Nigel Smith Source: Screencap/New Fire Island/X

'New Fire Island' - Pipe Dream? Or Vision for a Happy Gay Future?

Kilian Melloy READ TIME: 3 MIN.

A small group of gay men have an idea for a "New Fire Island" that they say will offer all the gay vibes and beachside glamor of the original but be more affordable - and European.

Australian architect Nigel Smith talked with Curbed about the proposed, tailor-made gay paradise, which, Curbed noted, Smith and fellow would-be founders Brett Fraser and Aron D'Souza have described with phrases like "sunny Mediterranean," "south facing beach," and, revealing the non-American genesis of the idea, "maximum half-day travel door-to-door from London."

The Curbed article gave off some skeptical vibes, saying that "the real pitch is that it's good to invest in a six-pack-rich environment."

"'From the West Village to West Hollywood, everyone knows that when gays get together to build a village, magic happens and prices skyrocket,' the [project's] website declares, a bit cannibalistically," the Curbed writeup added. "'Now, it is our turn to benefit from gentrification, not suffer through it.'"

"In other words," Curbed said, "this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get in on the ground floor of something that could make you rich and get you laid."

In his comments to Curbed, Smith dismissed the idea that he and his colleagues were dissing Fire Island. "We're actually honoring it by saying there are some beautiful things here," Smith said, before saying that the OG Fire Island is "a very special place - the fact that it's such a dominant rainbow culture" of a sort that simply doesn't exist in Australia (or, for that matter, in most places on Earth). Smith noted that even places like Mykonos and Palm Springs aren't as gay as one might think.

"We spend our whole lives in a straight world," Smith told Curbed. "To go escape on a vacation and be surrounded by family is just so liberating."

Fire Island, though, "just cannot be developed anymore," Smith noted.

That fact, plus the price spike that happened during the pandemic, have placed Fire Island out of reach of anyone who's not out and out rich.

"I was looking at a block in 2019, and it was $175,000," Smith recalled. "I was like, 'Ugh, I can do this, it's not easy, but I can do this.' Then it sold for $440,000."

"It's a supply-and-demand problem," Smith continued. "I can't compete with a million gays in Manhattan who wanna buy one of five houses on the market."

Rentals are equally astronomical.

"I got a bay-front house last year, which was $13,000 for a week," Smith detailed. "Three bedrooms, two bathrooms. That was considered a good deal. That's why we're trying to keep the price point low with New Fire Island. If you and three friends can put down $125,000, you can do it."

There would be value for the money, Smith indicated, describing a deliberately designed retreat complete with an array of amenities: "A co-working space. A gay gym for gay people.... I think a really sexy gym would be amazing at New Fire Island. I think there's some safety issues - in a basic design sense. If guys are partying and carrying on, and we can purpose-build this place for the gay community, we can make sure the risk of accident is reduced in how we design it. I think there's a lot of things we can do as 'the world's first purpose-built gay escape.'"

Smith envisioned a community made up of private homes, but not cars. A pedestrian environment, he maintained, is ecologically friendly and fosters community... in every sense. "I had a friend who was walking on Bay Walk and another guy was coming down Shady Walk and they were in their Speedos," Smith said of the "old" Fire Island. "They started making out. It can happen anywhere. One of them goes to the other, "Hey, you got any lube?" The other guy says, "No, but I've got a chapstick.'"

Moreover, the "gentrification" that Smith proposes wouldn't carry the negative connotation of driving ordinary working people out of their homes and communities. "We're going to be displacing goats," not residents of pre-existing towns, Smith promised.

The problem so far is that Smith and company have yet to find, let alone purchase, the land for their planned gay paradise. Smith mentioned a Greek island - Patroklos - that's for sale, but the steep price tag (€20 million, or close to $22 million in American currency) makes that unlikely. Smith turned again to the idea of a "Mediterranean" locale.

"There's 48,000 kilometers of Mediterranean coastline," Smith told Curbed. "We've narrowed that down to 10,000 kilometers based on ocean temperature, prevailing winds, the cost of permanent residency, distance from international airports, topography, all those kinds of things."

"Look, I agree it's unusual to start a real-estate project without a site," Smith said. "But that's the way to do it."

by Kilian Melloy , EDGE Staff Reporter

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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