SHAHAB ALBAHAR, "Planning the Spatial Imaginaries of Urban Sexualities"



Yi-Fu Tuan (1977) infamously theorized that “place is security and space is freedom – we are attached to the former and long for the other.” Recent scholarship lamented the demise of queer space in many American cities, claiming a societal shift towards a ‘post-gay’ culture. Some link the dissolution of the ‘gayborhood’ in recent years to social assimilation and mobility (Ghaziani 2014), whereas others implicate resurgent gentrification among other economic forces of neoliberal hegemony for the changing character of ‘gayborhoods’ (Doan and Higgins 2011). Petra Doan (2015) urges planners to seek ways to preserve the unique character of LGBTQ-neighborhoods, arguing the enduring need for ‘safe space’ for marginalized groups and the critical role of queer space in constructing a collective identity. Tuan (1977: 18) stated “a place achieves concrete reality when our experiences of it is total...through all the senses as well as the active and reflective mind.” Where scale limits direct engagement in place, such as the nation-state, symbolization helps render its ideological construct a concrete reality. In this light, planning “as the organization of society in space” is instrumental for crystallizing ideology (Yiftachel 1998). Thus, planning is inherently ideological and embedded in power relations. Christina Hanhardt (2013) offers a compelling account on gay neighborhood history and the politics of violence. She challenges binary simplistic assumptions on gayborhoods maintaining a hetero/homo dichotomy, rooted in an enclave epistemology, in her study of inter-and intra- group tensions and competing notions of ‘safe space.’ This study explores the role of planning in the spatial production of a gay cultural imaginary in its various engagement with and deployment of popular media discourse. Using a psychoanalytical lens to better understand how planning conditions public desire and shapes future visions for urban space, my aim is to develop an analytic frame for advancing a critical planning theory



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Contributed date

February 5, 2020 - 12:31pm

Critical Commentary

Shahab Albahar is a third year PhD student in urban planning at UVA. His research critiques the heteronormative frameworks of planning. Using the case of Washington, DC, he asks how planning in the American Capital responded to, challenged, or helped produce shifting conceptions of citizenship at the intersections of race, gender, and sexuality. His study focuses on trans youth of color and perceptions of public space, since he strongly believes their lived experiences are insightful for developing a critical planning theory capable of directly engaging in radical queer politics.


Cite as

Kaitlyn Rabach, "SHAHAB ALBAHAR, "Planning the Spatial Imaginaries of Urban Sexualities" ", contributed by Kaitlyn Rabach and Danielle Yorleny Tassara, Center for Ethnography, Platform for Experimental Collaborative Ethnography, last modified 5 February 2020, accessed 5 May 2021.