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Urban Planing for Sex

Academic and practising planners have been somewhat active in addressing issues relating to ‘race’/ethnicity and gender over the last 20 or so years. However, the lack of noise in relation to academic analyses of sexual land uses, (i.e. sex shops, brothels, and strip bars) and sexualities (i.e. heterosexual and LGBT) by urban planners has been somewhat deafening. This is in stark contrast to the scholarly work of planners’ nearest cousins, human/urban geographers and sociologists who have critically analysed the ‘urban sexscape’.

The absence of much in the way of any systematic planning scholarship on sexual land uses is both interesting and worrisome. Could It be that academic planners are too prudish to engage with matters of a sexual nature? Or is it the case that research on sex and sexuality, much like gender or ‘race’ issues, is a niche market and only for those that have direct experiences of being from the appropriate minority group?

Whatever the situation, planners – academic and professional – will need to open their eyes to the planning challenges and opportunities of a growing and diversifying sexual economy. The ubiquitous ‘sex shop’, long since eradicated from places such as Times Square in New York and heavily controlled via zoning and licensing in Soho (London), no longer serves the so-called ‘dirty mac’ brigade. Rather, sex shops have become corporatized, feminised and more spatially mainstream in the last decade or so. Consequently, this process of diversification and mainstreaming raises interesting planning questions from a political, sociological and regulatory perspective for academic planners and merits further investigation.

Similarly, the rise of strip bars, gentlemen’s clubs and brothels as part of the night-time and tourist economies in cities throughout the world points to the role of sex as a potential driver of economic development. Simultaneously, the rise of the sexual economy points to issues relating to the potential for ‘sexploitation’, especially for women who may be the subject of sex trafficking.

As with any other industry the ‘sex industry’ is amorphous in character, it comprises a mix of reputable and disreputable service providers, much in the same way that the second-hand car sales or real-estate industries are characterised. As cities and resource-intensive regional areas in places like Western Australia, Queensland and Alberta grow we can expect the sex industry to grow and diversify in response to the evolving sexual liberation and curiosities of the human species who after all are the products of sex.

Paul J. Maginn, PhD MPIA

Associate Professor/Programme Coordinator

Urban & Regional Planning

The University of Western Australia

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