Panel Session: Planning for Gender – Perspectives on Urban Development

This is a live blog entry by guest author, Amanda Martin, who is studying urban planning at MIT’s School of Architecture + Planning. The panel is part of the 2011 Graduate Consortium of Women’s Studies conference on Gender, Sexuality, and Urban Spaces in Cambridge, MA.

“Gender Transcendence: The Social Production of Identity in Urban Queer Community,” Adina Koch, MA Candidate, Sociology, Boston College

“Mannequins and Prostitutes: Re-Making the Amsterdam Red Light District through Art and Commerce,” Magdalena Sabat, PhD Candidate, Media, Culture, and Communication, New York University

“Dinks, Homos, Boomers, and Bobos: Creating Inviting Urban Environments that Encourage Investment through Diversity,” Brian Traylor, MA Candidate, City Planning and Urban Spatial Analytics, University of Pennsylvania

These three talks explored intersections between gender and sexuality and urban space and planning.  Adina’s talk looked at the emergence of queer identities among young people in U.S. cities; Magdalena’s on the transformation of sex work and the Red Light District in Amsterdam through planning interventions; and Brian’s on attracting investment to cities by shaping urban spaces that appeal to several profiles of LGBT communities.  All of the presentations engaged critical questions about particular queer communities and the urban space that supports and serves them.

The discussion that followed the talks prompted some interesting questions about the lived experience of individuals and communities that the authors did, or did not, consider in their talks.  In particular, several audience members pointed out the absence of attention to the experience of people of color, low-income people, and immigrants, both queer and not.  Adina’s talk focused on the experience of young, white communities because of their visibility and access to theories of sexuality and gender, but one audience member argued that those boundaries of her subject leave out queerness in low-income communities and communities of color, which may be marked less by vocabulary or appearance.  Further, a few audience members pushed back against Brian’s presentation of investment in gayborhoods as inherently positive, as gay gentrification often eventually pushes out existing communities.

I find that these discussions about gentrification, displacement, and LGBT neighborhoods almost always pit queer people against low-income people or people of color.  This analysis leaves out considerations of LGBT neighborhoods of color, low-income queer folks, and the intersections of multiple sexual, gender, race, and class identities.  It would be great to see a panel of speakers on planning and gender and sexuality take up as a subject the communities and urban spaces that support queer people of color, working-class queer people, queers with disabilities, etc.