Friday, December 7, 2007

Fewer Stonewalls, and other losses of the city …

   If you wanted to figure out whether a neighborhood was safely hip back in the 1990s, you might have asked whether it held a Starbucks.  And if you wanted to know whether a “dirty” urban neighborhood was being cleaned up, you might have asked whether there was a gay bar—as gays often were urban middle-class pioneers.  But today the urban gay bar is a disappearing phenomenon, according to Robert David Sullivan in a fascinating assay in this week’s Boston Globe.  Gay bars offered a sense of community for gays back in the 1990s, he writes.  Today, that sense of community is being lost, along with other unique urban commercial places, such as independent bookstores.

Stonewall    Sullivan wisely attributes the loss of urban gay bars to a number of factors—some lamentable, such as the pushing out of all but the wealthy from many urban neighborhoods, and some welcome, such as the more tolerant nature of today’s America.  The author also points out that gay bars, like bookstores, are suffering because gay men now meet (and buy books) on the Internet. 

  I would have emphasized even more another factor in the loss of unique urban commercial places:  the continuing, relentless suburbanization of America.  In my pleasant little middle-class suburban town of Gulfport, Florida, for example, there appear to be at least two gay bars.  If one wants to find a second-hand bookstore or a Czech-Tanzanian restaurant nowadays, the best place to look is often not the city, but some corner of a strip mall in a middling suburban community.  For better or worse, this is where diversity can still be found in abundance. 

[“New Suburbia”: This is the first of a series on the changing aspects of suburbia.]

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