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The Castro, San Francisco: No such gaybourhoods in London (credit: Ewan Munro)

Be careful, as they say, what you wish for. A new book, There Goes the Gayborhood? (Princeton University Press, £24.95), by Amin Ghaziani, an American academic, charts the apparent decline of so-called gay villages such as the Castro in San Francisco and Greenwich Village in New York, a decline, it's suggested, which has come from the very success of the gay movement in being fully accepted into mainstream life. Marriage, adoption, a revolution in public attitudes and sheer visibility have meant that there is simply no longer any need for the solidarity which came from clustering together in particular urban areas — areas which were often chosen for their cheapness, but which were then transformed by gay men with more dash than cash.

Being an American, Ghaziani can't resist an upbeat note and so concludes that the idea of the "gaybourhood" is simply evolving. But such a position is harder to maintain after a visit to either of the two above districts. Walking through the Castro is rather like strolling along Carnaby Street in search of the purple velvet suits and Union Jack mini-skirts of Swinging London: one is left with the feeling of the show having moved on years ago. And it was Aids that did for Greenwich Village in the 1980s. New York gays moved up a few blocks to Chelsea, although with its gyms and cocktail bars there's far less of a sense of community there than one felt amid the low-rise, more bohemian streets of the Village, which, frankly, doesn't "feel" gay at all now. 

And what of London's gaybourhoods? According to the Evening Standard, they're thriving. The columnist Nick Curtis described his delight at the cafés and new little touches which had sprung up in Vauxhall, where he lives. A gay presence brings less crime and better coffee, apparently.

But I think this is to mistake an area popular with gay men (and unfairly, it is always about gay men — they have more spending power than lesbians) with a thorough-going, property-owning, produce-buying community. Like the Castro and the Village, West Hollywood (known as Boys Town), which I lived adjacent to for a number of years, is one such place: not just clubs and restaurants, but polished four-by-fours, dry cleaners, lawyers and financial advisers. It is as identifiable a community as black South Central or Hispanic East LA. The hills overlooking the flats of Weho, with their higher-end, affluent gay residents, were known locally as the Swish Alps.  

By this definition, I find it hard to identify any gaybourhoods at all in London. Brighton could certainly claim to be one — not for nothing was it once called Britain's San Francisco. And by dint of affluence and fashion some areas of the capital certainly attract gay men. But I'm not sure there has ever been a time in London (or Paris or Rome for that matter) when you chose where you lived on the basis of sexual preference. Perhaps Ghaziani's villages are a particularly American phenomenon. 

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