Castro Gay Village’ Gentrification in San Francisco

“For decades, most big cities have had a district that was understood to be the place to go if you were gay — the West Village and Chelsea in New York City, Dupont Circle in Washington, the South End in Boston. Men and women who had kept their sexual orientations hidden reveled in the freedom to live openly as gay”[1]. The gay city (or a gay neighborhood) is an urban location with its frontiers where many gay, lesbian and also bisexual people live and develop their community.

Castro Gay Village in San Francisco is one of the most popular ones, and it is also considered to be the San Francisco’s most popular place for tourism, recreation and rest. It is also one of the safest districts of the region and a much cleaner than the rest ones. Indeed, it is a very friendly neighborhood. However, these days, the process of urban gentrification which, affects the lives of people and enhances the property values, raises fears among the gay leaders concerning the preservation of their gay community.

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They provide the idea that the process of urban gentrification may result in losing their distinct identities.. In other words, in their view, the gentrification is forced by heterosexual couples arriving in the district and starting their business there, thus, Castro ceases to be a “gay ghetto” and loses its identity becoming “an ordinary district” of San Francisco. In this paper, we are going to explore the peculiarities of the process of an urban gay gentrification and its consequences.

Before 1970’s the gay cities haven’t been developed. There existed so called “gay social network” and small gay communities were located in certain urban areas, clubs, etc., under the surveillance of the police. In 1969, the police raid a private gay bar Stonewall. It led to disturbances in the neighbor areas. Thus, the first gay ghettos appeared and “an alternative lifestyle flourished in San Francisco”[2]. Today, there are many gay cities that are called “gay-friendly oasis” surrounded by hostile city.

These districts are adjusted to the needs of their inhabitants. They have many establishments, such as gay pubs and bars, restaurants, etc., “by representing a degree of social control by the gay community, such places created the feeling of being a safe haven against risk of discrimination and/or violence”[3].

When the gay cities have just developed, the process of gay gentrification began. It was caused by the fact that gay cities were much “cozier” and safer. Moreover, in such “communities”, people felt more comfortable and more opportunities were opened for them. So scholars assume that there are there explanations of gay gentrification (gentrification theories).

The first one is the rent-gap theory. It presupposes that “gentrification occurs because developers sense the profits that can be made by acquiring cheap properties”. [4] The second theory estimates that gentrification was caused by consumer demands and the third theory provides that gay gentrification was provoked by demographic shifts, such as “the postponement of marriage and childbearing, the increased number of single women, and the desire of gay men and lesbians to carve out a space free from oppression”[5]

The Castro Village in San Francisco is one of the largest gay cities in the USA and, “currently, one-third of The Castro’s residents identify themselves as gay or lesbian, compared with 13 percent citywide. Gay activists say it is important to maintain communities that gay people feel safe in and consider their home”[6].

The Castro Village was one of the first gay cities in the USA. The first local gay activist Harvey Milk became a City Supervisor and fought for equality of human rights for the gay minority of San Francisco. Thus, the city was an important place for cultural and political activities. Today, it is more “tourist” and calm place, rather than a “venue” for political activities.

In the light of gentrification, one of the most important questions is “Will the Castro remain gay or take on another new name and new set of immigrants?”[7]. The gentrification of the gay cities is constantly catalyzing in the modern society that seeks for globalization and economical welfare of the society. This process affects the social and spatial characteristics of the city while providing changes into the national economy:

“Places such as the Castro area of San Francisco or the West Hollywood district of Los Angeles have played a significant role in the evolution of a gay subculture. And the gentrification of districts has created distinctive urban landscape”[8].

However, these days, there is a threat of destruction of this subculture in the city, as many heterogeneous couples seeking for better living come and stay in the city. One of the reasons of this tendency is that society became tolerant towards gay, lesbian and bisexual people and their communities.

In some areas and countries, the marriages between man and man or woman and woman were legalized. These days, people do not need to hide their sexual orientations, consequently, they do not need places where it can be possible and they can live openly. The gay leaders have different points of view in the influence of the urban gentrification. Some of them consider that it vanishes away the gay identity and gay culture, others consider it to be a great breakthrough in the fight against racism and inequality of human rights.

The gentrification is a popular term applied to the social and cultural “shifts” or displacement. It is the result when well-off people settle or acquire property in working class communities. Thus, the price of property, housing and taxes rises that makes “former inhabitants” leave the community.

As a result, the live of community can cease, or a new community can develop. The urban gentrification may change the character of the community while making it more economically consistent. This process is a part of the new economy of globalization. Apart from economic changes, there are many cultural ones. In general, the process of urban gentrification is a positive one and enhances an economic life of the city, but it is also can be regarded as a negative one, as it affects lives of individuals and communities.

Speaking about gay urban gentrification, many scholars claim that it can lead to development of new consumption space and stimulate the increase of the gay identity:

“The production of San Francisco’s Castro as a gay neighborhood, for instance, could be read as a fairly straightforward account of gentrification, given the in-migration of higher-income residents, the renovation of housing stock and enhancement of property values, and the development of new cultural and consumer spaces”[9].

Thus, the new urban “face” can be regarded as more compatible with some peculiarities of the gay and lesbian lifestyles. Indeed, the politics of gay gentrification is more complex. Apparently, not all gay people are engaged in the gentrification process. The result of a “selective” gentrification is that it is a “class-rooted” process.

Apparently, the gay communities are multicultural, but there are still some racial and class prejudices and the communities are still skewing toward white well-off population, “when it is combined with the social activism that helps construct gay and lesbian identity against social oppression, gentrification begins to seem like a geographic as well as social strategy of identity construction”[10]. So, we can come to a conclusion that a gay community is rather conservative one, though:

“Evidence of the geographic variability of gay and lesbian identities in the United States suggests that urban – and, in different ways, rural – spaces are significant for the formation of sexual identities”[11].

Many scholars assume that in the core of the gay gentrification is the “the community activism” that is aimed at providing various services and access to housing which will enable the encouragement of the “constitution of gay and lesbian identities”[12], but at the same time it can clear the class boundaries.

Thus, we can come to a conclusion that the process of urban gay gentrification is a coin of two sides. In the one hand, it has a very positive influence on the development of the economics of the country and provides the economic welfare of the communities. Moreover, many scholars assume that gentrification is a considerable “step forward” in the fight against racism, class prejudices and inequality of human rights.

Thus, these days, gay and lesbian people do not need to hide their sexual orientation and, as a consequence, there is no need for the “gay ghettos”. On the other hand, many gay leaders claim that gay gentrification provides the destruction of the gay identity. At any rate, the gentrification is an important part of the progress.


Castells, Manuel. The Power of Identity. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2004.

Duncan, James S., Nuala Christina Johnson, and Richard H. Schein. A Companion to Cultural Geography. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2004.

“Gentrification” Accessed March 7, 2011.

“Gay Neighborhoods Worry about Losing Identity”. Last modified February 3 2007.

Pacione, Michael. Urban Geography: A Global Perspective. New York: Taylor & Francis, 2009.

Scholten, Pauline. “The Next Generation (1995 through Today)”, Castro CBD. Accessed March 7, 2011,

Smith, Neil. The New Urban Frontier: Gentrification and the Revanchist City. New York: Routledge, 1996.

Tonkiss, Frank. Space, The City and Social Theory: Social Relations and Urban forms. Cambridge: Polity, 2005.

1. “Gay Neighborhoods Worry about Losing Identity”, last modified February 3 2007,
Manuel Castells. The Power of Identity. (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2004), 273.
Michael Pacione. Urban Geography: A Global Perspective. (New York: Taylor & Francis, 2009), 383
“Gentrification”, accessed March 7, 2011,
“Gentrification”, accessed March 7, 2011,
Pauline Scholten, “The Next Generation (1995 through Today)”, Castro CBD, accessed March 7, 2011,
Scholten, n. p.
Pacione, 383
Frank Tonkiss. Space, The City and Social Theory: Social Relations and Urban forms. (Cambridge: Polity, 2005), 109.
Neil Smith. The New Urban Frontier: Gentrification and the Revanchist City. (New York: Routledge, 1996), 102.
James S. Duncan, Nuala Christina Johnson, and Richard H. Schein. A Companion to Cultural Geography. (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2004), 324.
Smith, 108.


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