Barney Frank: Zoning Balances First Amendment with Community Concerns

The Washington Post (1995) writes about Boston’s experience with zoning sex shops…

Barney Frank, now one of the most quotable leaders of the House Democratic minority…had been elected to the Massachusetts legislature in 1972, representing part of downtown Boston. A short time later, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that cities could not ban sex-related businesses, but could regulate them through zoning.

“After the Supreme Court said we could do that, I urged that, as a zoning matter, we define that place where sex-related activity was already going on,” Frank recalled in a recent interview. Frank said that as a civil libertarian he was opposed to censorship, but as a politician he had to respond to constituents’ concerns about the spread of strip joints, porn shops and other commercial sex establishments.

“It did work at the time,” Frank said. “There are thriving residential neighborhoods closer to downtown in Boston than in other major cities…”

[T]he Zone continued to grow into the early 1980s, until there were some three dozen strip joints, porn shops and X-rated theaters.

But during the late 1980s, the Zone’s fate was sealed, according to Robert Campbell, the architecture critic for the Boston Globe and a student of urban development.

One cause was the changing nature of the sex business. Already under attack from feminists, the topless bars and X-rated theaters began to suffer from the rise of home video, which made depictions of explicit sex available to everyone–and in private. Then came AIDS, which turned casual sex into a form of Russian roulette.

At the same time, Chinatown was stirring. After decades of neglect, the Asian community began to outgrow its old boundaries and to demand more attention from City Hall. No longer would Asian leaders tolerate the crime and depressed property values associated with the Zone.
From The Washington Post, “Boston’s Flickering Red-Light District: Technology, Development Converge to Tame Once-Infamous Commercial Sex ‘Combat Zone'”, 3/19/95

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