#ReadUrbanandPlanningWomen2014 entry #10: Petra Doan

I first met Petra in 2002 or 2003, I’m not sure, when I was in gradual school at UCLA and my advisor convinced me to go on a field trip on Columbia, Maryland, led by the brilliant Ann Forsyth. The year ACSP was in Baltimore. Yeah. 100 years ago.

Anyway, the US was racing into Iraq, and I was in my typical mindset of waffling angst: hating unilateral military invasion unsupported by allies, deploring Saddam Hussein at the same time, and not at all sure what to think. Petra was on the tour, as well, and she was wearing a button that said “I love the Iraqi people.” It was such a thoroughly apt reflection of the one thing that I did understand about the whole situation that I immediately became a fangirl of Petra’s, and I have followed her writing and leadership at ACSP on LGBT issues ever since.

I am particularly fond of this paper:

Doan, . L., & Higgins, H. (2011). The demise of queer space? Resurgent gentrification and the assimilation of LGBT neighborhoods. Journal of Planning Education and Research, 31(1), 6-25. doi:10.1177/0739456X1039126

This manuscript examines outcomes for LGBT communities in Atlanta, using a case study and interview method. There’s a lot of material here that is interesting, and I am somewhat pressed for time here to really do it justice, but the basic premise of the article is to examine how planning disrupts and commodifies LGBT communities in metro Atlanta. They examine nine communities: five for both lesbian and gay residents, and one community, Virginia Highlands, served both groups. Gay enclaves included N. Druid Hills (best name ever), Midtown, N. Atlanta, and Midtown. Lesbian enclaves included S.Columbia-Forest Hills, Candler Park/Lake Claire, Glenwood Estates, and Decatur-downtown.

Doan and Higgs discuss how LGBT groups inhabited older suburbs abandoned by affluent whites during post-war suburbanization. There, small LGBT businesses developed and thrived. As Atlanta attempted to shake off its “poster child for sprawl” image, planning began to treat these neighborhoods as possible places for infill and change. The best part of this manuscript, for me, is the content analysis of the plans for these neighborhoods, along with the critique of the zoning decisions. In plan after plan, agencies just couldn’t deal with the LGBT residents of those communities even in a discussion of the demographics of the area. It’s not as though we need anybody to arrive a at some essential “well, gay people live here so we have to plan gay” moment; just the fact that the plans would not mention the possibility that difference existed in these neighborhoods, let alone that LGBT men and women central to the identity of a place, demonstrates that planning wasn’t ready to talk about LGBT places as places. Another, particularly sad example includes zoning decisions that threatened landmark LGBT businesses, including Outwrite Books and Charis Books, through zoning for big box stores to serve new, affluent, hetero residents.

(Outwrite books closed for good in 2012, which is a pretty long time to hold out, but still sad. And even sadder knowing that it was forced out of its original location. Charis books lives on.

The desire to bring affluent, middle-class families back to downtown and interior suburbs (I’m not sure it makes sense to talk about ‘rings’ for Atlanta any more than it does for LA) subsequently has dispersed LGBT residents throughout the region, with the impression, for some, that these enclaves became less supportive environments. Nonetheless, interviewees still long for shared life and community; it’s not as though “everybody is so tolerant you can live anywhere” and that’s why LGBT residents are dispersing. Instead, it’s that many, particularly young LGBT renters can’t afford to live in these neighborhoods anymore. When unable to afford the longstanding LGBT enclaves, respondents discuss their desire for diverse environments and affordability–a preference that leads them to African American and mixed neighborhoods where racial tensions arise where some of the hardest hit are people of color priced out of those markets as well.

A key point for me in this manuscript was how central LGBT businesses are to possible preservation efforts. I know very little about historic preservation, so perhaps this point is less impactful than I think, but it was eye-opening to me to see just how pivotal these businesses were.

Go read, go read, go read, my friends.