Queering Urban Forests as Democratizing Public Space & Community (including LGBTQ2S) Infrastructure


satellite image above: Historic Lees Trail in Vancouver’s largest green space, Stanley Park, has seen male public sex for at least a century. Recently the informal trails and patterns of cruising and sex appear to be changing rapidly — in part due to demographic shifts, the advent of digital devices and apps such as GRINDR, and climate change transforming this forest.

Brochu-Ingram. 2019. Queering Urban Forests as Democratizing Public Space & Community (including LGBTQ2S) Infrastructure. part of SESSION 3:Queering the Urban Forest: Heterotopias and Peripheral Spaces, RISING URBANISTS 2019: REFRAMING THE URBAN FOREST, ASLA CCNY / Spitzer School of Architecture, The City University of New York.  notes & graphics: 2019 BROCHU-INGRAM queering the urban forest as infrastructure
SESSION 3:Queering the Urban Forest: Heterotopias and Peripheral Spaces

Queering Urban Forests as Democratizing Public Space & Community (including LGBTQ2S) Infrastructure

Urban forests largely exist because of exceptional episodes of activism. In beginning this discussion, I reflect on the central role of collective ‘agency’ in queering (and protecting) urban forests reflecting on the fiftieth anniversary of the short-lived and very queer DIY organization, Trees for Queens — while challenging participants to more carefully research respective legacies embodied in many of the forests that they enjoy. [The Stonewall Riots were the first communal “reterritorialization,” {and} raged for well over two nights and did not end abruptly. In the same month, a cruising area in Queens, “Kew Gardens,” was badly destroyed, with extensive tree cutting and violent vigilante attacks, to discourage the presence of gay men. Within a week after Stonewall there were public actions using conscious visibility and the formation of the first gay liberationist environmental group, Trees for Queens, to restore the park. Gordon Brent Ingram. 1997. Marginality and the landscapes of erotic alien( n)ations. in Queers in Space: Communities | Public Places | Sites of Resistance. Ingram, G. B., A.-M. Bouthillette and Y. Retter (eds.). Seattle: Bay Press. 27 – 52.]

Discussions of urban forests and LGBTQ2S populations have more often been dominated by relatively subjective reports of male public sex even when respective spaces have been unsafe for women, trans and other people with nonconforming genders, individuals with mobility constraints and other vulnerabilities, and persons of colour. In contrast to under-surveilled forest depths, other parts of urban forests have been more important to many LGBTQ2S groups: playing fields as historic feminist spaces, public conveniences, particular trees and other landmarks, particular habitat, public art, lawns and forest edges, and cafes and cultural venues. The range of social reliance on particular sites in urban forests continues to be poorly acknowledged more often with little empirical data to inform social policy and design programming — and little funding for new field research. And research methods, such as ‘participant-observer’ have limited utility in understanding ephemeral experiences that at times are highly private with other uses of the forest far more communal. This discussion proposes the urban forest as embodying and supporting a complex set of ‘queer infrastructure’, involving sex and so much more, that is part of ongoing initiatives to democratize public spaces in community development. Given the vulnerable nature of most urban forests, particularly from climate change and pressures associated with gentrification, the ‘infrastructure paradigm’ can aid activists and landscape architects in developing matrices for better tracking site histories, uses, and ongoing social (including LGBTQ2S) dependencies (as stakeholders), a wider range of queer forest uses and needs (spanning socializing, cultural expression, socializing, and [of course] sex), imperatives and options for ecosystem management and forest protection, and contradictions within design programming and broader municipal and social policy. The more fundamental problem for landscape architects, in hoping to contribute to the queering of urban forests, is that activities, demographics, and design-related needs in urban forests, are changing more rapidly than the typical cycles of programming of public sites, public consultation, design, and post-use evaluations. Examples will be provided from Vancouver, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Rome, and Dubai / Abu Dhabi.
select publications & other discussions mentioning queer sexual expression in public parks with forests

Brochu-Ingram. 2015 From constructing rights to building multicultural, queer infrastructure: Trajectories of activism, public policy & organizational development in Vancouver. in Queer Mobilizations: Social Movement Activism and Canadian Public Policy. Manon Tremblay editor. Vancouver: UBC Press. 227 – 249.

Ingram. 2012. From queer spaces to queerer ecologies: Recasting Gregory Bateson’s Steps to an Ecology of Mind to further mobilise & anticipate historically marginal stakeholders in environmental planning for community development. European Journal of Ecopsychology 3 (Queer Ecologies issue): 53 – 80.

Ingram. 2011. Cruising on the Margins: Photographing The Changing Worlds of Outdoor Sex Between Males. An essay in Chad States. 2011. Cruising: Photographs by Chad States. New York: powerHouse Books. pages 79 – 87.

Ingram. 2010. Fragments, edges & matrices: Retheorizing the formation of a so-called Gay Ghetto through queering landscape ecology. in Queer Ecologies: Sex, Nature, Politics & Desire. Cate Sandilands and Bruce Erickson (eds.). Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press. pages 254 – 282.

Ingram. 2003. Returning to the scene of the crime: Uses of trial narratives of consensual male homosexuality for urban research, with examples from Twentieth-Century British Columbia. GLQ (Gay and Lesbian Quarterly) 10(1): 77 – 110.

Ingram. 2001. Redesigning Wreck: Beach meets forest as location of male homoerotic culture & placemaking in Pacific Canada. in In a Queer Country: Gay and lesbian studies in the Canadian Context. Terry Goldie (ed.). Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press. 188 – 208.


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