Modern planning has a heterosexist agenda. At least that is what Michael Frisch wants us to believe. In his article, “Planning as a Heterosexist Project” he lays out his case. Inclusivity and equity for all should frame urban planning and we should challenge theories or practices which disfranchises any group. Without question, the homosexual community has suffered from discrimination and persecution. However, Frisch fails to present a sound argument linking urban planning movements to heterosexism. He constructs a tenuous ladder made up of fairly disparate circumstances and expects the reader to climb up to his conclusion. By using a single thread of transitive logic to connect his evidence, he leaves his premise vulnerable to weakness with any piece of that evidence. While I find shortcomings in most of his evidence, in this blog, I will examine the instability of his foundation, his source of global heterosexist urban planning.
Frisch begins his argument by attempting to link two eminently influential theorists from early modern planning, Geddes and Mumford, to anti-homosexual sentiment. Since Frisch uses Mumford’s enthusiasm for Geddes’ musings as a bridge for Geddes’ heterosexism to permeate America, I will focus on Frisch’s attack on Geddes. He primarily uses quotes from Geddes in effort to show that Geddes found homosexuality perverse and a cause of disorder and thus created a planning theory to destroy it.
First let’s take a look at the quotes on pages 391-392 (Fainstein and Campbell, 2012). Frisch wants us to believe Geddes considers all single adults as homosexuals who threaten the true normalcy embodied in the family. From this posit, Frisch jumps to a verdict that Geddes sought order by planning for the family and against the individual. We need to look at the context of Geddes’ quotes. He was responding to the squalid conditions of tenement life brought on by industrialization. Lack of privacy and a lack of social morals exposed all ages to all kinds of sexual acts. In the quote, Geddes registered concerns with both heterosexual and homosexual actions. Thus, I do not find this citation to add credibility to Frisch’s attempt to link Geddes to heterosexism.
Staying on the topic of context, we need to look at the scope of Geddes’ thought. He is the father of regional planning. He was looking at, as he put it, “conurbations” or inter-related networks of cities (Hall, 2014, pg 161). His urban planning ideals are not focused on correcting individual sexual preference. He wanted to create the conditions which give people the freedom and resources to have privacy, safety, and access to nature (Hall, 2014, p161). Later in his article, Frisch misconstrues this desire as tool to save heterosexual families and destroy homosexuality. It appears he makes this connection by relating families with heterosexual units. True, the vast majority probably fit that type, however, I do not see evidence where Geddes use the family unit as an exclusionary measure. I believe Geddes was simply trying to distill his broad regional concept down to a base unit. That unit could have heterosexual or homosexuals in it.
Again, we need to look at context to deduce these notions of the family unit by Geddes. His theoretical roots embedded firmly in anarchy. He was a disciple of Reclus and Kropotkin, two staunch anarchists (Hall, 2014). Geddes’ primary message spoke against the totalitarian controls which industrialization placed on society. Given his anarchist bent, I find it far easier to conclude he would not set out to control individual will than as Frisch would have us believe. I offer the following quote from Geddes which points more to a desire for peaceful coexistence.
“Federate homes into co-operative and helpful neighborhoods. Unite these grouped homes into renewed and socialized quarters – parishes, as they should be – and in time you have a better nation, a better world … Each region and city can learn to manage its own affairs – build its own houses, provide its own scientists, artists and teachers. These developing regions are already in business together; can’t they make friends and organize a federation as far as need be…” (Hall, 2014, p160)
Ensuring that planning provides homosexual communities with the same benefits and opportunities as heterosexual communities should be a goal of planners. We should not stand by and silently accept policy which builds structures of discrimination. However, I cannot find the “explicit link between heterosexuality and planning” which Frisch claims Geddes and Mumford led planning towards (Fainstein and Campbell, 2012, pg 391). Since he uses this as his foundation, the rest of his arguments become moot.
Fainstein, Susan and Campbell, Scott. 2012. Planning as a Heterosexist Project, Readings in Planning Theory. Wiley-Blackwell. Pgs. 384-406
Hall, Peter. 2014. Cities of Tomorrow. Blackwell Publishers Ltd. Pgs. 151-173