Of Vice and Men

Giving the green light to a red-light district in Detroit isn’t likely


Published:

 When attorney and potential Detroit mayoral candidate Geoffrey Fieger floated the idea of a local red-light district as an alternative to “streetwalkers” in a TV interview, some metro Detroiters might have been left scratching their heads: With all of the city’s many intractable problems, would setting up a prostitution corral make that much difference?

So-called red-light districts — areas set aside for prostitution, strip clubs, and other adult businesses — have a long and colorful history around the world. Robin Boyle, professor of urban planning at Wayne State University, says that while the idea is as old as the oldest profession, the idea of making them official isn’t.

“Red-light districts traditionally haven’t been planned or coordinated,” he says. “They’re a market response to demand.”

Take any city with an oversupply of young, single men with an eye out for a woman, in other words, and you’ll likely have a few square blocks to serve their special needs, which is probably why the most well-known such districts are in such port cities as Amsterdam, Hamburg, San Francisco, and Boston.

Sin centers in European cities are so well-known that they’re essentially tourist attractions, Boyle says, adding that civic officialdom’s response to sexual-vice activities generally splits into two camps: head-in-the-sand and organization/management/taxation. Most American cities fall into the first camp, but a few places, most notably Nevada, are in the second. Former Detroit Mayor Coleman A. Young made rousting vice a campaign issue, using the police to send them down the road. Still, strips of adult businesses took root along Eight Mile Road and Woodward Avenue south of Eight Mile.

Technology has removed the need for many vice businesses; home video killed adult-movie houses, and much prostitution moved from the streets to beepers, cell phones, and the Internet. But as long as men seek the pleasure of ogling women in the flesh, there will be strip clubs, and cities will need a place for them.

Other recent trends are moving such businesses out of cities entirely. Witness the billboards along interstates advertising “adult superstores” located off major freeways, in places where zoning is lax or non-existent.

But in a political climate where the cleanup of red-light districts builds reputations (former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani transformed Times Square from squalid to Disney-rific), Boyle puts very long odds on any chance of Detroit establishing such a zone.  “The value of having such a district is alien to North American culture today,” he says. “One would never have political support. Quite the opposite.”

Edit Module
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

Archive »Related Content

An LGBTQ+ Godsend

With a mission to educate congregations on the importance of acceptance, ReconcilingWorks establishes religious safe havens for queer Lutherans

The Way It Was

Aretha Franklin, 1980

An Hour with ... Carmen Harlan

Broadcast journalist and founder of the Carmen Harlan Collection

God-Given Talent

A local choir sings its way to live television

The Sincere Storyteller

Broadway fans will soon learn, playwright Dominique Morisseau’s work is unapologetically Detroit
Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Most Popular

  1. Best Dressed 2018
    Pulling back the curtain on this year’s selection of the region’s most stylish denizens
  2. Keeping Up with Sheefy McFly
    The multitalented visual artist and musician is ubiquitous in the Motor City
  3. Gathering Spot
    Eastern Market restaurant finds its groove after a rocky beginning
  4. Excellence in Care: Beaumont Health
    Hour Detroit presented Beaumont Health with an Excellence in Care Award for this extraordinary...
  5. Food Recipe: Barbecue Mac & Cheese
    Vast Kitchen and Bar executive chef, Jordan Gillis, upgrades the comfort staple
  6. Sanctuary for the Senses
    Castalia in Midtown offers a cocktail experience unlike any other
  7. Deeply Rooted
    Influenced by their ancestors, Native American artists celebrate indigenous culture through...
  8. Excellence in Care: St. Joseph Mercy Health
    Hour Detroit presented St. Joseph Mercy Health with an Excellence in Care Award for this...
  9. The Sincere Storyteller
    Broadway fans will soon learn, playwright Dominique Morisseau’s work is unapologetically Detroit
  10. God-Given Talent
    A local choir sings its way to live television