“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.

 
 
 
 

America's cities can't police their way out of this crisis

Police deployed tear gas during anti-racism demonstrations in Los Angeles over the weekend. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

As protesters took to the streets across the United States over the weekend to express their anger at police killings of unarmed black Americans, it was hard to miss the hypocrisy coming from local authorities – including the otherwise progressive, left-leaning officials who are in power in most major American cities. 

Many US mayors and their police chiefs had issued public statements over the past week that seemed – only briefly, as it turned out – to signal a meaningful shift in the extent to which the Black Lives Matters movement is being taken seriously by those who are in a position to enact reforms. 

The sheer depravity of the most recent high-profile killing had left little room for equivocation. George Floyd, 46, died last Monday under the knee of white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, while three additional officers helped to hold Floyd down, doing nothing to aid him as he begged for them to stop and eventually lost consciousness. The officers had been attempting to arrest Floyd on suspicion of having used a counterfeit $20 bill at a deli. All four have since been fired, and Chauvin was arrested Friday on charges of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. 

“The lack of compassion, use of excessive force, or going beyond the scope of the law, doesn’t just tarnish our badge—it tears at the very fabric of race relations in this country,” Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore told the Washington Post in response to the Floyd case. Meanwhile Moore’s boss, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, on Friday claimed that he understood why his city, which is no stranger to police brutality, was protesting. “We absolutely need as a nation, certainly as a city, to voice our outrage, it’s our patriotic duty to not only stand up for George Floyd but for everybody who has been killed unnecessarily, who’s been murdered for the structural racism that we have in our country,” Garcetti said. 

Normally, US police chiefs and mayors tend to ask citizens to withhold judgment on these types of cases until full investigations can be completed. But a 10-minute video recording of Floyd’s killing had made what happened plain. Police chiefs across the country – and even the nation’s largest police union, which is notorious for defending officer abuses – similarly condemned the actions of the Minneapolis officers, in a rare show of moral clarity that, combined with the arrest of Chauvin, offered at least a glimmer of hope that this time things might be different. 

As the events of the weekend have since shown, that glimmer was all too fleeting. 

In city after city over the past three days, US mayors and their police chiefs made a series of the same decisions – starting with the deployment of large, heavily armed riot units – that ultimately escalated violent confrontations between officers and protesters. Images widely shared on social media Saturday and Sunday nights made it clear that members of law enforcement were often initiating the worst of the violence, and appeared to treat protesters as enemy combatants, rather than citizens they were sworn to protect. 


In New York City, two police SUVs were seen plowing into a crowd of protesters, while elsewhere an officer was recorded pulling down a young protester’s coronavirus mask in order to pepper spray his face

In Louisville, the city where Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old black woman was fatally shot by police on 13 March, state police in riot gear were captured confiscating and destroying protesters’ supplies

In Minneapolis, forces opened fire with nonlethal rounds on residential streets, much to the shock of homeowners standing on their own front porches. 

Images of police pushing or shoving peaceful protesters were almost too numerous to count, including, in Salt Lake City, an elderly man with a cane

In many places, police also targeted journalists who were covering the protests, firing at clearly identifiable media crews with rubber bullets, injuring and even arresting reporters

Some protesters did commit acts of vandalism and looting, and the leaders of cities where that happened generally responded in the same ways. 

First, they blamed “outside agitators” for the worst protester behaviour, a claim that harkens all the way back to the civil rights era and for which the evidence is murky at best

Next, they enacted sudden curfews with little to no warning, which gave law enforcement an excuse to make mass arrests, in some cases violently. 

In a pair of widely criticized moves, Garcetti of Los Angeles closed the city’s Covid-19 testing centers and suspended the entire mass transit system Saturday evening, stranding essential workers on their way home from daytime shifts. Late Sunday night in Chicago, the city’s public school system halted its free meal distribution service for low-income children, citing “the evolving nature of activity across the city”.  

Governors in at least 12 US states, in coordination with city leaders, have since called in National Guard troops to “help”. 

At this point it’s clear that the leaders of America’s cities are in desperate need of a radically different playbook to respond to these protests. A heavily armed, militarised response to long-simmering anger toward the heavily armed, militarised approach to American policing is more than ironic – it’s ineffective. Granting police officers wider latitude to make arrests via curfews also seems destined to increase the chances of precisely the tragic, racially biased outcomes to which the protesters are reacting. 

There are other options. In places such as Flint, Michigan, and Camden, New Jersey – both poor cities home to large black populations – local law enforcement officials chose to put down their weapons and march alongside protesters, rather than face off against them. In the case of Camden, that the city was able to avoid violent clashes is in no small part related to the fact that it took the drastic step of disbanding its former police department altogether several years ago, replacing it with an entirely new structure. 

America’s cities are in crisis, in more ways than one. It’s not a coincidence that the country has tipped into chaos following months of emotionally draining stay-at-home orders and job losses that now top 40 million. Low-income Americans of colour have borne a disproportionate share of the pandemic’s ravages, and public health officials are already worried about the potential for protests to become Covid-19 super-spreading events.

All of this has of course been spurred on by the US president, who in addition to calling Sunday for mayors and governors to “get tough” on protesters, has made emboldening white nationalists his signature. Notably, Trump didn’t call on officials to get tough on the heavily armed white protesters who stormed the Michigan Capitol building over coronavirus stay-at-home orders just a few weeks ago. 

US mayors and their police chiefs have publicly claimed that they do understand – agree with, even – the anger currently spilling out onto their streets. But as long as they continue to respond to that anger by deploying large numbers of armed and armored law enforcement personnel who do not actually live in the cities they serve, who appear to be more outraged by property damage and verbal insults than by the killings of black Americans at the hands of their peers, and who are enmeshed in a dangerously violent and racist policing culture that perceives itself to be the real victim, it is hard to see how this crisis will improve anytime soon. 

Sommer Mathis is the editor of CityMetric.