In the last couple of years, I was lucky enough to work with Dr Lisa Stafford on research into planning inclusive cities. While primarily the work focussed on disability accessibility, a topic often resurfaced in my mind – are we building queer friendly communities? 

Planning in a broad sense is all the decisions, policies, laws and theory that leads to the public and private spaces we live in. How streets are laid out, where and who gets access to public transport, what your public parks look like, and more. These are all decisions that have to be made, influenced by international guidelines like the United Nations Sustainable Development Guidelines, national policies, state policies (Tasmania has several layers of planning policy and law) and the priorities of your local government and its planning officers. 

The communities we live in are rooted deeply in the heteronormative assumptions of the planning. Both private (for example, the dominance of the suburban home, intended for the 2 ½ children nuclear family) and public (such as most public parks being designed for families with children). In fact, many of the early proponents of modern urban planning (such as Lewis Mumford) viewed it specifically as a way to regulate sexuality and promote heterosexual relationships. Even today, very few queer people are involved in the decisions that shape our community and the planning profession as a whole. 

Queer people are particularly vulnerable to social isolation arising out of suburban planning. Queer people on average are more likely to live alone, not own a car, and to face financial stress, and as a result the suburban way of building communities is particularly challenging – reliable public transport is rare in suburbia and local queer communities may be small or widely spread due to the low population density. 

Further barriers arise in zoning laws that make it difficult (or impossible) for venues like queer bars, traditional centers of queer community building, to operate – such as bans on multi-use buildings or noise regulations. But the intersectionality of exclusion cannot be ignored either. Disabled people, people of colour, women, and all marginalised people face opposition, barriers and erasure by planning. 

From historic laws that encouraged or outright mandated the siloing of communities; to existing by-laws against signs, flagpoles, or even vibrant colours that are used to neutralise marginalised people’s expression in built spaces; to still ongoing opposition to mixed use buildings and medium density homes that continue to exacerbate the housing crisis and offer few places to make a home for single or childless queer people. 

Queer urbanism and inclusive communities and cities are efforts to overturn those barriers and building places that are truly inclusive, built for all sorts of people. 

But most importantly, inclusive communities must be built with the input of queer people. Which means getting involved in planning processes and not letting our voices fall quiet when planning excludes us. 

Nothing about us without us. 

Further reading: 

• We need queer urbanism by Aaron Greiner 

• Planning as a heterosexist project by Michael Frisch 

• Unbound expressions: Towards a queer urbanism by Adam Furman 

If you’d like to learn more about inclusive communities specific to Tasmania, I was co-author on the paper“I have mentally cancelled a lot of trips”: Trips not made by disabled people due to public transport inequity in lutruwita/Tasmania (Stafford & Tye, 2023), which is available for free, and I personally think a valuable read into how planning impacts marginalised people in Tasmania.

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