Placemaking in Boystown : a story of perspective and collaboration




Sessions, Aaron Merrill

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Minorities must be intentional in seeking out and making spaces for their communities in the cities they live. Depending on the political and social cultures influencing their leaders and peers, they will find varying degrees of ease or difficulty in finding and creating spaces relevant to their minority community. I sought to find out which factors influence a minority community’s ability to successfully produce space in their city. More specifically, I wanted to see what influence cities have in that development process. I chose Chicago’s gay neighborhood as a case site after learning about former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s Neighborhoods Alive program at an American Planning Association National Conference. Under the Mayor’s initiative, several minority groups in Chicago received funding for planning and building streetscapes that reflected their communities. Chicago’s gay neighborhood, Boystown, was among the communities that received funding and I was intrigued by Chicago’s direct role in minority community placemaking. In addition to literature reviews on Boystown’s history and theories on space creation, I visited Chicago for a week in August 2018 and while there I interviewed 12 leaders and professionals connected to Boystown. I found that gay space creation in Chicago grew exponentially once the City ended discriminatory treatment of the community. Once those city inflicted burdens were removed, minimal direct action from the City was necessary for gay space creation to flourish. Before sodomy laws were removed in 1961, and even some time after, regular raids on businesses and arrests of patrons made space occupation difficult and contributed to the transient nature of gay spaces before the late 20th century. When discriminatory laws were removed and as harassment waned, gay spaces were able to develop in ways not previously possible. Ownership of buildings and homes and a growing openly gay community also changed the way gay spaces formed compared to Chicago’s past. Outside of the streetscape investments, Chicago has moved into a supportive role, allowing the community to determine its own future in part as a means to promote its business district as an amenity and tourist destination


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