportunity, less angst as things continue to get weird.

  3. “The primary ingredients tend to involve things mainstream people don’t like – cheap run down real estate, bad schools, a largely unregulated environment, and a local political structure that pretty much turns a blind eye.”

    There’s hope for San Bernardino!

    1. Meh. San Berdoo keeps trying to be a scratch-and-dent version of its more prosperous neighbors in Orange County… I don’t see it working out anytime soon. At best it will claw itself up out of bankruptcy and the dreaded “909” perception and achieve the San Fernando Valley level of comfortable mediocrity. I say that with some affection, but no desire to live there myself. San Berdoo needs to be a whole lot more broken before it’s gritty, cheap, and unregulated enough to become a counter culture destination.

  4. I’ve wondered if a city could consciously create the sort of place that attracts the “indicator species.” I know much has been said about the so-called creative class and some cities intentionally pursue them, but it seems like the kind of people you describe on this post operate on their own terms and are drawn to places that surprise us.

    1. Attempting to induce the so-called Creative Class is a waste of time. It’s the same build-it-and-they-will-come logic that results in government subsidized convention centers, premium outlet malls, casinos, and sports stadiums.

      Indicator species like immigrants and gays find opportunity in the strangest places. The primary ingredients tend to involve things mainstream people don’t like – cheap run down real estate, bad schools, a largely unregulated environment, and a local political structure that pretty much turns a blind eye. The best gay bars (if memory serves – it’s been a long time) usually open up in an old warehouse in a nasty part of town – right next to good cheap food prepared by immigrants.

      It would be rare indeed for a McMansion gated community in South Carolina or Mississippi to become a Mecca for young guy gays or struggling immigrants. I love all these anti gay and anti immigrant laws and “Confederate heritage” flag issues that keep popping up around the country. They let me know exactly where not to live or invest my money.

  5. Gays as an indicator species. Indeed. It’s telling that Italy today is about as innovative as it gay friendly. That is to say, on the whole, not very. But those few places that are gay friendly (Milan, Bologna) are in fact creative clusters in various industries. Chicken or egg?

    Seriously though, from an urban vibe point of view, Venice (along with other tourist mainstays like Florence and Rome) is one of the most melancholy cities I’ve visited. The enormous weight of past glories, along with the very obvious 3rd tier status of today’s Venice… but oh man what an architectural museum it is.

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