As gay bars go, so goes Boston

If you haven't already read Robert David Sullivan's excellent story from yesterday's Ideas section, please do so immediately. And don't be deceived by the ostensible subject matter. Gay bars are Sullivan's immediate focus, but the article's really about the transformation of cities--including Boston--from hotbeds of human variety to sterile playgrounds for the affluent. Here's a sampling:

In New York, the Jewish deli - a staple of the city's identity - has all but vanished. In the Boston area, many of Harvard Square's bookstores, Kenmore Square's student eateries, and myriad other places that guaranteed a diverse urban experience have closed their doors, replaced by a far more uniform lineup of bank branches, chain stores, and upscale restaurants.

This change is a serious challenge to the city, which has historically been defined by the breadth and variety of its street-level experience - and the wide diversity of people it threw together. "City air makes free," a saying that dates to medieval times, was a favorite of urban-studies pioneer Jane Jacobs. But as a wide range of gay bars dwindles to a handful of survivors - and the city's diners, indie bookstores, and dive bars yield to high rents and shifting patterns of commerce - that air is becoming the province of an increasingly narrow set of people.
My only disappointment is that--because of the article's main subject and its placement in Ideas instead of on A1 or B1--not as many people will read this as should. Let's hope the rest of the paper is taking notes, so we can get more stories like Sullivan's and less stories like this.

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