BY Justin Ocean
October 08 2009 9:00 AM ET
Gays and gentrification -- it’s a marriage unfettered by any DOMA debate. From San Francisco’s SoMa in the ’60s to Manhattan’s West Village in the ’70s to Los Angeles’s Echo Park in ’00s, the cycle of queer pioneers turning the dilapidated into destinations seems to be an intrinsic fact of urban life.
So goes San Diego’s latest fashionable enclave, North Park, which has come into its own during the past decade as a more artsy-hipster adjunct to the neighboring gay ground zero Hillcrest. According to the 2000 Census, roughly 34% of the unmarried couples who live in North Park households are same-sex, although the area likely has many more LGBT residents, given that the Census did not identify single people by their sexual orientation. But whereas past gentrifications have often been viewed as gay-exclusive, North Park has taken a different route, harnessing the area’s diversity of age and ethnicity to make it not so much a gay ghetto as a neighborhood emblematic of a changing gay-straight dynamic. Even more unusual, it all happened by civic design.
About 15 years ago North Park—bounded by Florida Street to the west, El Cajon Boulevard to the north, the 805 freeway to the east, and Juniper Street to the south—had lost its neighborhood soul. Big-box stores and malls had siphoned off local businesses’ clientele. Mom-and-pop shops were boarded up, it was a ghost town at night, and among its tonier and tidier neighbors, it had a reputation for being a treacherous neighborhood. Although danger and crime were largely imagined -- thanks to the area’s gritty look -- there was no doubt that North Park was an eyesore in perpetually sunny San Diego.