Bar Districts as Subcultural Amenities, 2015. City, Cuture and Society 6(1)
Bar districts, agglomerations of drinking establishments, are important to urban economies by nurturing urban subcultures. Their vernacular nature presents important contrasts to planned urban entertainment districts (UEDs). Unlike UEDs, bar districts are not necessarily amenities for middle- and upper-class consumption and identity, but the subcultures they nurture can include potential gentrifiers. I present a case study of Polk Street in San Francisco, showing that it supported a uniquely diverse and countercultural LGBT street scene in 1999. By 2013 it had been displaced by a heterosexual nightclub scene that was first hailed for revitalization, and then regulated as a rowdy urban nuisance. These transformations show how bar districts provide two interrelated spatial resources in the gentrification process: (1) infrastructures of adult leisure and consumption and (2) sites of subcultural networking and creativity. This case study suggests the importance of distinguishing between creativity desired by potential gentrifiers from that which is not. If gentrifiers, as a subculture, benefit from creative nightlife networking opportunities, countercultural creativity is especially fragile because few outsiders recognize it as such. Bohemian creativity that can be commercialized, the target of creative cities promoters, is only one form of creative practice, and queer practices without commercial appeal are especially fragile.
Style and the Value of Gay Nightlife: Homonormative Placemaking in San Francisco. 2015. Urban Studies 52(16)
Reductionist conceptions of gay nightlife and the neighbourhoods they anchor have obscured their diversity amid claims of gentrification or displacement. The divergent trajectories of San Francisco’s three gay bar districts present a natural experiment to specify the relationship between gay placemaking and urban processes. In 1999, each neighbourhood anchored distinct stylistic practices but by 2004, one had collapsed, another became stylistically mixed, while the youngest expanded and became homogenous. In that neighbourhood a particular gay style and mainstream cosmopolitanism converged, spatially institutionalising what queer theorists call ‘the new homonormativity’ comprising sexual discretion, mainstream political assimilation and boutique consumerism. Adherence to this particular gay style conferred spatial capital, allowing cosmopolitans, gay and straight, to literally ‘take place’ anywhere, while nonconformist gays lost their places. Contrary to popular and academic claims, not all gay places are associated with gentrification: homonormativity fostered gentrification from within, nonconformist gay nightlife fell victim to gentrification from without. This study thus contributes to a clearer relationship between gay men and urban revitalisation, nightlife economies, and the valuation of some forms of urban creativity and placemaking over others.
Urban Ethnography’s “Saloon Problem,” and It’s Challenge to Public Sociology. 2007. City & Community 6(2)
This essay assesses the legacy of urban ethnography’s (UE) early engagement with the “saloon problem.” Early sociologists (1880–1915) intervened in the national debate on alcohol on the basis of their long-term, in-depth understanding of the urban poor. Ethnographers highlighted the role of the saloon as a haven for maintaining social ties while socializing immigrants to American norms. Instead of prohibition or temperance, sociologists advocated replacing the saloon’s positive functions with more democratic institutions, especially an egalitarian domestic sphere. This position was shared by both academic and settlement house sociologists whose saloon investigations offer a coherent sociological research paradigm that antedates the Chicago School. The activism of early sociologists exemplifies the characteristics of Michael Burawoy’s recent call for public sociology. Yet the early sociologists failed to redeem the saloon amongst Progressives, who increasingly rallied around the National Anti-Saloon League and constitutional Prohibition. By only investigating alcohol in its public manifestations, sociologists failed to challenge the way the social problem was framed and may even have contributed to the stigmatization of the saloon. This voyeuristic opportunism has plagued the American tradition of urban ethnography, the ineffective legacy of which poses a challenge to a contemporary revival of public sociology.