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City explores ways to breathe life into Bute Street plaza

Davie Village plaza must reflect gay community, Malone says

“What we’re planning to do is make [the Bute Street plaza] more cozy and give it life,” says City Studio student Hobson Lin (left, at the Feb 28 feedback-gathering session). “All we want to do is add sparkle.” Credit: Shauna Lewis

Three months after Vancouver City Council passed its new West End community plan, city staff are exploring options for the Bute Street plaza in the heart of the gay village.

The plaza was closed to traffic in time for Pride in July 2013 and adorned with picnic tables in different rainbow shades, while the crosswalk at its intersection with Davie Street got its own rainbow makeover.

“The community has identified the heart of the Davie Village at Bute and Davie streets, and what we’re doing is exploring a variety of different ideas with different community partners to implement and evolve the space,” spokesperson Scott Edwards says.

Edwards, who works with VIVA Vancouver to enhance community feeling through the creation of welcoming public spaces, says steps to incorporate West End plan recommendations into the plaza are underway.

“The idea to create this space was part of a report prepared by the LGBTQ advisory committee last summer and recommendations in the West End plan,” Edwards says.

Dean Malone, co-chair of the city’s LGBTQ advisory committee, is happy that uses for the space are being considered.

“Our intent in the report that we wrote is that it needs to be inclusive of all of the West End and to our guests that visit the West End,” he says.

Asked if future programming and design plans will continue to reflect the gay community, Edwards pauses. “I think that is to be determined at this point.”

The plaza’s programming might occasionally include more “passive” plans inclusive to all residents in the West End, he says. The Vancouver Public Library used the space for its mobile book program last fall, he notes. “It’s not static. It’s a work in progress.”

Malone says the space should reflect the gay community.

“It doesn’t have to be queer-exclusive, but it needs to be queer-inclusive,” he says. “We need to have our marker on that space.”

VIVA is working with different planning groups, including a group of design and geography students from City Studio who work on urban sustainability, to develop temporary public-space programming for the plaza.

“This is another test of something different we can do,” Edwards says. “It’s an evolution of the space born out of the West End plan.”

“We’re essentially picking up what has been reported in the West End plan,” says City Studio student Hobson Lin.

Lin says City Studio has reached out to the Vancouver Pride Society, Qmunity and the city’s LGBTQ advisory committee for feedback on what they’d like to see in the space.

City Studio recently hosted a small gathering for community stakeholders to weigh in on ideas for the plaza as a sort of “eyes on the street” approach, Edwards says. The gathering attracted only half a dozen community stakeholders. One participant was Stephen Regan, executive director of the West End Business Improvement Association (WEBIA).

“It’s a commercial street. We’re trying to animate it and program it, and we’re trying to do it with access to power and lighting and good ideas and volunteers,” he says. 

If the space continues as a pedestrian plaza, Regan suggests a possible beachside theme, with a canopy for seasonal use, licensed for liquor if permitted. However, he acknowledges that the plaza’s traffic restrictions have caused delivery difficulties for some area businesses.

The plaza is “an inconvenience” he said at WEBIA’s annual general meeting last September. “It does stop traffic flow.”

“It does block a commercial street,” Regan reiterated at the Feb 28 gathering.

“I think it’s about striking a balance,” he said. “I think some of the things that landed in that West End plan are kind of conceptual. I think it’s still a pilot.”

“WEBIA may think it’s a pilot, but Bute Street is closed as far as I’m concerned,” Malone counters. “Every indication is that it is done, and now we need to figure out how to [utilize the space] permanently.”

“WEBIA hasn’t always been supportive of the Bute Street plaza closure, [but] the community wants Bute Street closed for the plaza, so WEBIA is going to have to get over it,” he says. “We have clearly indicated in our report, and the West End plan, that we are a community that is looking to have a gathering space where we come together.”

Edwards and Lin say concrete long-term plans have not yet been made regarding the plaza’s design. Lin says WEBIA has expressed interest in “running the space, [but] nothing is set in stone.”

“What we’re planning to do is make [the plaza] more cozy and give it life,” Lin says. “All we want to do is add sparkle.”

City staff members say additional feedback from the community will determine how the space is best used moving forward.

Lin says that the programming and design ideas implemented by City Studio are temporary and that the group will continue to seek feedback from community stakeholders and residents throughout March, which will then be reported to the city for consideration.

City Studio will gather more feedback from community members on Saturday, March 8 at the Bute and Davie Street plaza between 10am and 4pm.