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City council approves new Jim Deva Plaza name and design

New permanent plaza in heart of Vancouver's gay village to be named for community hero

The Jim Deva Plaza is one step closer to reality following a unanimous vote by Vancouver city councillors July 22 to approve the conceptual design for a permanent public plaza in the heart of the Davie Village. Council also approved recommendations to name the plaza in honour of Deva, a respected leader in the city’s gay community who died in September 2014.

“Out of that has come from the community a real desire to celebrate his life and have this plaza,” said Councillor Tim Stevenson at the city’s standing committee on planning, transportation and environment.

The proposed plaza will occupy one full block of Bute Street, just south of Davie Street, and be a car-free gathering place with moveable furniture, electrical outlets and water connections that will enable the plaza to also function as a space for community events.

The proposal before council also included preliminary ideas for an outdoor museum at the plaza and adjacent areas “celebrating LGBTQ history, contributions and struggle for human rights in Vancouver and British Columbia” and may include information panels, plaques and video displays.

“This to me is very appropriate, that we have this memorial and that it be expanded as is incorporated in this report so that others who have sacrificed so much will also be recognized in this plaza,” Stevenson said.

Janine Fuller, Deva’s long-time friend and colleague at Little Sister’s Bookstore, spoke of his legacy in Vancouver and said that his family and loved ones approve of the plan to commemorate him through the plaza.

“This is incredible that we’ve come to this place that we don’t have millions of people in opposition to us as queer people in this city,” she said. “But know that all of our victories are hollow without the victories of other communities. And I think Deva always understood that . . . He really was committed to diversity and finding a city that could support all of those ideas.”

“Many of us here knew Jim,” said Councillor Heather Deal, who was chairing the committee meeting in the absence of Mayor Gregor Robertson, who was away on civic business. “It’s going to be a great place to gather in the West End.”

While the proposed plan ultimately passed, some concerns were raised.

Councillor Adriane Carr praised the project but also shared problems that some area residents reported during the 2013-14 plaza pilot project when the block was temporarily closed.  

“One of the concerns expressed was activities taking place after dark,” she said, referring to public disorder issues and rumours of drug dealing in the unlit section of Bute Street.

John Grottenberg of the city planning department acknowledged that a permanent plaza would address safety concerns in several ways.

“Lighting is probably one of the top things we heard throughout the consultation,” he said, explaining that cable lighting will ensure the space is lit and safe after dark.

“What we heard from the police is because of the street right of way, [the plaza] doesn’t have the provisions like a park where they can enforce things like smoking or overnight camping. So they didn’t have the enforcement tools that they’re seeking. And so we’d be looking at a potential amendment to the street traffic bylaw.”

The Jim Deva Plaza will be the first significant public space initiative implemented from the West End community plan, which sets the long-term direction of neighbourhood development in this part of the city.

Stephen Regan, executive director of the West End Business Improvement Association, said he is impressed with the project concept thus far.

“I would like to take my hat off to the city staff,” he told council, adding that the plaza is a step in the right direction for the revitalization of the Davie Village. “This is a very important project for the West End.”

However, he also emphasized that there is still more work to be done before a management plan is finalized. Regan said the businesses his association represents want to partner with the city to fund the ongoing activities of the plaza.

“We know that’s the tricky question: where are we going to find the ongoing funding?” he said. “We’ve had a discussion, my board, and we want to be one of those partners but we’re going to need to see the city as one of those and possibly the city looking at its policies around sponsorship or bringing third party sponsorship in.”

Today’s affirmative vote does not mean the plaza’s creation is a done deal. Council approved $100,000 to be used by the city’s planning department over the next five months to further the development of the content, design and management plan for the plaza and the outdoor museum. Only if the final plan is adopted by city council will the plaza go forward.

Earlier in July Kevin McNaney, the city’s assistant director of planning and development downtown, told Daily Xtra that if the final plan is accepted in December his department hopes to have the plaza completed by summer 2016.

“But that’s very tight for construction,” he said. “The timing of construction depends on the [final] designs, and I don’t have that yet.”