Drive-Thru Brothels: Why Cities are Building 'Sexual Infrastructure'

From covered stalls for prostitution in Germany to community centres for sex workers in New Zealand, some cities now include sex work in their urban policy.

Nicole Schulze was 24 years old and €40,000 (£36,6616) in debt when she decided to become a prostitute. It was 2004 and she was living in Cologne. Two years earlier prostitution had been legalised across Germany, and the city of Cologne quickly distinguished itself: it made sex work a major part of its urban policy.

For workers like Schulze, this created a unique set of conditions. The city reasoned that if sex work was going to happen, it should be in a safe and clean space. It was decided that sex work would be allowed only in certain parts of the city – and in order to encourage both sex workers and their customers to abide by this rule, in one of the permitted areas the city built a facility specifically for sex.

Located on the edge of town, the result is a kind of sex drive-through. Customers drive down a one-way street, into a roughly two-acre open air-space where sex workers can offer their services. Once hired, the sex worker accompanies the customer into a semi-private parking stall. For safety, each stall allows sex workers to easily flee if necessary – the stall is designed so that the driver’s door can’t be opened, but the passenger one can – and there’s an emergency button to call for help. Social workers are present on site and offer a space to rest, stay warm and access services.

Schulze says she believes the facility works well. “I think every city should have a secure space for sex workers to work, to rest,” she says. “Every city should have that because there’s prostitution in every city.” ...