“Love Happens Here” – but how do we keep it that way? On the threat to LGBT venues

Pride London, 8 July 2017. Image: Getty.

Anyone who went to the Pride in London Parade on 8 July will have witnessed this year’s theme, “Love Happens Here”, in action. Over 26,000 marchers and almost one million supporters took to the streets to make a big statement about equal rights for the LGBT+ community.

That’s not the only way Pride in London (the organising group) used the city’s public spaces to create an impact. The group also teamed up with Google this year to produce a ‘Love Happens Here’ map. The public were asked to share the location of somewhere they’d fallen in love, along with a short story, and these stories were then marked on the map for everyone to enjoy.

Reading the anecdotes and examining the spatial patterns, the map actually holds some interesting lessons for people like me who work in urban development. And I couldn’t help but think that a very human dynamic, like love, should be considered more in the way we plan and design our cities and public spaces.

Here are a few things that the Love Happens Here map can teach us about cities and the LGBT+ experience of the city in particular:

The green and blue spaces in cities are important for quality if life. On the map, many people fell in love in places that connect them with nature. The Thames, parks and canals all feature as places where people created love stories. This reinforces the importance of these “shared gardens” in dense cities like London as places where we relax and enjoy the outdoors with friends and partners.

People make more than just rail connections at train stations. Though less romantic than the airport scene in the film Love Actually, train stations are places where couples are saying goodbye or welcoming loved ones home. Excellent design (like King’s Cross Station) and the growing popularity of leisure offerings in train stations make them more of a destination—a more pleasant space for those important farewells and hellos.

‘Gay enclaves’ like SoHo still matter. SoHo stands out as a neighbourhood with many LGBT+ love stories, but we know anecdotally that other LGBT concentrations like Hackney, Shoreditch and Clapham have strong clusters as well. I want to elaborate on this point in particular.


The agglomeration of LGBT+ venues has long been important as a way to create safe spaces and a density of nightlife and leisure activities that is required to serve the relatively small market. But, a range of broader economic and social forces – including rising London rents, the proliferation of dating apps, the growing acceptance of the LGBT+ community in “straight” bars and the “gentrification” of historically LGBT+ neighbourhoods – have led to a reduction of London’s LGBT+ pubs and bars by 50 percent in the past decade. This raises a question as to whether we need to protect gay enclaves as a part of cities, and if so, how to keep them thriving.

Amy Lamé, London’s Night Czar, has long supported the LGBT+ community and has been working with the mayor to protect the most important LGBT+ venues (among others) from redevelopment and the threat of closure. And for good reason: research from UCL notes that such venues serve “a wide range of important welfare, wellbeing and community functions.”

The 2015 book Planning and LGBTQ Communities has shown a process of LGBT enclaves becoming gentrified, which can either lead to them moving to another part of the city or getting absorbed into the wider community:

Whether London’s gay enclaves are losing ground to a typical process of gentrification or there are particular macroeconomic challenges facing them, like rising rents or changes in social tastes, is a question that should be explored further. If cities like London attract talented workers and create new ideas because of their diversity and inclusiveness, we must also bear in mind what attracts and retains diverse communities in the first place.

Though the Love Happens Here map is a relatively small sample of how people experience the city, it opens up an interesting opportunity for urban designers, planners and policymakers. If we regularly collect more information on how LGBT+ communities and other minority groups experience public life in cities, we can start to understand how to attract and retain the diversity of backgrounds and talent that makes cities interesting, liveable, innovative and successful.

Zach Wilcox is a senior consultant for Arup’s city economics practice and UKMEA chair of the Arup LGBT+ network, Connect Out.

 
 
 
 

Ottawa-Gatineau, the national capital which language differences nearly split into two countries

The Canadian parliament, Ottawa.

There are many single urban areas with multiple, competing local identities: from the rivalry of Newcastle and Sunderland in Tyne & Wear, to the Wolverhampton residents who resolutely deny that they are part of Birmingham, despite being in the same urban conurbation and sharing a mayor.

However, no division is quite as stark as that of the Ottawa-Gatineau metropolitan area in Canada. Often referred to as the National Capital Region, Ottawa and Gatineau lie directly opposite each other on either side of the Ottawa River, a hundred miles from Montreal, the nearest other significant population centre. Because the conurbation straddles a provincial boundary, the two cities literally speak a different language, with Ottawa in predominantly Anglophone Ontario and Gatineau in Francophone Quebec.

This is reflected in their populations. According to the 2011 census, French was the mother tongue of 77 per cent of those in Gatineau, a percentage maintained by policies intended to keep French as Quebec’s dominant language. Similarly, although Ottawa provides some bilingual services, 68 per cent of its residents are predominantly Anglophone; Franco-Ontarians frequently complain that the city is not officially bilingual.

Although there are similar divided cities, such as the Cypriot capital of Nicosia, Ottawa-Gatineau is unique in that the city was not divided by a war or major political event: its two halves have been part of the same political territory since the British defeated the French in the Battle of the Plains of Abraham in 1759, before either of the cities were even established. Indeed, the oldest part of Gatineau is actually an Anglophone settlement with the name of Hull (it was merged into the Gatineau municipality in 2002).


Today, the two cities facing each other across the Ottawa river have separate services, and elect difference mayors to run them: OC Transpo serves Ottawa, the Société de Transport de l’Outaouais (STO) serves  Gatineau, and few tickets are transferrable between the two systems.

OC Transpo is currently constructing a light rail system to many parts of Ottawa; but proposals to expand the route into Gatineau, or to merge the two transport systems have been fraught with obstacles. The City of Ottawa owns a disused railway bridge, connecting the two cities, but arguments about funding and political differences have so far prevented it from being used as part of the light rail extension project.

The divisions between Ottawa and Gatineau are made all the more unusual by the fact that Ottawa is the federal capital of Canada – a country where bilingualism is entrenched in the Charter of Rights & Freedom as a bedrock principle of the Canadian constitution. As a result, while all proceedings within the Canadian legislature are bilingual, this principle of bilingualism is not reflected on the streets surrounding the building.

The inevitable map. Image: Google.

These linguistic, as well as political, differences have been a long-running theme in Canadian politics. Quebec held independence referendums in both 1980 and 1995; in the latter, the separatists were defeated by a margin of less than 0.6 per cent. Quebecois independence would be made all the more humiliating for Canada by the fact it would be losing the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, while its parliament was forced to look out across the river at its new neighbours.

While Quebec as a whole only narrowly rejected independence in 1995, 72 per cent of Gatineau residents voted against the separatist proposal. The presence of many federal employees living in the city, who commute to Ottawa, meant that the city was rather unenthusiastic about the prospect of independence.

So, with Quebec nationalism currently at a low ebb, Gatineau seems set to remain a part of Canada – albeit while retaining its independent from the other half of its conurbation, across the river. While recent challenges such as flooding may have been better tackled by a unitary authority, the National Capital Region seems set to remain a tale of two cities.

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