Politicizing Urban Aesthetics





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Contributed date

February 26, 2020 - 9:49am

Critical Commentary

It has been argued that: “space is not naturally authentically “straight” but rather actively produced and (hetero)sexualized” (Binnie 1977a: 223). Planning scholar Michael Frisch (2002) goes further to suggest that planning emerged as a heterosexist project. Examining three dualisms within planning discourse: order/disorder, family/household, and public/private, Frisch argues that planning fundamentally promotes heterosexism through laws, ordinances, and regulations that continue to marginalize gays and lesbians (2002: 254). Urban policies which at face value appear race, gender, and sex-neutral, when enacted prove to be quite the contrary. The intersection of policy and urban geography must be viewed through a critical lens. That is because spatial law and differentiated space are mutually constitutive, rendering urban policy and planning deeply entwined in structures of power that reinforce and sustain heteronormative hegemony. Therefore, to argue that space is actively (hetero)sexualized, it is useful to invoke Marxist geographer Don Mitchell and his notion of the “annihilation of people by law.” Mitchell (2003) argues that beginning in the early 1990s the promulgation of ‘quality of life’ ordinances under the rubric of public safety, quiet, law, and order, such as sit/lie and anti-loitering laws, served neoliberal specifics of dominance by denying the unpropertied homeless populations in urban centers a right to inhabit public spaces. James Baldwin once said: “the sexual question and the racial question have always been entwined. If Americans can mature on the level of racism, then they have to mature on the level of sexuality.” 


National Capital Parks and Planning Commission, Washington, DC. Library of Congress



Cite as

NCPPC, "Politicizing Urban Aesthetics", contributed by Shahab Albahar, Center for Ethnography, Platform for Experimental Collaborative Ethnography, last modified 26 February 2020, accessed 24 July 2024. http://centerforethnography.org/content/politicizing-urban-aesthetics